Principal addresses ‘bracket incident’

In+a+letter+to+the+Grady+community+sent+on+April+13%2C+Principal+Dr.+Betsy+Bockman+responded+to+an+incident+involving+a+small+group+of+junior+boys+ranking+64+junior+girls+in+a+sports-style+bracket+over+spring+break.

Southerner Archive

In a letter to the Grady community sent on April 13, Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman responded to an incident involving a small group of junior boys ranking 64 junior girls in a sports-style bracket over spring break.

By Elena Hubert, Henry W. Grady High School

In response to a small group of junior boys posting a Final Four sports-style bracket ranking 64 junior girls by name on social media over spring break, Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman condemned the incident in a letter emailed to the Grady community.

In the April 13 email, Dr. Bockman denounced the students’ behavior and the incident’s negative portrayal of women. She also referred to the bracket as a “symptom of a larger ill within our society that manifests itself in Grady culture…”

“We share your feelings of disappointment and outrage regarding this incident,” Dr. Bockman said. “We strongly condemn this behavior that objectifies and disrespects young women.”

Junior Aaliyah Rapping, who was named in the bracket, was “very happy to see that the email was sent out.”

“I think that email was a good starting point to start to bring people together in light of this division,” Rapping said.

The letter was shared via email to parents and via Infinite Campus’s message center to students. Laura Power, whose daughter was named in the bracket, was particularly troubled by the message’s subject line of “social media incident.”

“The subject line of it being a ‘social media incident’ right out of the gate comes across as sort of dismissing really the true core of what was going on because this was not a social media incident,” Power said. “This is a sexual aggression that happened on social media. This was judgment, categorizing, objectifying classmates, human beings, that took place on social media.”

The letter refers to the 64 girls named in the bracket, which did not include any photos of the girls, as “numerous female Grady students.” Junior Jamie Roode, who was in the bracket, believes the email should have specified the number of girls put in the bracket as it “really helps people understand the number of girls involved.”

The letter also said there was a “whirlwind of activity on social media” related to the incident, including numerous allegations of student misconduct, including “bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.” Dr. Bockman advocated for the use of “proper channels to address such serious allegations.”

Power thinks this “cautionary language” will be counterproductive in addressing sexual harassment and assault.

“When you tell people that they need to go to the ‘proper channels,’ that they haven’t come forward with their trauma or pain ‘properly,’ you shame the person, and you shut them down, and they won’t come forward for help, or they won’t seek more help because it adds to the humiliation,” Power said. “It adds to their sense of being wrong and disempowered.” 

In an email to the Southerner, Vice Principal Carrie MacBrien said the administration does not discourage students from sharing their stories on social media but clarified that the letter’s mention of “proper channels” through which to report allegations was to secure the integrity of any investigation.

“Social media platforms are unreliable sources of information upon which to open investigations,” MacBrien said. “People can create accounts and pretend to be anyone else, or someone who doesn’t even exist.  We do not discourage students from sharing their experiences on social media; however, we encourage families to be involved and work with their students regarding their social media posts and digital footprints.”

Although the letter said that the boys involved in the bracket’s creation would be “held accountable for their actions to the extent of APS code of conduct,” it remains unclear from the letter if the boys will face disciplinary action from the school specifically.  

Junior Bhuvan Saraswat had mixed feelings about the letter as a result.

“I appreciated that the school acknowledged this problem, but I’m still kind of messed up about what Grady [can or] cannot do with this problem since it was off campus,” Saraswat said.

In addressing who students should take allegations such as bullying or sexual harassment to, the letter affirmed that “incidents that happen outside of school and unrelated to school activities must be investigated by local law enforcement.”

Rapping says it is her understanding, from the letter, that the school does not have much jurisdiction over the issue, but she also discourages the handling of the incident by the authorities and acknowledges the majority of the boys have reached out to her.

“When we talk about creating change, we want people who didn’t think about these things before to apologize and be willing to be educated. To me, I feel like punishing them, and suspending them and getting the police involved wouldn’t do that,” Rapping said. “In fact, I think that runs the risk of those boys not being willing to listen to us and not being willing to change.” 

Similarly, Roode echoes Rapping’s emphasis on the boys learning from their mistakes rather than being punished.

“I don’t really want them to be punished by the administration,” Roode said. “I want them more so to learn, and I think having classes and things that help do that encouraged by the school will change a lot of things.”

To support “any student who was hurt or feels victimized by these actions,” the letter announced that counselors would be available. It also said students can attend sessions on Friday, April 16 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and on Wednesday, April 21 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

“I like how she’s [Dr. Bockman] reaching out, and she’s not just ignoring this situation,” Roode said. “And instead, administration is like, ‘We’re going to hold meetings for you guys and allow you to speak up.’ I think that’s good.”

Sophomore Chloe Walker plans to attend the sessions and hopes those who have spoken out about the incident will as well.

“I also want hopefully a lot of students who have voiced their opinions [to] join the calls,” Walker said. “That way, hopefully, we can get out of it that Dr. Bockman sees how many people this situation has affected, and that way, hopefully, she can start to think of more preventative methods other than Zoom calls and counselors because that’s been available for a long time.“

Walker hopes the administration will implement meaningful change in the bracket’s aftermath.

“I think the Grady administration is capable of doing more, and I think that hopefully this email is just the beginning for a new chapter of Grady’s culture,” Walker said.

This story was originally published on The Southerner on April 14, 2021.