A pair of graduates from Sharyland High School are continuing their fight to get a response from the district to ongoing sexual misconduct allegations with a protest set for next month.
Zitlalit Melgarejo (class of 2018) and Dante Flores-Demarchi (class of 2017) are organizing a march in protest of the Sharyland Independent School District administration’s response to an alleged hazing incident last November. The pair met with the city of Mission’s Planning and Zoning Director Jaime Acevedo on Wed. Jan. 22 to obtain a permit to gather peacefully on Feb. 1.
“I’m really happy that people are speaking out,” Melgarejo said. “When we’re together, no one can ignore us.”
The march is being held in response to the highly publicized incident (currently classified as hazing) regarding the Pioneer High School boys swim team last fall in Corpus Christi. No concrete details have been given concerning the claims, but social media has been abuzz with accusations of sexual assault and a campus official’s son acting as the instigator of the alleged attack.
“If you work at a school you’re supposed to be there for the students – not for administration,” Melgarejo said. “That should be a passion you have, not for anything else.”
On Mon. Jan. 20, SISD held a board meeting where a dozen public comments were made, most of which criticized the district for a lack of response to the incident. Parents and former SISD students also alleged a cover up on the district’s part, and said there is a history of sweeping similar incidents under the rug going back years.
Melgarejo and Flores-Demarchi were among those who participated in the public comments. Melgarejo quoted one of the few public comments given in support of the district, saying a woman commented that “social media is where humanity goes to die.”
“But what about all the sexual assault and rape that happened in that school?” Melgarejo asked. “Isn’t that kind of the death of humanity as well?”
Superintendent Maria M. Vidaurri released two statements last week which both confirmed an investigation and denounced allegations from social media. Several news outlets reported last week that the Corpus Christi Police Department confirmed they were investigating an “inappropriate hazing incident.”
“I think the statement they [the school district] sent out was really vague and trying to muddy waters, that was my impression of it,” Flores-Demarchi said. “People know the lack of transparency that goes on, they see right through them.”
Unsatisfied with the district’s response so far, motivated to support the victim (and victims in the past) and inspired to keep the conversation going, Melgarejo, who attends the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Flores-Demarchi (who attends Brown University but is currently on medical leave), expect a big turnout for the march.
“If anyone thinks this isn’t okay, we need to put pressure on them [the SISD administration and school board] to acknowledge these people,” Flores-Demarchi said.
Melgarejo, who said she has family members who have experienced sexual assault in the Sharyland district, has felt compelled to speak out on it for years.
Both Flores-Demarchi and Melgarejo said that in the past and present, parents should have been notified, a meeting should have been held and sexual assault training should have been given to educate faculty, students and administration.
He pointed out that the district holds workshops and informational sessions on the dangers of vaping, but haven’t made an attempt to address the issues of sexual assault and rape in a similar fashion.
The pair said the march was being organized in an attempt to “help the voices who haven’t been heard” and “force people who don’t want to acknowledge” victims to see them.
“There isn’t a peep about it,” Melgarejo said. “Every day they enforced dress code, they enforced attendance, they enforced literally everything else instead of emotionally supporting their students or advising them on what to do if something like this happens.”
Melgarejo said that if people are interested in participating on Feb. 1, they can sign up for the march online. The plan is to start at Bannworth Park (located at 1822 N. Shary Rd.) and march on the sidewalk, but they will be posting updates on the final details at that link and on social media (Instagram: @lizettemelgarejo and @dantefdemarchi – Twitter: @zitlalit9 – Facebook: Dante F. Demarchi).
“I want to show that people do care,” Melgarejo said. “Even if Sharyland won’t listen, the people are here to listen. And we’re going to fight it.”
The original article contained a misspelling of Zitlalit Melgarejo. It has been edited to reflect the correct spelling.