Coffee and Conversation confronts abuse


Emma Searle

Senior Meghan Sonia angles in discussion during a Coffee and Conversation gathering

Emma Searle, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

A series of monthly discussions, Coffee and Conversation, have begun at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), during which students engage in thoughtful dialogue about topics related to domestic and sexual violence.

Students are invited to sign up for these discussions during flex once a month, and the talks are facilitated by staff and interns from Connect to End Violence, a Martha’s Vineyard Community Services organization that provides and promotes education as one way to help reduce domestic and sexual violence on the Island.

At the most recent meeting, students and staff discussed the role of active bystanders — witnesses who speak up to disrupt a problematic situation or to keep it from escalating — in situations of domestic and sexual abuse. During the conversation, several realistic scenarios were presented by Connect interns, prompting students to share what they or someone in the situation should do.

Twelve of the 13 students in attendance, including three Connect interns, will be graduating this spring, and all agreed on the relevance of the discussion. Senior Victoria Scott said, “The topic of the conversation really pertained to some of the things that many of our classmates might be facing next year. Everybody at pretty much every age between middle school and college, and even adults, should be educated about how to intervene, when you think there might be a scenario of domestic abuse happening.”

Coffee and Conversation is a rebranding of a Connect club previously known as UpRoot, which had seen a decline in participation in recent years. “UpRoot in the past had just been a club that did tabling events [in the cafeteria] on different awareness days,” said senior Connect intern Kelly Klaren. “People didn’t really know what UpRoot was. This is giving students and teachers more insight into what we’re actually trying to do [at Connect].”

Senior Ian Trance previously attended a few UpRoot meetings, and attributed the lack of attendance to a lack of advertising. “If you weren’t looking for [the meetings], you were never going to find them,” he said. “That really limited a lot of the exposure, and how many people were interested in it. The rebranding of the discussion-based format is going to be very helpful for the continuation of [UpRoot].”

The conversation structure of Coffee and Conversation serves not only to educate students, but also to hear what the school community has to contribute to the discussion. Ian said, “The new format of focusing on conversation and dialogue and whatever that conversation may be about is very important. When you speak about what’s going on, it allows for changes to occur. I was able to voice some of my own opinions and have a dialogue about them that was honest and not judgmental.”

Senior Andrew Karlinsky echoed Ian’s remarks, and added that the inclusive and intimate nature of the discussion helps maintain students’ engagement. “Because it’s a very heavy topic, it’s hard to get people involved in it, but if you get people to reflect on how it is involved in their personal life, it can work.”

“Overall I thought it was a very valuable experience,” said Victoria. “I only wish we had more time.”