Dr. Stessman Addresses Alcohol Addiction with Student Body

Sophomore%2C+juniors+and+seniors+heard+a+presentation+from+Dr.+Stessman+on+March+4+regarding+alcohol+awareness.+

Brooklyn Jordan

Sophomore, juniors and seniors heard a presentation from Dr. Stessman on March 4 regarding alcohol awareness.

Olivia Talbert, Editor

DISCLAIMER: Family member names are silenced in this edited video per Dr. Stessman’s request. After considering the request, the editorial board decided to make these minor edits. No other edits have been made to the video.

Eleven months from his DUI last April, superintendent Dr. Martin Stessman spoke to nearly 800 students on March 4 in his long awaited “teaching moment” required by the board of education following his arrest.

Dr. Stessman received a DUI on April 6 of 2019 in Jefferson County after failing a field sobriety test. After two special board meetings, the board of education decided to keep Dr. Stessman as superintendent of schools under five conditions, one specifically requiring Stessman to “speak to students and make this a teaching moment”. 

Students reacted with varying perspectives on the timing and the format of the speech.

“I think it would have been more convenient and more relevant if he did it earlier, but also I wouldn’t expect an apology as soon as it happened because it doesn’t give him any time to feel bad for what he did or to understand what he needs to do,” sophomore Halynn Rios said. “He needed time to better himself.” 

In addition to making this a teachable moment Stessman was placed on a partially-paid administrative leave for eight weeks, had one year probation period, completed a professional alcohol assessment, and tied up legal matters. 

The process of how Stessman was going to address the student body was also heavily debated, but was finally determined after consulting high school administration.

“It needed to kind of be a natural, organic thing. The ‘hey we’re going to load everybody in the auditorium or the gym for this’ seemed artificial,” Dr. Stessman said.

Initially Dr. Stessman was to appear to the student body with Dr. Stacy Conner, a professor from Washburn University that teaches Addiction Counseling, but after Dr. Conner fell sick Stessman presented alone.

OPENING APOLOGY

Stessman began his address to the student body, opening with the long anticipated apology. 

“I expected him to apologize but then mostly just make excuses for why he did it rather than take ownership of his mistakes….I was impressed that he didn’t make excuses for himself,” Rios said. 

After his apology, Stessman discussed the role of genetics in addiction, the difference between personal, private, and secret lives, and the dangers of drinking in college. Associate principal Mrs. Sherri Monhollon introduced Dr. Stessman by asking students to “think of the last mistake you made.” 

“I was honestly expecting them to turn it around onto the students and talk about vaping and nicotine addiction…I think that there was slight hints it getting blamed on us,” senior Brooke Matzek said. “When they were saying ‘think about a mistake you have made,’ and it’s true everyone makes mistakes, but we didn’t make this mistake so I don’t know why they did that.” 

PERSONAL APPROACH

Dr. Stessman said he decided to approach students on a personal level and to take a realistic stance on teens drinking.

“To tell people not to drink doesn’t work. It just doesn’t,” Stessman said. “My issue here isn’t to tell people not to drink, it’s to tell them to recognize if they have a problem. And not just that, if you have anxiety, depression and you’re trying to escape that or medicate that to reach out for help.”

ROLE OF ALCOHOL ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

Halfway through the speech, Stessman discussed the role of alcohol in sexual assault at the college level. He mentioned his daughters experiencing this first hand. This caused heated backlash from students and parents in the halls and on social media.

“Everywhere people go, girls go, they will take that drink, will take their cup with them and put their hand over it – somebody watch my drink, I don’t want anyone to put anything in my drink that would impair me to the point where I’d be vulnerable,” Dr. Stessman said. ”But what will impair you to the point where you’ll be vulnerable is already in your drink. You ordered it, you paid for it, and you’re willingly consuming it, ladies. And you’re probably drinking vodka and cranberry juice or vodka and coke or vanilla and whatever or gin and tonic or something of that nature – drinking liquor – and the boy you’re with is drinking Bud Lite.  He weighs 210, you weigh 145…you are much smaller than he is, you will not metabolize what you drink as fast as he does, and you will drink more alcohol per ounce than he does. And you will put yourself in a situation where you could be at risk….ladies, you can’t drink with men, don’t try.”

Reactions were mixed regarding the emphasis on girls’ responsibility to limit their drinking around men. 

“I thought it was very stereotypical and I did not agree with it at all. Just the fact of him saying ‘you’re drinking a gin n’ tonic’, it’s like what if I want to drink a beer…Also it’s not only the women’s responsibility, it’s not my fault that I get raped or someone date rapes my drink. That’s not on me, that’s on the male as well and I didn’t like how he was placing the blame solely on women to keep track of their drink and ensure that they don’t get raped,” Matzek said.

HEATED REACTIONS

On Facebook and Twitter, parents and students debated whether or not this was appropriate. Sophomore Mallory Eastman responded to the school district’s tweet about the presentation, “My favorite parts (sic) of this lesson was when he told all the girls in the room that they shouldn’t drink alcohol because if they did, then they were asking to be raped, and when he said that all men will be rapists if they were given the chance.” 

Thursday during school, multiple senior girls were called into the office to offer their perspective on the content of Stessman’s speech and a solution on how to move forward. (*For full disclosure, the writer of this article was one of the senior girls called into the office to speak to Mrs. Monhollon.)

“I just wanted to bring some attention to it…I think that like, okay, first chance he got with the DUI, but then with the apology he gave, I just don’t think it’s appropriate for him to work at the school anymore so I was trying to bring some attention around it,” Eastman said Thursday.

Stessman highlighted the wine industry’s focus on women, explaining that marketing practices normalize “the woman who works all day, and then has to take care of the kids all night, and then goes home, pours a glass of wine, makes dinner, cleans up after dinner, pours a glass of wine before bed, and then all of a sudden that glass of wine is a bottle of wine.” 

“I think he did focus a lot on women because he can connect with that because he does have five daughters and that’s something that he’s worried about for his girls…I think he overdid it a little but I’m happy that he brought awareness to it because I think guys brush it off,” Rios said. 

REACHING OUT FOR HELP

Stessman concluded by emphasizing mental health and encouraging students that “have a secret of (their) own” to “reach out, talk to somebody, and get help.”

“I think he understands that kids are going to do that stuff because he works with the high school and knows that teenagers are going to do things that they are going to regret in their lives. We’re going to make mistakes and he knows that so he’s not going to push enforcement, but he understands and (taught) us from there,” sophomore Jaden Rodriguez said.

 

[Update March 6 2020 9:52 a.m.]

In response to the backlash of his comments on alcohol’s role in sexual assault at the college level, Stessman requested to speak with student journalists again. In the conversation, he said his message came across wrong.

“I was coming at that from the perspective of a protective father, I have five daughters and that’s the message I would tell my daughters and I was speaking to the young ladies at the time,” Dr. Stessman said. “I should have included the males, but I feel very protective of young women because I’m surrounded by them. I said in an effort to protect and caution. There was certainly no intent to feel like it was their fault, there’s no way it is their fault…what I should’ve said, and would say today, is that any male who takes advantage and victimizes a young lady should be prosecuted…consent is given or not given by the young lady and that boy has to respect that….my theme was ‘our secrets keep us sick’ and…for anything other than that to come out of that disappoints me and I’m not blaming anybody, it’s my own fault, there was no intended message other than that one.”

 

*Correction: In the original article, it said Mallory Eastman was contacted by the school following her tweet. However, Eastman clarified that it was not the school but another parent that reached out to her mom. 

 

Following his presentation, writer Olivia Talbert follows up with Dr. Stessman regarding his speech to the student body.