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Lincoln-Sudbury teens work against dating violence

Posted by Tom Coakley  April 23, 2013 01:05 PM

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Responding to the murder of Wayland teen Lauren Astley, students and staff at neighboring Lincoln-Sudbury High School have joined together to tackle issues around dating violence.

Their year-long effort culminates this week with an assembly for their classmates and a public performance Thursday of “The Yellow Dress,’’ a one-woman play that tells the story of a young woman who is involved in a relationship that begins as young love, and ends in tragedy.

The play and the assembly will help the students identify the warning signs of abusive behaviors, understand the unique aspects of teen dating violence, and learn how to help friends and family members and develop school community awareness of the issue, said Lori Hodin,
coordinator of the Safe School Initiative at Lincoln-Sudbury High School, and a psychology teacher there.

“I remember being so upset about the Lauren Astley murder,’’ Hodin said. “That could have easily been one of my students.’’

Thursday evening’s performance of “The Yellow Dress’’ is free and open to the public. It will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school’s Kirshner Auditorium. The event is sponsored by the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund. A performance for students will be held during the school day.

Lauren Astley was 18 when she was killed July 3, 2011 at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita.

Fujita was convicted in March of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The two had dated for three years but broke up in the spring of 2011. On July 3, 2011, Fujita lured her to his family’s Wayland home, told her to park out of sight, then beat, strangled, and slashed her to death before dumping her body.

Hodin said the murder prompted her to restart the Lincoln Sudbury Mentors in Violence Prevention Team. MVP, a nationwide initiative based out of Northeastern University’s Institute of Sport and Society, encourages athletes to use their status to promote healthy relationships.

“MVP uses athletes because of their status, and trains them to use their status to prevent abuse against women,’’ Hodin said. “Teen boys do not have many positive male role models showing emotional sensitivity and dealing with sadness in open and caring ways.’’

Hodin said staff members and students received training from Northeastern last year. Over the past year, the LS MVP team focused on responding to recent examples of abusive relationships, including Lauren Astley’s murder. A core group of student athletes prepared an assembly for their peers and planned for the production of “The Yellow Dress.’’

Malcolm Astley, Lauren’s father, has attended some of the planning sessions and commended the school and students for tackling the issue.

“It was deeply heartening to watch the care, concern and determination in the high school student leaders as they worked through the painful and alarming information and issues to develop a strong presentation for their peers that they believed would help reduce men’s violence against women,’’ Astley said.

He said it is exactly the type of programming that is needed in all of the state’s schools.

“From the presentation we hope word will spread as to the needs involved and the solutions at hand,’’ Astley said. “It is powerful to have peer leaders involved since young people will go to each other first about abusive relationships. If student leaders are spreading awareness, are alert together, and linked with trusted adults, we will provide the safety net we need to prevent men’s violence against women among young people, and even the larger culture as they grow into adults.”

“The Yellow Dress’’ is produced and directed by Deana’s Educational Theater, a non-profit organization based in Wakefield.

Following Thursday evening’s performance, Mary Dunne, Lauren Astley’s mother will briefly speak to the audience.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.



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