Top 10 Feminist Teacher Highlights of 2013

A great deal of inspiring work happened in 2013 both in my high school feminism class and in my outside professional work to build a movement with other teachers, activists, and academics to bring women’s, gender, and queer studies to schools. Here’s my top ten favorite moments of 2013.

1. Launched a movement to bring women’s and gender studies to K-12 schools with other high school feminist teachers from across the country at the AAUW’s (American Association of University Women) first ever symposium, Creating Classrooms of Justice: Teaching Gender Studies in Schools. Hosted in partnership with the AAUW, I delivered the keynote and helped to organize the panels featured throughout the day. More than 50 educators and activists from across the country – from California to Massachusetts – met at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, for a day-long event. Special thanks to fellow activist, Holly Kearl, for helping make this event happen as successfully as it did. Everyone walked away inspired. To join the movement, email:

I delivered the keynote at the AAUW's first ever symposium on teaching women's and gender studies in K-12 schools. The symposium was held in St. Louis (photo credit: Holly Kearl).

I delivered the keynote at the AAUW’s first ever symposium on teaching women’s and gender studies in K-12 schools. The symposium was held in St. Louis (photo credit: Holly Kearl).

2. Brought my students to the United Nations in New York for a Girls Speak Out event to observe the second annual International Day of the Girl held every October 11. As part of observing IDG, my students held our second annual assembly and blogged about their experience. As a class, we continued to partner with the all-girls school, Shri Shikshayatan, in Kolkata, India and learned about global girls education, sex trafficking, sex selection, and sexual harassment in both countries.

Students from my high school feminism class attended a Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

Students from my high school feminism class attended a Girls Speak Out event at the United Nations for International Day of the Girl (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

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High School Feminism Students Address School Sexual Harassment at UN Commission on Status of Women

My high school feminism students, Josey Stuart and Noel Diggs, (front) and Emily Morenike Carpenter from Girls for Gender Equity spoke on a panel addressing the findings in the AAUW report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

This year’s 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women taking place currently in New York from March 4-15 is focusing on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls with a particular focus on the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men.

As part of a series of UN parallel events taking place in various venues was a panel sponsored by the AAUW (American Association of University Women) highlighting the findings of their important study Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. As Crossing the Line co-author Holly Kearl noted: “The AAUW was one of the first organizations to talk about sexual harassment in schools in 1993, and they continue to be a leading voice on the topic.”

Holly invited my high school feminism class students Josey Stuart and Noel Diggs to sit on the panel along with Emily Morenike Carpenter from Girls for Gender Equity; all students shared their insights on how to address sexual harassment in schools.

Josey mentioned that “to learn, you need to be in a safe environment, you need to feel like you’re able to express yourself, you can’t be focused on the constant fear of being harassed,” while Noel highlighted the importance of teaching students to shift their language away from misogynist messages such as “bagging” girls sexually and using words such as “gay” in negative contexts.

Emily noted that “instead of having faculty talk down to students and saying ‘this is what sexual harassment is,’ we can have students define and talk about sexual harassment in a way that gives them agency and supports their voice.”

Holly highlighted that “48% of students experienced sexual harassment during the 2010-11 school year, including more girls than boys, especially in the upper grades. 30% experienced cyber-harassment and most of them were also harassed in person. Nearly one in three students witnessed harassment happening, including more girls than boys.”

During my portion of the panel I highlighted: Continue reading

My High School Feminism Students Create Get Out the Vote Video for Young Women

Earlier this fall, my high school feminism students and I created an It’s My Vote video designed to encourage young women to vote in this year’s election. The American Association of University Women’s Action Fund sponsored the campaign and we were featured on their site.

As an educator-activist, nothing is more important to me than teaching young people the importance of civic engagement. In our video, I share the story of how each year, my Puerto Rican mom brought me to the polls in the Bronx to pull the lever for her while carrying me in her arms; my students then talk about why voting matters to them as young women.

In the same way that my mom carried me to the polls to share her voice, today and everyday, I carry the responsibility of teaching my students that they too must carry the legacy of change in their hands both for themselves and their communities.

Spoke at AAUW Release of Sexual Harassment in Schools Report (VIDEO)

Last fall, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a report titled Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment in Schools at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The report presents new data on sexual harassment, including cyber-harassment, in middle and high schools based on a 2011 nationwide survey of students in grades 7-12.

As part of the release, I participated in a panel along with report co-authors Catherine Hill and Holly Kearl, both of the AAUW; Kedrick Griffin, senior director of programs at Men Can Stop Rape; and Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes.

In addition to providing key findings, the report highlights four promising practices that schools can take action on, including teaching women’s studies at the high school level. Teaching gender and women’s studies to high school students not only increases girls’ knowledge of sexual harassment but also shows that “girls [feel] more self-empowered to respond to incidents of sexual harassment.”

As part of my remarks on the panel, I pointed to this promising practice of addressing sexual harassment in schools as part of my own women’s studies classroom. Key components of my course on women’s and gender studies include:

  • Collaborating with advocacy and activist organizations such as Girls for Gender Equity to address sexual harassment in schools; Men Can Stop Rape to engage young men; Hollaback! to teach high school students to address street harassment via blogging and social media; and the Center for Anti-Violence Education, to teach my students self-defense.
  • Learning about intersectionality: As the AAUW report shows, the intersection of race, class, and gender can cause some students to fare worse than others when they experience sexual harassment. In my own classroom, teaching students how to analyze various systems of oppression, including sexism and racism, leads students to build respect for each other and in the end, decreases incidents of gender-based violence in schools.
  •  Building consciousness for boys and working with them as allies. We cannot overlook the importance of bringing young men into the conversation in terms of helping them understand societal messages about masculinity and hyper-masculinity that leads to the kind of homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, and other gender-based violence we see in schools and on the streets.

Why Teachers Should Join the Global Movement Against Street Harassment

My student Grace testifying at the New York City Council Hearing on street harassment in October 2010. (photo by Ileana Jiménez)

Last year, my student Grace did a very brave thing. Before a packed room of reporters, politicians, activists, and fellow testifiers, she shared her personal experience with street harassment to the leaders of the New York City Council.

During her testimony, Grace described how a man publicly masturbated in front of her on the subway and the humiliation and shame she felt as a result:

The moment which I have felt most degraded, belittled, and humiliated was at 6 p.m. on a Saturday getting on to the 1 train at Chambers heading uptown . . . His eyes flashed up to meet mine and I quickly dropped my gaze into my lap. I didn’t want to make eye contact with him, just like with any stranger; I was worried he would misinterpret the eye contact  . . . but I glanced up at him, against my better judgment.

The hands I thought were in his pockets were not. They were under the big sides of his tan coat. 

I guess I must have been angry. I don’t think I could feel it though. My fear and shock overpowered everything else such as the shame and embarrassment. The vulnerability and victimization. The fact that I was frozen. Unable to say a thing. Unable to move. Unable to fully comprehend, or at least, not letting myself.

Grace’s powerful testimony was one of many shared at that hearing, which was organized by City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, chair of the City Council Women’s Issues Committee. Ferreras hoped that it would “cast light on this depraved practice and that women and girls will no longer have to adopt a veil of caution when they want to do something as basic as walk down the street.”

As a teacher, watching my own student testify against street harassment made me all the more galvanized to be a part of the growing global movement against street harassment. Her story not only confirms the experiences of so many girls, women, and members of the LGBTQ community on both national and international levels, but also confirms that my very own students are subject to this very real form violence as they travel to and from school, hang out with friends, and in short, live their lives. Continue reading