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