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

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.

Create an Anti-Street Harassment PSA With Your Students

The success of last week’s International Anti-Street Harassment Week was astonishing. Organized by leading anti-street harassment activist Holly Kearl, founder of the well-known blog Stop Street Harassment, the week featured the work of the most cutting-edge activists in the field, including dance performances by Sydnie Mosley and her Window Sex Project and a viral video featuring Joe Samalin and other male allies telling men to just stop harassing women in both English and Spanish.

As part of the week’s events, two of my students, Grace and Emma, and I spoke at the Meet Us On the Street rally in New York. Grace shared a portion of the testimony that she read to last year’s New York City Council hearing on street harassment and Emma, who is also a SPARK blogger against the sexualization of girls and women in the media, shared her own vision for safer streets and communities not just for herself but also for her own sister.

I spoke about the importance of engaging teachers in the global movement against street harassment as an education and health issue for schools.

But the work doesn’t stop there. It’s important to show students that activism needs to be consistent, and not done in a flavor-of-the-month style. That’s why last fall, students in my high school feminism course partnered with other students at our school to create their own anti-street harassment public service announcement (PSA).  Their goal: to educate their peers about the gravity of street harassment in their daily lives.

As part of the background work to create the video, I invited activists from Girls for Gender Equity, Hollaback!, The Line Campaign, Men Can Stop Rape, and Right Rides to talk to my students. Activist Shelby Knox also visited to talk about her film, The Education of Shelby Knox. Each of them shared their expertise, provided students with materials, and ultimately inspired them to create their PSA.

You can create your own PSA with your students too. Start, as I did, with educating your students about the issue by inviting activists to your classroom. Then have students envision a PSA that would be relevant and engaging for your school community. Screen the PSA at an upcoming assembly. Then join the revolution.  See above for inspiration.

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. 
Masturbating.

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