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:

  • Collaborating with advocacy and activist organizations such as the Center for Anti-Violence Education to teach students self-defense; Girls for Gender Equity to address sexual harassment in schools via interactive workshops; Men Can Stop Rape to engage young men; and Stop Street Harassment to teach high school students methods to combat the issue via blogging and social media;
  • Learning about intersectionality: As the AAUW report shows, the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality 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, racism, and homophobia, 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.
  • Creating trans-inclusive schools is key to creating a gender justice framework that takes into account the experiences of transgender students in schools. Professional development for teachers on preferred gender pronouns, gender inclusive bathrooms, and the social and emotional transitions that transgender youth go through creates safer school environments for all.

The executive summary of Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.

Melissa Guardaro, Kathleen Cha, Gloria Blackwell, Noel Diggs, Linda Hallman, Holly Kearl, Josephine Stuart, Emily Morenike Carpenter, and Ileana Jiménez (Feminist Teacher) at the Crossing the Line discussion. (Photo credit: Beckie Weinheimer)

Melissa Guardaro, Kathleen Cha, Gloria Blackwell, Noel Diggs, Linda Hallman, Holly Kearl, Josey Stuart, Emily Morenike Carpenter, and Ileana Jiménez (Feminist Teacher) at the Crossing the Line panel. (photo credit: Beckie Weinheimer)

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

  1. Pingback: Remainders: In defense of Big (corporate) Data (about students) | GothamSchools

  2. All these international and national organizations supporting the same cause, and all these amazing school faculties and students working together day by day is not only crucial to prevent and stop this type of violence but also hopeful and inspiring for other teachers and students around the globe. And as for the items highlighted by Feminist Teacher to be worked on so as to help develop a new conciousness both inside and outside the school, I couldn´t agree more.
    An Argentine teacher

  3. I find the work you do inspiring, particularly the fact that you support the involvement of boys in the feminist discourse. I wonder though, do you find a limitations to expanding what you’re doing to other places in the country? (The dilapidated sexual education system in our nation comes to mind, if we can’t get beyond talking about sex, how do we even start with feminism) How could we get a greater conversation going on expanding the teachings of feminist theory nationwide? I didn’t learn about feminism till college, but i wish i had known about it at a much younger age, what are your thoughts?

    • Andres, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment and great questions. I frequently receive emails from teachers across the country–and even around the world–who want to do this work in their classrooms. I do think that in some schools there could be some significant barriers and resistance, though I do think there are different ways to do this work other than teaching an entire course on feminism, as I do.

      Teachers can do this work by pairing texts and films with other texts that they already have in their curriculum. Other ways to do this work is to create a series of speakers to come in to speak on a focused set of themes on the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality. There are also ways to work with students after school in a club or a book group. Another important thing to do is to work in solidarity with other teachers and create a collaborative project together with students. Another way to do this work is to keep an eye out for events that local and regional activist groups hold on feminist and social justice issues and that are open to young people and educators being involved.

      I also certainly agree that sex education is one of the key ways to bring these issues to the classroom; everything from forming healthy relationships to preventing gender-based violence such as rape and assault to having access to reproductive choices are all part of ensuring that young people understand how to analyze the connection between issues of gender and sexuality with their own health and well-being.

      I am definitely interested in the conversation about how to bring women’s and gender studies curricula to schools nationally. I am working with various academics, activists, and advocates about making that happen and will certainly be blogging about some of these initiatives in the near future. In the mean time, please feel free to come to my speaking events and workshops, where I share with teachers how to bring this work to their classrooms. My next set of talks will be in the fall at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Cincinnati, where I will sit on three different panels. Thank you for opening up this conversation!

  4. Pingback: Top 10 Feminist Teacher Highlights of 2013 « Feminist Teacher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s