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

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MAKERS Moment with Cherríe Moraga, Chicana feminist

Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga and I at the MAKERS: Women Who Make America premiere in New York (photo credit, Ileana Jiménez).

Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga and I at the MAKERS: Women Who Make America premiere in New York (photo credit, Ileana Jiménez).

In the spring of 1994 during my first year in college, Cherríe Moraga changed my life forever. Her essay “A Long Line of Vendidas” from Loving in the War Years gave me the language I would forever use to understand my brownness, my queer identity, and my feminism.

“To be a woman fully necessitated my claiming the race of my mother. My brother’s sex was white. Mine, brown.”

I recently met Moraga at the red carpet premiere of the MAKERS documentary Women Who Make America in New York. As I watched the first hour of the film during the premiere, I was excited to see a shot of the now classic 1980 photo of Moraga with Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith wearing their Kitchen Table: Woman of Color Press t-shirts. Kitchen Table was the first woman of color independent press that became well-known for publishing the groundbreaking collection This Bridge Called My Back.

Edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Moraga in 1983, the pieces in Bridge paved the way for how we breathe, speak, and love feminism today. We only need mention these women’s names and we all immediately recognize the bridge they built for our collective feminist consciousness.

Anzaldúa, Lorde, Moraga, and Barbara Smith (who is also featured in MAKERS) were the women who revolutionized feminism. They were the ones who brought an analysis of race, class, and ethnicity to our critical discussions of gender and sexuality. They were the ones who taught us how to bring this intersectional lens to issues of education, immigration, labor, reproductive rights, and much more.

Indeed, they created the feminism we so revere and rally around today. Continue reading

2013 Speaking Engagements for Feminist Teacher: Ileana Jiménez

I presented at the National Women's Studies Association Conference in 2012 (photo credit: Veronica Arreola).

I presented at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in 2012 (photo credit: Veronica Arreola).

I have an exciting line-up of presentations and speaking engagements this spring. Please join me at one of these events and make teaching for social justice through feminism and activism a reality. Let me know if you’ll be there!

Top Five Moments on Teaching High School Feminism in 2012

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

2012 was a fantastic year for me as a feminist teacher, activist, and blogger. Take a look at my top five moments this year. 

  1. Appeared on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show to talk about teaching women’s studies to high school students as well as to advocate for safe and inclusive schools (August 2012).
  2. Featured in The Atlantic during the Aspen Ideas Festival for teaching students how to engage in public discourse via blogging (July 2012).
  3. Presented best practices on teaching high school feminism to a full room of scholars and activists at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Oakland. Among several topics, I highlighted my students’ work on the first International Day of the Girl (October-November 2012).
  4. Supported my students Emma and Carina as they led a SPARK petition challenging Teen Vogue to stop photoshopping images of women and girls and to start including more diverse models (July 2012).

    My students Emma and Carina (far left) led the SPARK petition against Teen Vogue (photo courtesy SPARK).

    My students Emma and Carina (far left) led the SPARK petition against Teen Vogue (photo courtesy SPARK).

  5. Record number of six boys sign up for my high school feminism class. Two boys credit sisters who have taken women’s studies classes–including mine–as the number one reason for taking my class. This year, students wrote phenomenal blog posts on their feminist blog, F to the Third Power, including their vision for the future of feminism (September-December 2012).

    Students in my high school feminism class 2012 (photo Ileana Jiménez).

    Students in my high school feminism class 2012 (photo Ileana Jiménez).

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.

My High School Feminism Class Marks International Day of the Girl 2012

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The students in my high school feminism class marked this year’s first International Day of the Girl by leading a phenomenal school-wide assembly for their peers. We partnered with 10×10 Educate Girls to learn about the state of girls’ education globally as well as with our partner school in India, the all-girls Shri Shikshayatan School in Kolkata.

In addition to sharing information about girls education globally, my students showed videos from a range of organizations including those from 10×10 and the Girl Effect. The young women and men in the class highlighted statistics on girls education and several girls shared personal stories about growing up at the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the U.S.

Across the globe, high school girls at Shri Shikshayatan sponsored a day of panels related to infanticide or sex selective abortion, trafficking, and the education of girls in India.

My students documented reflections on leading their International Day of the Girl assembly on their blog F to the Third Power, citing learning about intersectionality–or the theory that categories of oppression such as racism, classism, and sexism are interlocking–as the most important concept that helped provide them a lens for understanding both social justice feminism as well as themselves.

We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with the girls and teachers at Shri Shikshayatan, and are hoping to visit their school in the future. Until then, our classes will continue the dialogue about gender and equity in both countries, as we foster a critical and action-based understanding about the need for global education for girls and their communities to create social and economic justice.

Feminist Teacher Now Education Commentator on Feminist Magazine, Pacifica Radio

Feminist Magazine, KPFK 90.7, Pacifica Radio

Over the summer, I joined the exciting roster of new commentators at Feminist Magazine on KPFK Pacifica radio. I will be sharing perspectives on social justice and feminism in education.

If you missed my first commentary in July, I’ve posted the audio archive here as well as the transcript below. Watch my Twitter and Facebook feeds for updates on upcoming commentary dates.

Transcript of my first commentary on the invisibility of teachers as leaders in the media and the need to re-position our voices in political and educational discourse follows below. Continue reading

Guest Blog: Krystle Merchant on Teaching Women’s History

Krystle Merchant teaches a high school women’s history class at an all-girls school outside of Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy, Krystle Merchant)

The following guest blog by Krystle Merchant is the final post in a three-part series on teaching for social justice featuring the work of educators in primary, middle, and high school classrooms.

Krystle Merchant is a teacher and proud feminist at an all-girls high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. 

As a young, black female history teacher at a private school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., I often feel pressured to speak to colleagues and parents on behalf of many different communities. As a result, I try to educate girls to be willing and able to do the same as adult women, regardless of which communities they represent. This is especially true in my Women in the United States senior history elective, where I draw my students’ attention to their current and future experiences as women, the importance of gender to the meaning of history, and the construction of the historical narrative.

On the first day of class, we start with a simple survey. The first question, “Are you a feminist?,” always gets a qualified answer. Even seniors at an all-girls high school, who are choosing to take a course in women’s history, do not feel comfortable identifying as feminists. The term is so deeply connected to negative stereotypes of women, that even when they give a good working definition of feminism, they do not want to associate themselves with the term.

To chip away at their internalized barrier to feminism, I ask my girls to identify, follow, and respond regularly to a feminist blog such as the fbomb, Feministing, and Feminists for Choice. From there, the course proceeds by reviewing much of the same content covered in their junior year survey course on U.S. History.

However, rather than discussing notable American women or women’s contributions to the usual textbook topics, we talk about periodization, access to power, and production. The latter term “production” refers to the sources available for our study and whether they were produced by women. Women’s societal status at any given time determined the kinds of information they could produce and whether that information became accessible for later study. Continue reading

Guest Blog: Emancipatory Education: Dena Simmons on Teaching for Social Justice in Middle School

Dena Simmons teaches middle school students social justice and activism (photo courtesy, Dena Simmons).

The following guest blog by Dena Simmons is the second in a three-part series on teaching for social justice featuring the work of educators in primary, middle, and high school classrooms.

Dena Simmons is an activist, an educator, and student. Born to a resilient mother who escaped Antigua to come to the U.S., Simmons was raised in the Bronx and hopes to stay there. After graduating with honors from Middlebury College, Simmons returned to the Bronx as a middle school teacher. In 2007, she traveled to Antigua as a health volunteer for the Directorate of Gender Affairs to provide better health services for Dominican sex workers. She received a Fulbright grant to study the collaboration between schools and health agencies to prevent teen pregnancy in the Dominican Republic. She is also a 2004 Harry S. Truman Scholar and 2010 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow. She is currently studying for her Doctorate of Education at Columbia University, Teachers College. Her research is focused on teacher preparedness as it relates to bullying in the middle school setting.

At the beginning of each school year, I become overwhelmed with happiness and excitement at the thought of teaching and preparing the next generation of activists.

As I reflect on some social justice practices I do in the middle school classroom, the first and most important practice that comes to mind is the act of learning who my students, their parents/guardians, and community are.

On the first day of school, I present students with a survey so that they have the opportunity to tell me about themselves, their hobbies, the languages they speak at home, their favorite foods, favorite books, their academic and social strengths and areas of growth, and so on.  I use the information students share with me to incorporate their experiences into my instruction so that it is culturally responsive and student-centered.

I also send students home with an introductory letter and parent survey as a way to communicate to parents that our work in educating their children is a collaborative effort and that I am interested in who they are and what they have to offer.

Too often, we enter our classrooms focusing on our students’ deficits, needs, and problems.  Instead, we should focus on what they do bring to the classroom and build off of it.  In addition to having students fill out a survey, I also do an activity with them called “hands, head, heart, and home” where through making posters, students share with their classmates and me their hands (what they are good at doing), head (what they are knowledgeable about), heart (what they are passionate about), and home (what organizations and places in their community they consider to be important). Continue reading

Guest Blog: Vanessa D’Egidio on Teaching for Social Justice in Primary School Classrooms

Vanessa D’Egidio teaches for social justice in primary school classrooms (photo courtesy: Vanessa D’Egidio).

The following guest blog by Vanessa D’Egidio is the first in a three-part series on teaching for social justice featuring the work of educators in primary, middle, and high school classrooms.

Vanessa D’Egidio is currently a second grade teacher in New York City. As a graduate of both Barnard College’s Childhood Education Program and the Curriculum and Teaching Master’s Program at Teachers College, Vanessa brings to the classroom a passion for teaching for social justice. Vanessa has gained a diverse wealth of experiences studying and working in Hong Kong,  Italy, and New York and is a member of the Teaching Tolerance advisory board.

“Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions.” -James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers”

Those who spend time with children know what James Baldwin noted in his 1963 speech to teachers to be true. Young children seem to carry an inherent curiosity and keen eye for observation with them to and from school. They notice the world around them. They ask questions. They notice differences. They notice similarities. They speak what’s on their minds.

Young children have not yet learned the art of self-censorship that comes with age. For some, issues related to diversity can be ignored. For others, this colorblind approach is a privilege they can never have, especially those who are directly impacted by social “–isms” such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. These children do not have the choice to turn a blind eye to bias, stereotyping, and prejudice.

Sometimes, issues related to diversity come up spontaneously in the classroom. A child will make a comment or ask a question. A teacher may overhear a conversation. I have witnessed children make a myriad of comments both inside and outside of school. “Why does she have brown skin?” “You can’t have a family with two mommies. It has to be a mommy and a daddy!” “Pink is a girl’s color!” While it is important to seize these “teachable moments” when they arise, I think it is even more important to design and implement an anti-bias curriculum that integrates culturally relevant teaching and addresses social justice pro-actively.

I believe that an anti-bias curriculum cannot be a superficial add-on to the existing curricula; it must be thoughtfully planned and responsive, as well as pervasive and embedded within all aspects of the teaching-learning process. A huge part of my practice involves building up my students’ critical thinking skills and ability to engage in dialogue around complex social issues. I want them to feel safe in our teaching-learning environment so they can ask questions, make connections, share personal experiences, and talk openly and honestly about who they are and what they observe in the world around them, particularly in regards to the “isms” that continuously impact our communities.

I also encourage my students to be allies—or people who have the courage to stand up and speak out in the face of unfairness—whether it is in the form of a gender-related bullying situation at recess or a larger issue they have observed.

Below are some classroom practices I use to integrate social justice and anti-bias principles into my second grade curriculum. These strategies are not meant to be prescriptive or implemented as “easy” solutions. Anti-bias work in the classroom is inherently complex, messy, and challenging. Keeping this reality in mind though, it can be done, and more importantly, it can be adapted successfully for the primary classroom. Continue reading