WBAI’s “Joy of Resistance” Features Feminist Teacher and Students

My student Carina Cruz shares her experience learning about feminism in high school. (photo, Ileana Jiménez).

Earlier this week, my students and I were guests on the radio show, Joy of Resistance, a feminist, multicultural radio show on WBAI hosted by Fran Luck and Jasmine Burnett (@blkfeminst). My students and I spoke on the importance of learning and teaching feminist theory and activism in high school classrooms.

Each of the students who joined me have done important feminist work both in the high school women’s studies class I teach as well as outside of the classroom. Carina Cruz, junior, is a SPARK bloggerSexualization, Protest, Action, Resistance, Knowledge—for a youth-led movement to stop the sexualization of girls and women in the media. Junior Dinayuri Rodriguez’s blog posts on our feminist class blog, F to the Third Power, have been so successful that one of her posts connecting Virginia Woolf’s argument in A Room of One’s Own to today’s low-earning feminist bloggers earned her a comment on the post from well-known feminist author and blogger Courtney Martin, of Feministing fame.

Emma Stydahar, junior, is also a SPARK blogger who recently spoke at the Meet Us on the Street anti-street harassment rally in New York. Finally, senior Grace Tobin found her voice testifying at last year’s New York City Council hearing on street harassment, landing her an interview with CBS, which led to a blogging internship with the Women’s Media Center. Grace also spoke at the anti-street harassment rally with Emma.

I was particularly moved and inspired listening to my students speak about how taking the feminism course has made an impact on their lives. Fran asked students if they could share how learning about feminism allowed them to name one thing in their lives that they could not name before, leading them to a feminist click. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading

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.

Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action

The following post was originally published at On the Issues

The students in my feminism class read Rachel Lloyd's memoir, Girls Like Us, about the commercial sexual exploitation of children. (Photo, Steve Neiman, used with permission).

During a recent Twitter chat on #sheparty hosted by the Women’s Media Center, I tweeted: “How many feminists know edu hashtags and vice versa?”

The point I wanted to get across is that many feminists today don’t know much about today’s education conversation and, in turn, educators don’t know much about what’s going on in feminist discourse, whether it’s academic or activist.

My job as a feminist high school teacher is to close the women’s and gender studies gap for young people. To stop bullying, stop raping, stop perpetuating racism and sexism, and instead start making social change, I believe in bringing a gender, racial, and economic justice lens to education at all levels. Feminism does this work.

For me, connecting schools with feminist theory and action is personal. When I was in elementary school on Long Island in the early ‘80s, I was called “Afro” and “nigger.” Recess was not fun; to the contrary, it was a time to be bullied by my peers, who surrounded me while I was on the swings and in the sandbox. I always wonder how different my life might have been if my white teachers and white peers knew something about racism or if the rich history of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans had been taught to us as children. The goal would not have been color-blindness, but safety and inclusion, respect and responsibility for each other.

Now that I am a teacher, I believe that the power of feminist theory and action is exactly what young people need to create understandings across differences, learn how to lead healthy lives and to make social change.  Continue reading

Guest Post: Prepare for the Day of Silence: Support Student-Activists

Day of Silence, April 15, 2011

To help support educators sponsoring the Day of Silence in their schools, I asked Elizabeth J. Meyer to write a guest post providing advice for this Friday’s national event. Meyer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She is the author of two books: Gender, bullying, and harassment: Strategies to end sexism and homophobia in schools (2009) and Gender and sexual diversity in schools (2010). She blogs regularly for Psychology Today and the Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy.

I was excited to get the invitation to write this guest post about the upcoming Day of Silence (DOS) on Friday, April 15, 2011. This is an important event that is taking place in high schools and universities across the country and I was asked to offer some suggestions for educators on how best to support students who have decided to participate in this event.

What is the Day of Silence?

This somewhat controversial event began in 1996 at the University of Virginia when a group of students chose to remain silent for one day to call attention to the anti-LGBT name-calling and harassment at their school.  In 2008, over 8,000 middle and high schools registered with GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) to participate. Although it was originally a grassroots, student-initiated event, GLSEN has provided their infrastructure to create educational resources and organizing ideas to their network of chapters and via their website to support widespread participation. There has been backlash in some communities against this event, but students and teachers who have participated indicate that it is a non-confrontational, yet empowering way to highlight these issues in a school community. Continue reading

Speaking: Educating Girls Conference at the Chapin School

Today I will be speaking at the Educating Girls conference sponsored by NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools) to be held at the all girls Chapin School. The title of my workshop is “Engaging Girls in Feminist Activism.”

I will begin the workshop with the following video highlighting some of the most exciting moments of my course Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists between the years 2008-10.

Continue reading

Top 10 Media Moments for Young Feminists at LREI in 2010

In just one trimester, the students in my feminism course launched their voices into their communities and the feminist blogosphere. Here, they hold copies of "Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists." (photo Ileana Jiménez)

This past fall, the students in my Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists course at the Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (LREI) took the work we do in this class to a whole new level. They not only launched their feminist class blog F to the Third Power but also launched their voices as young high school feminists into their communities and the media.

I am particularly proud of the myriad ways in which these students have leveraged their feminist blogging and their work as activists to make an impact on the issues they care about such as street harassment, sexual assault and rape, the sexualization of girls and women in the media, and what it means to be a male ally. From blog posts to speaking engagements, my students are definitely becoming the inspiring voices of today’s feminist movement.

Below is a round-up of their top 10 moments in the spotlight:

1. In October, students launched their own feminist blog, F to the Third Power with tremendous help from Feministing bloggers, Chloe Angyal and Miriam Pérez.

2. Within weeks, Courtney Martin at Feministing quickly discovered my students’ blog. Shortly afterwards, Gabriela Resto-Montero from DNAinfo.com also wrote about my students’ blogging and their commitment to activism.

3. Cameron Diggs, a student in the feminism class, writes a guest blog post for Feministe about her award-winning human trafficking video.

4. When Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback, which uses mobile technology to fight street harassment, visited my class, she invited students to share their personal testimonies on the Hollaback website. By invitation from May, my feminism student Grace Tobin testified at the November New York City Council hearing on street harassment and was later interviewed by CBS and the New York Post. She wrote a blog post about her experience doing both at F to the Third Power.

5. Street harassment activist and scholar, Holly Kearl, features Grace Tobin’s testimony on her important Stop Street Harassment site as well as links Grace’s blog post from F to the Third Power. Ms. Magazine blog also quotes Grace in a post about her testimony. Continue reading

Video of Feminist Teacher and Students Speaking at TEDxYouth 2010

Several weeks ago, the students in my feminism class, Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists, spoke at TEDxYouth at the Hewitt School. We shared our various stories about how we found our feminist voice. The video of our talk has been picked up by nist.tv, one of my favorite new websites that features feminist videos.

During the first half of the talk, I shared stories about how I came to my feminism as a queer Latina high school and college student and later, as an educator. During the second half, the students told their powerful stories as well. Their stories range from launching a movement against the sexualization of girls in the media, to becoming a male feminist, to sharing one’s story about street harassment to impact policy. Set aside some time to listen to this next generation of young feminists. They are coming to change your world.

Young Feminists Speak Out at TEDxYouth

Students from my feminism class spoke at TEDxYouth at the Hewitt School (photo by Ileana Jiménez).

After much planning and rehearsing, half of the students in my Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists class and I finally got up on stage at TEDxYouth Day held at the Hewitt School in New York. The theme of this year’s TEDxYouth was “Be the Change,” and all talks were live-streamed globally. During our 16 minute talk, each of my students and I spoke about how we came to our feminist voice.

For two students, seniors Taylor Brando and Ian Tsang, their feminism emerges from watching the women in their families overcome challenges.

Brando said during her talk: “I came into my feminist voice by witnessing day in and day out the hardships the women in my family faced. They would constantly be put down or quieted, for no reason other than they were women. Most women in my family would try to get their voices heard, but nothing truly came of it. The biggest exception, however, is my mother. She always has been and always will be my main supporter. She is the one that showed me that women don’t need to be weak and defenseless. My mother is the whole reason I started working on feminism. Because of her, I want to help other women learn that they can be independent and speak their own minds. I want all women to be like my mother: independent and not afraid.” Continue reading

Year in Review: My Feminism Class Supports GEMS in Fight to End Sex Trafficking 2009

Bags upon bags of clothing and baby item donations for GEMS.

Think young people are not interested in feminist activism?  Think again.

High school students in my Fierce and Fabulous:  Feminist Women, Writers, Artists, and Activists class spent the better part of the fall trimester learning about and supporting efforts to end sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of girls and women both here in NYC and globally.

In class, students watched the film “Very Young Girls,” made by GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) whose mission “is to empower young women, ages 12-21, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking, to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential.  GEMS is committed to ending commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of children by changing individual lives, transforming public perception, and revolutionizing the systems and policies that impact sexually exploited youth.”

As part of the unit, outreach workers from GEMS visited the class and further explored the personal implications and horrors of domestic trafficking.  Students then collaborated to present a school-wide assembly, which took place on Tuesday, November 17, 2009, to rally their high school peers to support GEMS.

The assembly included clips from “Very Young Girls,” statistics on commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), speakers from GEMS, and the students’ personal response to the issue and the film. My students and I were so moved to see that within 24 hours of the assembly, an outpouring of clothing donations, including items for children and babies, came in through the school doors from students, faculty, and our principal.

I was also particularly moved when members of the Community Service Roundtable, our school’s philanthropy club that funds children’s groups in New York City, were so inspired by their peers’ presentation, that they unanimously decided to support GEMS as part of their fundraising efforts this year.  Their genuine interest in supporting GEMS made me believe in the power of peer education on issues of social justice.

To continue the conversation about sex trafficking, Taina Bien-Aime, executive director from Equality Now, visited the class to talk about the issue on a global level.  A later visit from Mia Herndon, executive director of the Third Wave Foundation, further exposed students to social change through feminist philanthropy and grantmaking.

Students also visited the exhibit Journey, an art installation that explores one woman’s “journey into hell” when she was trafficked to the UK. British actor Emma Thompson curated the exhibit.  As we moved through the interactive exhibit, my students and I found ourselves feeling and even smelling the terror of trafficking.

This HIV/AIDS poster was created by a GEMS girl; it won first place in a contest.

At the end of the trimester, students visited the GEMS office to deliver their donations and to participate in GEMS’ weeklong observance of World AIDS Day in December. Students played educational games such as AIDS “Jeopardy” with GEMS girls.  Although the course has now ended, the students and the larger school remain energized and inspired to foster a long-standing partnership with GEMS.

As a feminist educator, I am extremely proud of my students and school for taking the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children so seriously and for moving forward with a deep commitment to social justice for young women and girls.