Students Speak Up about Sexual HarassmentMay 01, 2012
This spring break, as our college friends packed suitcases filled with tank tops and swimming suits, we loaded a car with box upon box of notebooks, pens, white easel pads, and lots of snacks and prepared to go back to high school.
For our AAUW Campus Action Project, based on the research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, we created an interactive, hour long writing workshop for ninth-graders called Use Your Voice. Over our spring break, we presented our workshop to 1,400 students in three public high schools in South Bend, Indiana. We also distributed copies of the AAUW report to teachers, administrators, and members of the South Bend Community School Corporation Board.
As we nervously started our first day presenting, we soon began to experience the everyday parts of high school life that we so easily forgot upon entering college. From drug-sniffing dogs to fire drills to bomb threats, we felt that we were living our high school years all over again.
During the workshops, we shared our own stories of harassment and affirmed the stories and feelings of everyone who contributed to our discussions. Almost every student shared how they witnessed sexual harassment every day in high school. Many students shared how they or a friend had experienced it. At one school, the participants shared the story of a student who committed suicide last year after seeing something hurtful that was posted on the Internet.
When a student shared a very personal story, the classes were very supportive and respectful. The openness for response was wonderful and very inspiring for us! All of the students were saddened when they heard what their peers were going through.
We asked students to share how they can try to be advocates for themselves and others. They shared how they can reach out to people they trust within school and how they can let others know that actions or words that make you uncomfortable do not have to be a part of everyday school life.
Our presentation didn’t just help girls who were being harassed, it also helped to liberate boys who didn’t want to be touched in the hallway or made fun of for their actual or perceived sexual orientations. Many of the school administrators we worked with were surprised that we wanted to talk to both girls and boys. But the reality is that talking to a single gender can’t and won’t solve this social problem. Our message this week was simple: Both girls and boys can use their voices to ensure that sexual harassment does not have to be part of their high school experience.
During the week, Use Your Voice transformed from something expressive we wanted students to write about in journals and became a way for students to truly advocate for themselves and their peers.