Making Research MatterAugust 10, 2012
How do people put AAUW research reports like Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School to use? To find out, AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill and I recently talked to a few AAUW members who are applying the findings from Crossing the Line to their communities. We asked these women about their motivation, the process, and where research really made a difference.
Our members are inspired to take on sexual harassment in schools for a variety of reasons. Mardy Stevens of AAUW of Oregon mentioned that she was driven by the severity of what she learned — especially that sexual harassment “often causes life-changing direction, such as dropping out of school.” Karen Francis of AAUW of Missouri was inspired by her experiences as a high school administrator and school counselor. “In these positions, I’ve seen firsthand what is occurring in our schools and the impact that harassment through social media has on students,” she says.
As they reached out, both women heard stories from students who experienced sexual harassment. These stories encouraged Stevens and Francis to continue their work. Both met with teachers or school officials to talk about preventing sexual harassment and how to take action. For example, Francis held mandatory conferences with the parents of students who had allegedly harassed others. “Never was ‘boys will be boys’ accepted as an excuse for a young man’s behavior!” she says.
Francis encountered some obstacles along the way, including a lack of school policies that address the issues of bullying and harassment. To help overcome this problem she says, “We hope to collaborate on creating a model sexual harassment and bullying policy that can be shared with 65 area superintendents and offering AAUW’s PowerPoint presentations to administrators, staff, and community members.”
Members like Stevens and Francis had some ideas for other AAUW members who want to make a difference but are not sure where to start. Francis suggests that you “utilize your branch members to network with school personnel and local organizations to get your foot in the door to begin a discussion on this important topic.”
Stevens agrees. “Use your contacts … use who you know,” she says. “Meeting with the school superintendent had worked in the school district, and [we] chose to meet him informally — at a separate event — and let him know we would like to meet with him to find out more about the issue of sexual harassment in our schools. It really helps if AAUW is known in the community.”
It also helps to be prepared. Stevens says that she and her fellow branch members were ready with hard copies of the report, websites, and the ability to articulate AAUW’s history, especially in advocacy. She found the AAUW Outlook issue on Crossing the Line to be helpful as well. Stevens also found that it matters whom you speak with first. “In talking with school employees about Crossing the Line and sexual harassment policies in schools, start at the top if possible,” she says. “Connecting with teaching staff, parent-teacher groups, and building administrators can easily be negatively interpreted. The superintendent, school board members, and other top-level district staff can have broader influence.”
Good advice for a good cause! Interested in presenting copies of the research to a local middle or high school? You can order free copies of Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School and executive summaries of the report through ShopAAUW. Check out our Program in a Box, and download a copy of a presentation that you can share in your community.
Have you done something like this already? Please share your perspective in the comment section below!