Guest Post: Educators’ Roles in Preventing Sexual Harassment in School

Today’s guest post comes from Mandy Van Deven.  Mandy is a progressive activist, co-author of Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets and editor The Scholar & Feminist Online’s “Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert.” Her writing can be found in AlterNet, ColorLines, Curve, Marie Claire, RH Reality Check, and The Women’s International Perspective. Her website can be found at www.mandyvandeven.com.

“He stood next to my desk and kept his eyes on my face as he grabbed his crotch and started rubbing,” she warily confessed to me. “I was pretty shocked by what was happening, so I just avoided his gaze and told him to go back to his seat.”

One of schoolteachers’ best-kept secrets is their own victimization in incidents of sexual harassment in school. Whether hearing homophobic slurs in the hallway or having a ten-year-old boy masturbate in front of them, many teachers find themselves not knowing what to do to address the situation. Having had little to no training on how to speak with students who have been sexually harassed or accused of sexual harassment, many teachers err on the side of caution by skirting the issue, taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach to what can be a very tricky issue.

I empathize with these educators who want very much to do right by students, but also want to keep their jobs. And in a socio-cultural environment where a hug can arouse suspicion of sexual misconduct – admittedly, sometimes rightly so – teachers are put in a bind when it comes to their comfort addressing sexual harassment.

Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combatting Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets is designed to be a resource teachers and other school staff (e.g., security, custodians, counselors) can use to advocate for their own and students’ protection. It provides a source of validation and support for the frustrations that come from working within an educational bureaucracy. In order for changes to be made in schools, teachers must feel supported by their immediate supervisors and citywide leaders to step in when incidents of sexual harassment occur and sensitively handle the issue. Hey, Shorty! examines where policy and practice break down, and gives suggestions for how teachers can be advocates for themselves and for their students.

Here’s a brief peek at what the book has to offer. No doubt this information won’t be new to some of you, and it’s unfortunate that it bears repeating. That said…

Teachers are the front line of defense for students in preventing sexual harassment in schools, and advocating on students’ behalf can sometimes endanger one’s position. Here are some strategies we suggest you cautiously use to be an ally to your students:

— Model the behavior you want to instill in young people. Never tolerate behaviors and comments by students or colleagues that have a tone of gender insensitivity or disrespect. Speak up when students or colleagues stereotype males, females, and LGBTQ people or make discriminatory jokes or comments. Ignoring actions or remarks that trivialize or put down girls, women, and LGBTQ people communicates that such put-downs are acceptable, feeds into sexual harassment, and suggests that females and LGBTQ people are inferior and undeserving of protection.

— Check to see if there is a sexual harassment policy and Title IX coordinator at your school. If there isn’t one, find out who you can speak to in order to advocate for one without endangering your position. You can even volunteer to write the policy and grievance procedures yourself, and include the students in the process of doing so.

— Talk to other staff members about sexual harassment prevention and form a coalition of sexual harassment advocates in your school who support the students and each other in creating a safer environment.

— Include information about sexual harassment as a part of every classroom’s code of conduct for students. Hold students accountable to this code of conduct.

Become or identify an adult ally for students who can handle sexual harassment issues that concern students. This person can serve as a liaison between students and administrators on sexual harassment concerns (as opposed to a person who receives formal complaints). This signals to students that there is someone they can talk to who understands.

— Give your students an anonymous survey about their experiences of sexual harassment in school that gains information about students’ perceptions of the problem and the impact sexual harassment can have on students. Then share the results with school administrators to raise consciousness about the problem.

Ask the administrators at your school to hold an assembly about sexual harassment and to bring in educators who are qualified to speak to each class about the topic.

Have students create prevention posters that inform students and staff about sexual harassment and make sure they are prominently displayed throughout the school.

Small Strokes is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link (http://www.heyshortyontheroad.com/tourdates) to see other Tour stops and spaces that are supporting this project and find out how you are able to support it too!

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