Posts Tagged ‘Crossing the Line’


We’re throwing our hat into the lists-of-2012 ring with a roundup of our top 10 most popular blog posts. From analysis of television and pop culture to updates on our work to empower women, these posts illustrate the work we’ve done together.

10. Make Every Day International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, we highlighted five former AAUW International Fellows who are empowering women across the globe.

9. Engage with the Presidential Debate: Play Bingo!

AAUW created our very own bingo cards to help readers engage in (or stay awake for) the presidential debates.

8. When Humor Crosses the Line

Drawing from AAUW’s research report Crossing the Line, as well as his own experiences as a comic strip creator, Patrick McGann of Men Can Stop Rape explored how humor can turn into sexual harassment.

7. From AAUW Fellow to MSNBC Host

A week before Melissa Harris-Perry launched her own TV show on MSNBC, AAUW interviewed the fellowship alumna on her rise as an academic and a political analyst.

6. Why Voter-ID Laws Are Bad for Women, the Elderly, and Everyone

AAUW Outlook Editor Hannah Moulton Belec makes a compelling case as to why voter-identification laws are nothing more than “old-fashioned voter suppression.”

5. Call to Action: Stop Rush

Two weeks after AAUW hosted Sandra Fluke at our national office, Rush Limbaugh used his bully pulpit to make offensive remarks about her. This post called on AAUW members and supporters to stand up for Sandra.

4. On Contraception, AAUW Makes Sure Women Will Be Heard

Sandra Fluke, Sara Hutchinson from Catholics for Choice, Washington Post writer Ann Gerhart, and AAUW’s own lobbyist Lisa Maatz sat down for a panel discussion on why birth control was still an issue in 2012. This post profiles the February event.

3. Five Ways to Celebrate Women’s Equality Day

Featuring a video celebrating women’s gains since getting the right to vote in 1920, this post encouraged readers to celebrate the 19th Amendment’s birthday by getting ready for the 2012 election.

2. Holiday Gift Guide for Girls

The holidays are coming to a close, but this list of empowering, gender-neutral gift ideas will be useful for any gift-giving occasion.

1. Our Favorite On-screen Women in STEM

Kids watch a lot of TV, which is why female characters playing nontraditional career women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are so important. This post features TV and movie characters who make great role models for girls.

We wouldn’t have a top 10 list if it weren’t for you — our readers. On behalf of all the blog’s writers and editors, thank you for reading in 2012. We’ll see you next year.

Happy holidays!

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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.

From left: AAUW Gresham Area (OR) Branch members Carla Piluso, Cynthia Rauscher, and Mardy Stevens

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!

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The AAUW Public Policy Department and AAUW members have sent letters to 10 of the nation’s 20 largest school districts asking them to correct their unrealistic reports that there were no incidences of bullying or harassment in the 2009–10 school year. This effort was inspired by Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, a research report that I co-authored based on a comprehensive, nationally representative survey of students in grades 7–12. It may seem counterintuitive that AAUW is targeting schools that reported no bullying or harassment. However, if a school administrator doesn’t record any such occurrences, it probably doesn’t mean that those problems don’t exist at that school. It means that the administrators haven’t been paying attention to the issue.

Sexual harassment and bullying are just a normal part of the school day for many students, according to the data collected in Crossing the Line. Nearly half — 48 percent — of surveyed students experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students — 87 percent — said that it had a negative effect on them. The effects included not wanting to go to school, feeling sick to one’s stomach, and being unable to sleep or concentrate on school work. For a smaller group of students, sexual harassment at school drove them to drop activities or classes or even to switch schools.

Silence is definitely not golden when it comes to bullying and harassment, and a lack of reporting does not mean that a school is free from these problems. The majority of students who encounter sexual harassment do not report their experiences. In Crossing the Line, nearly half of the students surveyed said that they have encountered sexual harassment at school, but only 9 percent said that they had reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult. Only about one in five harassed students reported the incident(s). To assess the real situation, we need to go beyond what currently gets reported.

AAUW released Crossing the Line in November, which coincidentally was also when the Pennsylvania State University abuse scandal came to light. Last week the Freeh report alleged that Penn State officials turned a blind eye to assaults that happened on-campus. Of course, sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same thing. But the scandal reiterates how school culture and reputation play a role in creating and sustaining hostile environments for students. Ignoring and tolerating any form of sexual harassment at school sends the wrong message. We need to take steps to prevent and combat sexual harassment at school. Open discussions of these (sometimes awkward) topics are a critical step in the right direction, and Crossing the Line is a great tool to start the discussion at your local schools.

If you want to make sure your local school has seen Crossing the Line, e-mail them a copy, or order free booklets and give them one in person!

Kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe, so let’s start the next school year off on the right foot. Please help us get this report into the hands of administrators, teachers, and community leaders.

This post was written by AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill.

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In April, the AAUW San Fernando Valley (CA) Branch worked with the Women’s Research and Resource Center at California State University, Northridge, to hold an event about campus sexual assault featuring campus Police Chief Anne Glavin. The event was made possible through an AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Campus Outreach grant.

Past AAUW President Sharon Schuster spoke to the student attendees about AAUW, our fellowships and grants, and some of our accomplishments, particularly the new research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.

AAUW member Donna Marie Bernis spoke about the Campus SaVE Act, which focuses on preventing campus sexual assault. Then Shira Brown, director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center, introduced the police chief.

Glavin spoke eloquently about the policies and procedures that the campus police force employs in sexual assault cases and the support that is available for victims. She talked about the department’s welcoming environment and told students that there is a trained counselor on staff. Glavin introduced this counselor, Christina Villalobos, who spoke briefly about her role in the department and how she handles students’ problems confidentially.

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin speaks to students about campus sexual assault.

Glavin talked about other resources the department provides, such as self-defense classes, which can be taken for course credit. She described how the university has gone beyond implementing the national requirements of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act and guidance given by the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. She closed by taking questions from the audience. Cal State Northridge’s campus newsletter, Daily Sundial, wrote a nice article about Glavin’s presentation, which spread the event’s message beyond just the students who were able to attend.

To show their appreciation, AAUW branch members presented Glavin with a certificate of appreciation and a congressional certificate from Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). AAUW member Lane Sherman also gave the chief a flag, donated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), that had flown over the nation’s Capitol.

The event was successful in a number of ways. It ensured that Glavin’s important message and information reached students and AAUW members. The talk also connected our branch with the Women’s Research and Resource Center. The leaders at the center offered free use of their facilities for our future meetings, a resource we will certainly use. Also, there is a possibility that we will start an AAUW student organization  at Cal State Northridge.

Organizing this event took tremendous effort, and we considered cancelling it more than once. In the end, we were glad that we persevered and succeeded in putting on this wonderful and precedent-setting program.

This post was written by Jackie Zev, who has been a member of the AAUW San Fernando Valley (CA) Branch since 1982 and serves as the treasurer’s assistant and newsletter editor.

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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.

This post was written by Campus Action Project grantees Cat Cleary and Laura Corrigan from the St. Mary’s College team in Indiana.

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Sometimes, we in the AAUW Public Policy Department are asked by members, “Does the work we do really make a difference?” When I answer with an unequivocal yes, I point to victories like the one we had last week.

For several years, AAUW members and coalition allies have shown tremendous support for the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), both of which would require educators to address bullying and harassment in schools.

AAUW members reasserted their commitment to lobbying for safer school climates when they passed our 2011–13 legislative agenda to “advocate [for] equitable climates free of harassment and bullying.” In addition, AAUW members sent more than 10,000 e-mails to their elected representatives, and the AAUW Action Fund Lobby Corps has met personally with members of Congress and their staffs on these bills. AAUW’s public policy team directly lobbied Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to include SNDA and SSIA provisions in federal regulations. Just last month, AAUW joined 70 organizations in writing a letter requesting that President Obama publicly support and endorse SNDA.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks during a panel discussion at the
White House screening of Bully.

On Friday, April 20, the president officially endorsed both bills. This important step does not guarantee passage of the legislation, but it is a very good sign. I believe that the president’s action is another example of how AAUW’s activism — through lobbying, coalition work, research, and advocacy — continues to make a difference here in Washington, D.C.

The president’s announcement came during a White House screening of the documentary film Bully. AAUW was honored to be chosen as one of several groups invited to the event and to meet with several of the children and families highlighted in the film. Now playing in theaters nationwide, you — or better yet, you and your school-age children — can see Bully for yourselves.

As AAUW’s research Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School and other reports have established, sexual harassment and bullying are pervasive, national problems. SNDA and SSIA would require educators to address bullying and harassment in schools. It is wrong for Congress to let these bills languish. Take actioncontact Congress, and urge them to pass these laws.

Remember, we can make a difference by acting to end school bullying.

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I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has not experienced bullying in some form — as the bully, the victim, or a bystander. I am no exception. But my first-grade year was a little easier thanks to my friend and neighbor, a cool and authoritative second-grader who dutifully sat next to me and stood up for me every day on our bus rides to and from school. This did not solve all my problems, but watching an advance screening of the newly released and deeply moving documentary Bully, I was brought back to that tumultuous time. And I was grateful.

Film director Lee Hirsch (left) discusses Bully with Jackie Libby (center) who, along with her son, was featured in the documentary. Katy Butler (right) wrote an online petition to change the movie’s rating from R to PG-13.

Film director Lee Hirsch (left) discusses Bully with Jackie Libby (center) who, along with her son, was featured in the documentary. Katy Butler (right) wrote an online petition to change the movie’s rating from R to PG-13.

Bully tells the story of a boy named Alex, who developed the common and problematic coping mechanism of denying and excusing his bullying experiences by saying that kids were just “messing around” — a response that is discussed extensively in AAUW’s research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. There is one particular line in the film that stood out and still haunts me. When confronted by his mother about the punching, stabbing, and strangling he was experiencing daily on the school bus, Alex said, “If you say these people aren’t my friends, then what friends do I have?”

The media’s focus on the bullying and harassment that happens both in schools and online has escalated. With that increased coverage, the national discourse surrounding bullying has grown more heated, and proposed solutions have been contentious. Now, it’s time to turn our shock and outrage into action.

There are many institutional changes that need to be made, and many suggested prevention methods are spelled out in Crossing the Line — seriously, you need to read it. But we can all individually make the choice to take bullying seriously. According to this research, 48 percent of students reported that they experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year. Since so many kids are affected, there are a lot of chances for individual action. One person who rode the school bus with me made the choice to stand by me. We can all be that one person who helps — that person who makes the choice to no longer stand by and not take action.

I challenge you all to be that one person. You may make the difference of a lifetime. If you are in school, I challenge you to befriend that one kid in class — you know who I mean. I challenge everyone to go see Bully, which is now in theaters nationwide. And when you do, I challenge you to take any willing (or slightly arm-twisted) middle and high school students you know with you. I challenge you all to read Crossing the Line and share it with your local schools, your friends, and any teachers, students, and parents you know. Download or order your free copy today. Finally, I challenge you to move the conversation forward by engaging others in the difficult topic of bullying and harassment.

Start today — share your experiences with us in the comments section.

This post was written by AAUW Donor Communications Intern Sarah Spencer.

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights made headlines earlier this month when it released new data showing that black and Hispanic students across America face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the Civil Rights Data Collection findings are a wake-up call to educators at every level, and he issued a broad challenge to work together to address educational inequities.

AAUW agrees. We’ve done our own analysis of the data, which also shows troubling trends along gender lines — most notably that 14 of the 20 largest school districts in the country reported zeros across the board for the following categories: allegations of sexual harassment, disciplinary actions as a result of bullying or harassment on the basis of sex, and students who reported being bullied or harassed on the basis of sex. Those numbers fly in the face of the harassment and bullying that our research shows is actually going on in schools.

AAUW encourages everyone to take a close look at the Civil Rights Data Collection data and at our analysis below. As  AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz said, “The groundbreaking, easily accessible data shows clearly that the administration feels sunlight is the best disinfectant. Now, every parent, teacher, school administrator, or interested citizen can find information on key civil rights indicators in their school districts.

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Imagine a 12-year-old girl in middle school. She doesn’t dress in a girly way, she has a low voice, and she likes playing video games. Other students think she’s not acting the way girls should act, so they trip her and call her “guy,” “fag,” and “transvestite.” The principal knows, but the abusers go unpunished, and she is told not to let the comments bother her. Because she and her parents feel that the school is no longer safe, she changes schools.

At the new school, the other students call her “guy” and “manly,” and one student tells her that she should “go kill herself.” She’s tripped, pushed into lockers multiple times, and pushed into a trash can. She’s sent to counseling once a week for “self-esteem problems,” but the abuse continues because the counselor never confronts the abusers. As a result of the harassment, her grades decline, her self-esteem plummets, and she’s hospitalized for suicidal thoughts.

That is exactly what happened to one of the six plaintiffs in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the largest in Minnesota. In 2009, the school board adopted a policy instructing teachers to “remain neutral” about sexual orientation, but this effectively operated as a gag order and allowed bullying to occur without challenge. Six students filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school district claiming that there was an “epidemic of anti-gay and gender-based harassment within district schools” that was “rooted in and encouraged by official district-wide policies singling out and denigrating [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people.” This harassment had tragic consequences — eight students from the district committed suicide between 2009 and 2011.

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education investigated the students’ claims and found that sex-based harassment in the district created a “hostile environment.” Last week, the departments, the school district, and the students reached agreement on a comprehensive consent decree that establishes a framework to protect the district’s children from sexual harassment and bullying. AAUW applauds this settlement and hopes that the framework it establishes will serve as a model for all schools dealing with sexual harassment. As AAUW’s research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School and other reports have established, sexual harassment is a pervasive national problem.

For almost 40 years, Title IX has promised gender equity in education, including protection for students — male and female — from sexual harassment. And yet, the school district’s Title IX coordinator did not monitor or enforce Title IX issues outside the scope of athletics! The Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, two legislative proposals languishing in Congress, would require educators to address bullying and harassment in schools. Take actioncontact Congress and urge them to pass these laws.

One resource to help students and parents is the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund. LAF has worked for decades to combat sex discrimination. LAF’s initiatives include community and campus outreach programs, a resource library and online advocacy tools, a Legal Resource Referral Network, and various research reports. LAF also offers the Title IX Compliance: Know the Score Program in a Box, which provides resources and detailed plans to help members investigate whether schools in their communities are in compliance with the law.

As we move toward Title IX’s 40th birthday later this year, AAUW will keep strongly supporting the law and fighting to protect the equal treatment of all students. No student should go to school afraid.

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For two years, I drew a comic strip that was a spoof of the superhero genre. The strip was called The Saga of Anti-Rape Man and was published on the Men Can Stop Rape website.

In the story, Henry Niemeyer, Anti-Rape Man’s secret — well, not entirely secret — identity,  accidentally stumbles into a wing of Sibley Memorial Hospital that is a clandestine feminist laboratory where experiments in creating female superpowers are conducted daily. A bizarre accident occurs — no one can explain how — that results in Henry developing superpowers to prevent rape. The tables are turned on Henry: Instead of being a hypermasculine superhero, his entry into the world of costumed powerhouses was overseen by women with special powers.

When I first conceived of the strip, I had doubts about whether I could pull it off. I worried that there would be too many minefields, too many possibilities that my attempts at humor would offend someone, especially women. I put a lot of thought into how Anti-Rape Man could be funny without offending, and before making them public, I ran the strips by people I trusted to tell me if I had crossed a line. In the two years that I wrote and drew Anti-Rape Man, there was only one negative response to one strip after I posted it on the website.

By writing about Anti-Rape Man, I intended to suggest that humor and responsibility should go together. In other words, we have to consider the effect our humor has on others. I know this goes against the grain. The general expectation is that if you’re the butt of a joke and can’t laugh it off, then you’re the problem. You’re lacking in the “ha-ha” quotient. You’re genetically deficient when it comes to funny genes. You’ve got no comical wherewithal. You’re kind of an uncool nerd. Everyone makes fun of you because you have no sense of humor.

AAUW’s latest study, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, offers insight into this conventional humor dynamic. Almost 2,000 students in grades 7–12 were surveyed, and from the results we learn that students typically don’t harass because they want to date someone (only 3 percent of students) or because they think the person likes it (just 6 percent of respondents). A lot of students — 39 percent of those surveyed — harass because they are trying to be funny. The study refers to them as “misguided comedians.” They may be misguided from our perspective, but from theirs, it seems likely that they know exactly what they want the outcome to be: shared laughter with everyone but the person who’s the butt of the joke. It’s a bonding thing. It’s a way for boys and young men to solidify their standing in a male group (according to the study, most harassers are male). That’s why it happens to someone who’s not part of this kind of group.

Consider the students who are most likely to be harassed:

  • Girls whose bodies are more developed
  • Girls who are very pretty
  • Boys who are not athletic or masculine
  • Girls who are not pretty or feminine
  • Girls or boys who are overweight

The group least likely to be harassed? Boys who are good-looking. Initially, I found this almost comical. I almost laughed about it.

Instead, I thought about my respect for lines. Cartoons are all about lines. Lines form shapes and words, which in turn become characters who speak in cartoon bubbles and say and do things that make us laugh. Sexual harassment is all about lines too. Those of us who work with young men need to discuss with them when humor crosses a line, when it turns into sexual harassment and becomes something harmful. We can help them recognize that it’s possible both to laugh and to respect lines.

This post was written by Men Can Stop Rape Director of Strategy and Planning Patrick McGann.

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