Transforming Apathy to Awareness

Stuyvesant, like any other high school, has a responsibility to address student harassment issues through a gender studies course.

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By Vivian Lin

I’ve always been a feminist, even before I knew what the term “feminism” meant. I was never expected to act a certain way because I am a girl, and my parents made that known by treating me and my brother equally. To this day, I equate feminism to personal empowerment.

Yet 43 percent of men and women describe feminism as “angry,” and 30 percent as “outdated,” according to a 2016 Washington Post poll. These labels are some of the many misconceptions surrounding the fight for gender equality in the United States. Harassment, not just of gender, but on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation, is still a widespread issue in American schools. An effective way to battle such harassment is through awareness, specifically by instituting a mandatory gender studies course.

Gender studies is a field devoted to gender identity and representation. Intersectionality, or how people of different race, gender, and sexuality experience discrimination or oppression on different levels, plays a major part in this field. Topics covered in the course would range from feminism to LGBTQ+ history to racial discrimination to sexual harassment.

This course would deal with serious and sensitive issues. This class would strive for both an educational and accepting atmosphere. Unlike other classes, participation would not affect students’ grades, so that students who are shy or sensitive about the topic of gender would not feel pressured to speak out. Grades would instead be determined by a student’s attentiveness, whether they complete all homework, and whether they aim to apply the course to their everyday lives. The purpose of this course is for all students to become aware of the history of minorities and underrepresented groups, how far they’ve come, and how much there is still to be done in terms of reaching equality.

Gender studies needs to be mandatory in school to ensure that everyone, both male and female, understands equality. According to the same Washington Post poll, 50 percent of men do not identify as feminists. In every category, men were more withdrawn or opposed to feminism than women. Feminism affects women more than men, but the fight for gender equality will not reach its fullest potential if only women support it.

The class would emphasize the damaging effects of harassment. The ideas enforced by gender studies are just as important to victims of harassment as they are to harassers. While schools emphasize zero tolerance for harassment of any sort in society, students should also make the effort to respect their peers.

In one form or another, most students have experienced sexual or gender-based harassment. According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 82 percent of surveyed LGBTQ+ students had previous bullying problems in school due to their sexuality in 2007. In 2010 to 2011, the American Association of University found that nearly half of surveyed students in grades seven to 12 had experienced sexual harassment. Additionally, the New York Daily News reported a 10 percent increase in 2016 to 2017 in bullying reports of students grades six to 12.

Schools should be able to address these issues with their student bodies, but it would be harder to understand harassment and make change if gender equality had not been previously and openly discussed. For example, some schools recommend guidance counselors to students who have experienced bullying. However, to spark a lasting change, schools should seek to stop the bullying from happening in the first place, rather than just comfort victims. With gender studies in school curriculums, students can become more aware of the parts that discrimination, sexism and racism play in everyday life and what can be done to decrease bullying from happening.

Stuyvesant High School should consider adding gender studies to its curriculum for freshmen. Gender studies is a crucial way of nurturing students, not only academically, but also personally. Not only should schools seek to prepare us for our future through core subjects, but also through the social necessities that impact the way we perceive our peers.

Schools have already begun to take action. In 2013, gender studies was introduced to the high school curriculum of Ontario, Canada. After taking note of prevalent sexual assault in the Toronto School District, five university students formed the Miss G Project and worked to have these important issues discussed in school. Josh Shier, a former student in one of Ontario’s high schools, remembers how this class improved his high school experience. “I was gay, dealing with a lot of bullying, and I had suicidal thoughts. Taking that course made me feel a little bit better about being different,” he said. “I feel like it was the only high school class I ever really learned anything in.”

Incorporating gender studies into high school will not drop harassment rates to zero percent. Yet depriving students of learning about social inequalities does nothing to help current harassment issues. Instead, this deprivation only perpetuates the idea that the problems we face among our peers in school are inevitable. This class is not a miracle cure, but it is a big step in the right direction of the society we want: a society where students are aware of the history behind issues that impact them daily. Schools have the responsibility to generate and uphold environments where students of any race, gender, and sexuality can feel safe.