Category Archives: Schools

Kudos to the students at Dickinson College

A big shout-out to the students at Dickinson College, who have staged a sit-in to demand changes to the school’s sexual assault policies, and who are continuing their protest until additional concessions are made.

The actions started on Wednesday, when  300 students marched to the President’s Office and staged a sit-in.  Their efforts have already had an impact.  Local CBS news from Carlisle, Pennsylvania reports that “the protests have convinced the administration to include reports of sexual violence on the school’s text alert system.”  But to their credit, the students are refusing to end the sit-in until the remaining demands are met. Jezebel, quoting from student representatives, reports that these include:

1. Full transparency of the sexual misconduct policy process
2. The Department of Public Safety must send red alerts to the whole campus when sexual assault or rape is reported
3. A stronger administrative stance against sexual assault and rape
4. Expulsion must be the protocol for students found guilty of rape and sexual assault
5. Focus on creating a proactive education-based sexual violence prevention program
6. Specific plans and dates for concrete changes

The students’ commitment to collective action, their focus on raising consciousness and awareness around the issue, and their concrete recommendations for the university are all critical elements to their success.  It is exactly these kinds of efforts that will have a real impact on the issue of sexual violence.

This coverage by ABC news includes video and images of the protests, and you can hear directly from the students about their efforts:


Schools That Punish Young Men For Being Allies to Young Women Are Misguided and Wrong

I was stunned to read about the case of a high school senior in Mississippi who was suspended and sent to an alternative school for 5 weeks for writing a rap song and posting it on his Facebook page. This would be bad enough without knowing anything else about the incident. It is another example of harsh school disciplinary policies that students are consistently subjected to across the U.S. However upon further examination, your outrage will no doubt increase.

Taylor Bell, 18, wrote a song (on his own time and not at school) called “PSK The Truth Need To Be Told.” The young man explained that:

he wrote the song after he “learned from several female students at Itawamba (his school) that two athletic coaches were engaging in harmful conduct towards female students, including but not limited to, flirting with female students and inappropriate contact with intimate body parts of female students.”

For exposing this truth, Mr. Bell was suspended from school for 5 weeks. He says he wrote and recorded the song because he was “outraged.”

He adds: “The song vaguely reference the two athletic coaches accused of the misconduct and describes the misconduct told to him by the female students. Mr. Bell also metaphorically warned that the public might retaliate against the coaches for this conduct.”

As someone who is consistently lamenting the fact that too few men are allies to women who experience violence, I am incensed at how this young man has been treated by the school system. He posted his song on a Facebook page that could only be accessed by his personal friends and pre-approved people on January 3rd. He was called before a disciplinary hearing twelve days later.

At the hearing, “The song was played for the disciplinary committee. At the hearing, Mr. Bell gave the school officials copies of letters from female students verifying the statements made in the song.”

Bell says the committee found that his song “did not constitute a direct threat and instead amounted to harassment and intimidation of school teachers. The disciplinary committee recommended a seven-day suspension and five weeks at Itawamba Alternative School. To this point, it does not appear as if the school officials have done any investigation into the statements from the female students.”

The school board approved the punishment of a seven day suspension and five weeks of alternative school.

Mr. Bell has decided to “sue his principal, superintendent and school board, claiming he was unconstitutionally punished for writing and recording a rap song, on his own time, off campus, and posting it on his Facebook page.”

Bell says the defendants punished him for constitutionally protected speech. He seeks reinstatement to his regular classes, wants records of the incident expunged, and wants the defendants enjoined “from enforcing the school disciplinary code against students for expression that takes place outside of the school or school-sponsored activities.”

Good for you Taylor! Thank you for being an ally to your female friends!  We should all be applauding the actions of this young man rather than pushing him out of school for speaking truth to power.

You can read the full article here.

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Posted by on February 28, 2011 in Schools, Violence, Youth voices


If you’re wondering what the mayoral candidates think about our recommendations….

For one thing, you won’t get an answer from Rahm Emanuel or Gery Chico, both of whom declined the invitation to participate in a candidate’s forum on violence against women, girls and LGBTQ youth.  The forum was held last night, co-sponsored by several of our partner organizations – Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Rape Victim Advocates, Center on Halsted and CAASE – as well as the Chicago Foundation for Women.

Once you were able to get past the odd terms used for the LGBTQ community — Carol Moseley Braun referred to “nontraditional people”, and William “Dock” Walls insisted he was referring instead to panhandlers when he used the phrase “people with unusual lifestyles” — there was some useful information on how they feel about our recommendations to end violence against girls.


One of the Taskforce recommendations is for Chicago Public Schools, and the candidates were asked if they support it:

“The CPS policy on Dating Violence (08-0625-P02) currently does not set requirements for dating or sexual violence prevention education, but states that teachers “may” access lesson plans and partner with local anti-violence organizations. This should be changed to a requirement.”

So what did they have to say?

Miguel del Valle was the first to answer, and he said: “Absolutely.”  He added that the Board of Education needs to adopt the policy, and make sure the topics will be addressed in an “appropriate manner.”  Asked to define this further, he said he meant in the appropriate classes, and with a range of methods from counseling, to group discussions, to traditional classroom work.  He stressed the need for a mechanism to ensure discussion and student participation.

William “Dock” Walls agreed that this was necessary and said that he saw it as part of civics education.  Putting aside the more specific discussion of teen dating and sexual violence, he spoke at length about the need for civics education, to build stronger citizens who will “understand boundaries.”

Carol Moseley Braun felt the issue was “more complicated.”  She stressed that there is a lack of school nurses at Chicago Public Schools, with 1 nurse for every 725 students, and that remedying this should instead be the focus.  She referred to the “uphill battle” to get sex education in our schools, and felt that making education on these issues mandatory would be making it a “poison pill.”  Her answer instead is to restore the proper number of nurses at schools, and make the teen dating violence and sexual violence curriculum part of comprehensive sex ed – with an option for families to have their children “opt out” if they are opposed to the classes.

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins agreed with the recommendation, and spoke of the need for subjects to be interrelated.  “If you put the students in a room and give them a dose, they won’t absorb it.  It needs to be part of their lifestyle, so it sticks with them.”  She also stressed professional development and in service learning for staff.

Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico declined the invitation to attend the candidates’ forum to discuss these issues.


When the Taskforce discussed bullying in our Roundtable discussion, the organizations unanimously agreed that implementing anti-bullying legislation need to be tied to restorative justice practices.  Our goal is not to have young people kicked out of school or criminalized.  Our goal is safety.  Here’s our recommendation:

The Task force supports implementation of the Illinois Safe Schools Act and encourages the implementation of Restorative Justice practices to curtail bullying in schools, when appropriate, rather than criminalization of young people. We understand that the organizations that proposed and advocated for this Act share these values.

So I listened carefully when the candidates were asked how they would implement anti-bullying legislation in Chicago Public Schools.

Now, here the candidates split.  Miguel del Valle and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins both committed to the use of restorative justice practices.

On the other hand, Carol Moseley Braun and William “Dock” Walls both committed to using zero tolerance policies.  Here’s a quote from Walls:  “Zero tolerance with absolute certainty has to be the mandate of Chicago Public Schools.”

Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico declined the invitation to attend the candidates’ forum to discuss these issues.

The Taskforce does not endorse any particular candidate; we are committed to making sure the public is informed about these issues.  Wherever you stand on these issues, we urge you to go out and vote, and have your voice be heard!


Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Bullying, Public policy, Schools, Violence


Is it just easier to blame the youth?

In some very disturbing news, an Assistant Principal at Steinmetz High School on Chicago’s northwest side was charged last week with misdemeanor battery, for allegedly dragging and pushing a 16 year old female student.  Here’s a report from Fox News, providing some details:

The incident began about 2 p.m. on Jan. 12 when the 16-year-old female student was walking through the hallway and she and the vice principal began to argue, according to a police report.

Jaramillo then dragged the girl by her sweatshirt down the hallway and threw her into a doorway. He allegedly placed his forearm against her neck, causing minor bruising, according to the report, which said a witness begged him to let her go, but he refused.

Surprised?  Not how you usually think of school violence?  While we were appalled to hear this story, the sad truth is that it fits with what we know.  The media presents an image of youth — and in particular, youth of color — on the rampage, committing acts of violence against one another on a daily basis.  (For more on media framing of youth violence, check out Moving from Them to Us, a 2009 report issued by the Prevention Institute.)  But despite what the media reports, we know from the young people we work with that the violence they experience is often perpetrated by adults in their lives.

Sadly, the media has done such a good job of telling us that young people are out of control, that the reader comments to the Fox News story are all focused on what the young woman must have done to “deserve” abuse at the hands of a school administrator.  Here are some examples:

There has to be more to this story. What was the girl doing prior to the vice principal taking action? I doubt he did that for no reason.
All the facts will come out eventually. I highly doubt that this teacher would just restrain her for no apparent reason!! Kids think they can behave like animals and then cry about how they were treated. If this particular student would have focused on her school work, then the teacher would not have even confronted her. I think that this teacher was defending himself and making sure that she is not hurting herself or others.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that these comments are directed, not at all youth, but at low-income youth of color.  According to CPS, Steinmetz High School is 68% Latino and 18.6% African American.  94.4% of students are low income.  It is these youth in particular that are the focus of media stereotyping and are the targets of constant attempts to criminalize young people.

No wonder, then, that we’ve managed to build a society that expresses no empathy for a young woman from this community who has alleged violence at the hands of a school administrator — whose job, let’s not forget, is to create a safe school environment for her.

We can do betterThe question is NEVER: what did a 16-year old do to deserve abuse?  The question is: how can we build a school system that is safe for all students, and that does not tolerate violence?

We will be monitoring press coverage of this issue, as well as any responses from Steinmetz Academy and Chicago Public Schools.

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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Media, Racism, Schools, Violence