photo by Michelle Ayr

 

 

By: Michelle Ayr

 

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) commenced a campaign earlier today on the steps of City Hall to discuss racial and gender equity in school across New York City. Many of the speakers approached the ongoing dilemma that many of us are hearing about today: Safety for girls in public schools.

“As the largest school district in the nation, we’re looking to New York City to pave the way for cis and trans girls across the country,” said Andrea Gonzalez, member of the Young Women’s Advisory Council for Girls for Gender Equity.

GGE introduced “The School Girls Deserve” campaign, which is an intergenerational movement that focuses on requiring the Department of Education to create a safer and all-embracing learning environment for the city’s 1.1 million public school students by raising the finances and investments of the Title IX resources. The campaign also demanded that the city’s Department of Education look into establishment of a dress code that would embrace New York City’s diverse, racial, religious and gender-expressive public school community.

As a freshman at CUNY’s Baruch College, Gonzalez said, she believes that girls of color are hyper-sexualized and are often the first to get called into school offices for dress-code violations, explaining that that was what happened to her in high school. “Being judged every day by what I wore led me to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in school, especially in warmer weather,” said Gonzalez, adding, “Girls should not have to change the way they look just because teachers or other students might get distracted. The teachers should change, not me.”

She added, “I am speaking today because I share experiences with almost every young woman of color and gender non-conforming youth of color that attend schools here in New York City.”

Meredith Mascara, CEO of The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, believes sexual harassment and the lack of dress code policies are concerns that are heard from many girls attending public schools in New York City over and over again. “How can our girls and gender non-conforming youth focus on their studies when they are repeatedly told that the clothes they wear or the jewelry they feel most comfortable in is inappropriate or a distraction?” said the mother of five daughters, who all attend public schools in New York City.

“We cannot expect them to focus on their studies when the constant threat of sexual, religious or gender harassment is not just a threat for many girls, but a reality.”

One of the girls told Mascara that her principal asked her to remove her headdress because it was unprofessional, and, during a camp session, two of the girls discussed how dress codes impact their lives, calling them sexist because girls’ clothing is considered to be a distraction and boys’ clothing is not. “The double standard of our dress code is what is distracting and makes these detrimental impacts on these girls,” said Mascara, adding, “Today, I stand here proudly, side by side with each of you, and pledge to work to create a school environment that girls deserve – safe, supportive and understanding, and take their concerns about sexual harassment seriously.”

With there being multiple accusations of professors sexually harassing students in the CUNY school system, many of Thursday’s speakers said they “are afraid.”

“Three and half years ago, I went through a nightmare that I could never wake up from,” said Melissa Jean-Baptiste, a survivor of sexual harassment and rape, who came to the City Hall steps to share her story and let those listening know that it is possible to overcome trauma. Jean-Baptiste became a victim of rape by another student. “When my story was reported to the school officials and the police, nobody believed me, and students would humiliate and terrorize me when I came back to school almost more than two weeks later,” said the 18-year-old through tears. The student had one message to all of the women listening: “You are not alone.”