In January 2011, the Assistant Principal at Steinmetz High School on Chicago’s northwest side was charged with misdemeanor battery, for allegedly dragging and pushing a 16 year old female student. For many reading about this in Chicago’s newspapers, this news was shocking. But as appalled as we were, for many advocates and organizers working to make schools safer for young women, this case fit with what we already know.
While young people are certainly sometimes perpetrators of violence in school, if we take a moment to ask youth about safety, they point to the systems that are unsafe for them. Here is language from Gender JUST, a youth-led LGBTQ organization that addresses school safety, referring to the suicides of LGBTQ youth:
While youth violence is a very serious issue, the real bullies we face in our schools take the form of systemic violence perpetrated by the school system itself: sex education that ignores queer youth and a curriculum that denies our history, a militarized school district with cops in our schools, a process of privatization which displaces us, increasing class sizes which undermine our education and safety. The national calls to end the violence against queer youth completely ignore the most violent nature of our educational experience.
As you read this section, we encourage you to question whether your own views of school safety have been impacted by media stereotypes of young people. A great reference guide on media stereotypes is Moving from Them to Us, a 2009 report issued by the Prevention Institute.
We encourage you, too, to think about what can be put in place in our schools to create a culture of safety; the section on Innovative Models has a couple of ideas to get you started.