Social Work Alumnae Attack Sexual Harassment in the Schools and on the Streets
When Joanne N. Smith (M.S.W. '03) and Mandy Van Deven (M.S.W. '08) entered the complex web of the New York City inner school system doing participatory action research, they were trying to explore what is a hotly contested issue in today's educational system- how high school students are affected by sexual harassment. What they found didn't sit well with the women.
Sexual harassment appeared to be a normal and accepted part of the experience of young people in school, a problem to which figures of authority often turned a blind eye. Instead of doing the same, Smith, founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equality, an organization committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women, and Van Deven, its former associate director and now a progressive activist and independent writer, decided to do something about it. They co-authored, along with Meghan Huppuch, the book Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets, published by the Feminist Press.
Transforming what they saw in schools into an informative guide for students, parents, teachers, policy makers, and activists, the book attempts to define sexual harassment and follow the disturbing ripple effect that leads to its normalization in schools. The authors not only discuss their observations about sexual harassment, they begin the discussion of how society can address the origins of the problem. Perhaps most importantly, the book is also a vehicle for teens to talk to one another about the toxic environment that harassment creates.
Smith began her studies for a master's in social work at Hunter right after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the same year she founded Girls for Gender Equity. At a time of tragedy, she said, "I received strength and resilience from the Hunter community and support from students and professors in terms of 'best practices' in building the organization and for dealing with difficult situations." She had an "amazing ally" in the late Roselle Kurland, her "beloved" social work professor, who, Smith said, "helped us think through our group work, structure, confidentiality process, and group dynamics." Surely Kurland would be proud of her former student who now serves as an incredible example for girls and young women through her successful organization.