show me, teach me, blog me

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 04 2008

Blast from the past

I was looking through my computer files and I read this from about 2 years ago when I was applying for TFA. It made me realize how much my life has changed in that time.

Teach For America: Essay

As an undergraduate at Michigan State University, much of my energy was focused into organized student activism. When something bad would happen and people complained, “Somebody should do something about that,” I found that I was usually the person taking action.

By the time I was a sophomore, a once-innocent tradition of yelling at midnight throughout finals week had morphed into an ugly habit of sexual harassment and intimidation. Living as a Resident Mentor in a housing complex for approximately 2,500 undergraduates, I was mortified to discover throngs of unruly men gathered in the courtyard pounding on dorm windows, chanting “show your tits,” and verbally harassing women who were outdoors.

As a frustrated student, I called the campus police, hoping they could control the situation. Disappointingly, I was told that there was nothing they could do, as the behavior was protected by the First Amendment.

As an activist, I refused to accept that answer. I talked about my outrage with anybody I met – neighbors who lived in the complex, professors, officials, and fellow student leaders. People who had seen the spectacle shared my indignation; people who hadn’t heard about it were shocked that this behavior was condoned.

The factors working against me were numerous: the event took place at midnight, when very few staff members and even fewer administrators were on campus; the campus police would not allow officers to interfere; and furthermore, I faced hostility by many of the male students who found this tradition to be nothing more than harmless fun. But if I am presented with a roadblock, then I find a more creative way to achieve my goals.

It was essential to get the administration involved. At first I printed and distributed fliers with the contact information of every relevant administrator and university decision-maker, encouraging concerned students to make their voices heard. That approach did not produce any results; I needed something bigger. After organizing my fellow student activists, I sent out news releases to the local media and held a press conference. I was interviewed by the local newspaper and several Lansing and Detroit TV news networks, which sent out cameras to film the midnight mob. The negative publicity created by the media was exactly what we needed to spur the university into positive action.

The following night the Director of Student Life, Director of Student Housing, and even the Vice President of Student Affairs were out at midnight to witness the mob. The outcomes were plentiful. As the principal organizer of these changes, I was invited by campus officials to participate in numerous women’s advisory committees. The midnight screams were a major topic across the university for months, and the committees were able to use their influence to alter campus police policy. The following year the midnight mob had entirely disbanded, and I knew I had made a lasting impact at my university.

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    An Elementary School Teacher in the Show Me State

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