Little somethin’ about agency

4/18/13

Reposted without permission from: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/04/17/1883121/west-virginia-abstinence-assembly/?mobile=nc

 

High Schooler Protests ‘Slut-Shaming’ Abstinence Assembly Despite Alleged Threats From Her Principal

By Tara Culp-Ressler on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm

High school senior Katelyn Campbell

A West Virginia high school student is filing an injunction against her principal, who she claims is threatening to punish her for speaking out against a factually inaccurate abstinence assembly at her school. Katelyn Campbell, who is the student body vice president at George Washington High School, alleges her principal threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to report that she has “bad character.”

George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker,Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.

Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.

GW Principal George Aulenbacher, on the other hand, didn’t see anything wrong with hosting Stenzel. “The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her,” he told the West Virginia Gazettelast week.

But it didn’t end with a simple difference of opinion among Campbell and her principal. The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they cant speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.

 

Despite being threatened, Campbell is not backing down. She hopes that filing this injunction will protect her freedom of speech to continue advocating for comprehensive sexual health resources for West Virginia’s youth. “West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S.,” Campbell told the Gazette. “I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW, under George Aulenbacher, information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.”

Campbell’s complaints about her high school reflect a problematic trend across the country. There are serious consequences when figures like Stenzel repeatedly tell young Americans that contraception isn’t safe. Partly because of the scientific misinformation that often pervades abstinence-only curricula, an estimated 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness — and some of those teens choose not to use it because they assume it won’t make any difference. Predictably, the states that lack adequate sex ed requirements are also the states that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

Some of Campbell’s fellow students at GW High School are also rallying for her cause. They plan to take up the issue at a local board of education meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.

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One thought on “Little somethin’ about agency

  1. The fear tactics and coercion used by Aulenbacher and Stenzel are astonishing and terrifying. “If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous” are examples of Stenzel’s speech and the agenda of “Believe in West Virginia.” Once again, there seems to be no accountability for the boys and all rhetoric revolves around the not just lack of availability, but actively hiding of birth control resources (the nurse not being allowed to tell students where to obtain it outside of school either). Even the supposedly “gender-neutral” words Aulenbacher threatened Campbell with (“backstabber” and “bad character”) are rooted in the misogyny of language often used to discredit and shame women in particular.

    The update on Campbell’s story says that despite Aulenbacher’s threats, Wellesley College enthusiastically stood by Campbell’s acceptance. While this is heartening, it leads me to think about who has the resources and support to stand up against behavior like this. A petition on change.org reads in part:

    “That your principal would believe a call to Wellesley to inform them of this issue would be a threat to your admission status is laughable. In reality, your actions prove that the College couldn’t be a better fit. At Wellesley you will find students just like you: strong, independent, intelligent women who speak their minds and work to make the world a more just and equitable place. We’re all pretty sure you’ll feel right at home, and we’re so delighted that you’ll be joining our rich legacy of “women who will make a difference in the world.””

    In doing some research into student demographics at Wellesley, I found that the ALANA population is 43% (combined African-American/Black, Latina/Hispanic, Asian-American/Pacific Islander) and 43% White/Caucasian (from http://www.wellesley.edu/admission/knowus/demographics). Students’ income information was slightly more difficult to locate, but it seems that a year of education there costs $57,042, although the college claims that “The average financial award for 2011-2012 was $38,413, provided through work-study, loans, and grants” (from http://www.wellesley.edu/admission/affordable/tuition). This does leave a bit under 20,000 dollars however, which may not be a possibility for many families. This again leaves the question of who, in terms of race, class, ability, and other factors, has the possibility of “making enemies” with people in positions of power. While I fully support Campbell, I think it’s always crucial to recognize what factors make it possible for us to stand up and question authority and what factors make it more difficult or not possible for others who may have the same beliefs or instincts.

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