The Falls Church News-Press has partnered with George Mason High School’s award-winning newspaper, The Lasso, to bring its readers some of the top articles appearing in the student-run digital paper. This regular feature will appear monthly in the News-Press during the school year. The Lasso can be found online at www.gmhslasso.org.
Catcalling: Pushing the Boundaries Of Safety for George Mason Girls
By Gabriel Brown
“Oh god! Yes, Miss America! You wanna hang out? You’re a supermodel!”
Words directed at a GMHS senior, Julia Palmer, while she was walking home from school with her boyfriend in broad daylight.
“I can’t walk by the Starbucks and not see him there,” Palmer said, referring to the man who yelled the Miss America comments at her.
This experience is called catcalling.
Catcalling is the act of making a whistle, shout, or a comment of a sexual nature to a woman passing by. Girls experience this all over the world, frequently, and George Mason girls are catcalled regularly on the way to and from school.
“If you had a daughter, would you want that to happen to her? Like, being harassed on the street by a bunch of dudes,” said sophomore Rachel Skomra.
The subject, however, is very controversial, as some see it as a joke and some see a serious problem. The interpretation of catcalling is almost entirely subjective; the experience of it can leave women feeling violated, scared, frustrated and annoyed. Yet, some women (although I was unable to find any in our school who believe so) say it makes them feel better about themselves.
The New York blog says “[e]-ven if an individual woman feels flattered by catcalling, she can probably point to a situation in which she felt extremely vulnerable due to catcalling – probably as a young teenager.”
For senior Andrei Enache, it’s a joke, and he admits to doing it for fun with his friends.
“I don’t personally think of it as anything. I don’t see it as a gateway for gaining a woman’s heart or anything like that,” Enache said.
“We do it in a funny voice or we laugh to show that it’s a joke…” Enache continued. “I expect them to do something back, like if I say ‘Hey Mami!’ then they should play along and say ‘Hey Papi!’ as a joke.”
Street harassment is a tricky issue. What is the difference between harassment, a joke and flirtation? It’s difficult to argue that sexual harassment is anything but incessant and invasive, leaving people feeling unsafe.
“It’s disgusting, and there’s no way to respond back to it without feeling unsafe,” Palmer said.
The majority of women I spoke to, who have experienced catcalls, said they preferred ignoring them or taking the compliment even if they don’t like it, because then it’s over quicker. Some people suggested they might say something clever or disgusting back, mocking the harasser, although some women said that that only made them feel even more scared because then the harasser becomes an even greater threat.
However, ignoring catcalls does not seem to solve the problem.
“If it makes you feel uncomfortable, then stand up for yourself because no one should ever make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin,” said senior Katie Goodwin.
The experience, however, remains invisible to most men. For example, senior James Pala stated he’d known of catcalling but never witnessed it. A third-party perspective could assist in preventing unwanted catcalling; the tricky part is finding how to make other men more aware.
Catcalling has become more prevalent in the media too; as a social experiment, Rob Bliss created a video showing one woman’s 10-hour walk in New York City, where she was catcalled over 100 times.
A woman named Caroline Tompkins, started a blog devoted to the photos of the faces of her harassers. Even buzzfeed has made videos addressing how ridiculous this everyday situation is.
But what is George Mason doing to prevent this from happening to its girls? Some adults in the school have called it “unpreventable.” Are we educating all our students about catcalling as a form of sexual harassment? No.
There seemed to be some confusion between teachers whether the Sexual Education unit part of health class is taught in ninth grade or in tenth grade. The unit focuses on “No means no,” date rape, STD effects, and abstinence, but, according to a sampling of ninth and tenth grade students with whom I spoke, sexual harassment is hardly covered.
How can these classes educate female students when they are catcalled? Is sexual harassment not taught because it is a gray area? Many students and teachers feel this should be a topic discussed in their health classes, but it is not. Catcalling will not stop until its harmful nature is taught to students..
Making Space for a Makerspace
By Eva Ellis
The integration of technology into education is set to become more prevalent as Mason introduces its very own makerspace, which will provide students with opportunities for building, creating, and interdisciplinary learning.
The makerspace is unique, for it presents an opportunity for students to do new things, while “allowing them to be in charge of their own education,” said Mr. John Ballou, a veteran GMHS teacher and key initiator of the Makerspace project. It’s a chance to “push yourself into new directions.”
A makerspace is a classroom designed to encourage creativity by giving students the opportunity to create things through a variety of methods, while enabling them to develop new skills along the way. Makerspaces generally contain equipment including, but not limited to, 3D printers, woodworking tools, laser cutters, and textile and sewing instruments.
“[It’s] something we’ve been hoping to do in this school for a long time,” said Ballou.
With the upcoming introduction of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP) to Falls Church City Schools, a need for the development of a makerspace has recently come to the fore. Students will soon require “a place to do long term projects,” Ballou said.
For the MYP program, which will begin at GMHS in about two years, students will be expected to “produce an independent project of some kind, by the time they’re in tenth grade,” said Ballou.
“I see this…as a way of getting ready for the really intense numbers of independent projects that we want to support for every student in the building,” he added.
The MYP is an educational program for students ages eleven to sixteen, and is described by its official handbook as a program “preparing students to be successful in school and to be active, lifelong learners.”
The use of the makerspace will not be limited to just independent projects, though. It will be open to all students, and will be located in the library to furthermore increase its accessibility.
“We want to make that [it] more central,” said Ballou.
And while the makerspace will be additionally used for courses such as Video Production and Robotics, it will still “be an open-door kind of thing,” Ballou said. Students will be able to “just come during lunch and say, hey, let’s try this out. You don’t have to be in a classroom.”
Still, the aim is also to “bring it into classrooms,” said Mr. Kevin Clark, Assistant Principal and member of the STEAM committee.
Clark hopes that the use of the makerspace will “implement interdisciplinary lessons,” as students use the materials and equipment available to “enhance some of the things they’re learning about.”
“[The makerspace] will offer a lot of possibilities [for classrooms],” Clark added, such as the ability to use 3D modeling to create objects related to presentations or curriculum.
“Every concept area is in the Makerspace,” said FCCPS Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones.
The equipment needed for a makerspace is incredibly expensive.
“As of now, the makerspace project is going to cost around $40,000, with our highest ticket item being the laser cutter,” said Clark.
To afford the makerspace, the school is “trying to make sure we use the budget in the materials area wisely,” said Jones. Additionally, there were “cost shifts this year [so that the school] takes that extra money from material and supplies and put that back into the makerspace content.”
The Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) committee, which is helping drive the vision of the makerspace, is composed of parents and teachers who “want STEAM-oriented teaching and learning happening,” said Jones, who serves as one of the members of the committee. The STEAM committee is “trying to offer courses that are 21st century in their design,” she added.
“It’s a space where students can go in, create and innovate,” Dr. Jones said.
“If you’re looking for lifetime learning skills, that’s the kind of paradigm you want to follow.” Ballou said.
“[The Makerspace] will have all the things you would need to help tell a story,” Ballou added. “You’ve gotta be able to tell your story, and [we’ll do] whatever we can do to make that happen.”
So how can you figure out what story you have to tell? In the words of Mr. Clark: “Come create.”
These articles plus more from The Lasso available at www.fcpps.org/lasso.