Many of you have told us that your students have questions about "locker room talk" issues that have come up in the news in the last few months. That’s why, in the April 2017 issue of Choices, we take a look at this sensitive subject with We’re Standing Up for Respect. The goal of the piece is to de-politicize the issue, to separate it from the election and the candidates--and to help students see the power of their words, and embrace their potential to shift our culture from one that can be sexist and misogynist, to one that treats everyone equally.
We realize this can be a charged issue, so we spoke with Tala Manassah, deputy executive director at Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, for tips on the most thoughtful, effective, and engaging ways to approach this topic in your classroom. Here are ten meaningful tips to keep in mind:
1. Approach this topic by fostering a sense of community and trust in your classroom: Reiterate that all opinions will be respected, and that interruptions will not be tolerated. (If you need more great suggestions on fostering classroom respect, Morningside Center has got you covered.)
2. Consider having your students move their desks or chairs into a circle formation, or if suitable, take them outside to stand in a circle. This will naturally create an environment in which they’re looking each other in the eye--seeing each other beyond politics, and as peers.
3. Make clear that while this has been a hot topic in current events, it’s not actually about politics--it’s about the power of language, the potential for negative language to lead to harmful actions, and the importance of respecting those who are different from us--whether because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or anythingelse (including, yes, political views!). Be prepared for the conversation to possibly touch on related issues like bullying, racism, violence, and other forms of mistreatment of others.
4. Drive home that just because they may not have personally engaged in or been on the receiving end of "locker room talk," students all have a responsibility to proactively do what they can to eliminate this kind of talk and the culture it creates. For example, talk about what they can do as a bystander (see our tips from HollaBack and learn more at here), and actions they can take before they’re ever even put in that situation (like our pledge below!).
5. Explain to students that the person on the receiving end of negative talk has the power to decide whether that language upsets or offends them; the person making the comments doesn’t get to decide how that person "should" feel. If you feel that a line has been crossed, you are entitled to that feeling and don’t need to justify, suppress, or silence it!
6. Talk about the power in numbers to do good--how finding like-minded allies can help you stand up to bullies, seek help, and make positive changes.
7. Explore issues of image: How do your students think of masculinity and toughness, and how does that lead to positive or negative behavior? Same goes for femininity. Make clear that they have the power--the agency--to defy stereotypes and stand up for what they know to be right.
8. Recognize that not every student will participate in the conversation. Some students may feel uncomfortable verbalizing their feelings, and that’s ok.
9. Emphasize that adults are there to help them when they encounter locker room talk or any other divisive or dehumanizing talk. Make clear to them that seeking help is not "tattling," and let them know who, in your school, is best to turn to for support--whether your school has a counselor or administrator who is trained to handle these issues.
10. Be sure to offer resources for more information and support, like these: