It is a good practice to begin each year by listening to the voices of students, and then carrying the habit on through the year.
A wonderful, if difficult, place to start is a new piece of reporting on online “slut-shaming” and sexual cyberbullying by Radio Rookie Temitayo Fagbenle. Radio Rookies is a program based out of public radio station WNYC in New York City that offers an apprenticeship program for youth to learn the art and trade of radio journalism. Fagbenle is a great apprentice, with an intriguing voice and an incredible capacity to coax intimate stories from her peers.
Fagbenle’s piece “Sexual Cyberbullying: The Modern Day Letter A” explores how young people experience and deal with the practice of photographing or videoing young women in compromised sexual situations (sometimes without their knowledge) and then distributing those images online. As the title suggests, Fabgenle situates her piece in a long history of public humiliation of young women’s sexual behavior, before delving into this troubling aspect of today’s online youth culture.
National research (lit review / recent study) suggests that only a minority of youth are the victims of online peer aggression, sexual or otherwise. But as told from Fabgenle’s perspective, that research underestimates the impact that such acts have on a community of networked youth. From her perspective, enough of these acts happen with enough visibility to make it feel like her Facebook feed is filled with slut-shaming. Some bullying researchers and educators, for very good reason, have argued that it is problematic to overestimate or overdramatize the frequency of these behaviors, which are statistically rare. Fabgenle’s reporting suggests that even if the perpetration of these acts is rare, their virality accelerates their prevalence and impact.
Fagbenle’s network of friends includes both victims and perpetrators, and her interviews with both are haunting. One young woman tells the story of having a video of her sexual activity distributed widely on social networks, YouTube, and amateur pornographic video hosting sites. Another young man, tells his own experience as someone who had illicitly taken and distributed an image of a sexual partner. It is a credit to Fagbenle’s skills as an interviewer that she manages to interview the boy without passing judgment, despite his deeply disturbing lack of remorse.
The piece doesn’t offer solutions, just a powerfully crafted youth perspective, one well worth listening to as schools wrestle with these difficult problems, as old as mysogyny and as new as Facebook.
Fagbenle and the Radio Rookies are also hosting a live chat for teens on January 8th from 1-2pm EST to discuss these issues. (Fagbenle will M.C., and the Radio Rookies staff will moderate all comments.) If you are teaching during that time, I’d encourage you to email Radio Rookies Associate Producer, Courtney Stein (email@example.com)to have your students get involved.
Many thanks to Temitayo for sharing her story and to the Radio Rookies team for helping bring the project to the air. As the year begins, their work is a wonderful reminder about how much we have to learn from our students.
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