When we (the Service Committee, R.A.N.E., and Feminists at Friends) began our work, I think some people in our community didn’t understand why street harassment was something that we were even talking about. Why spend time raising awareness of street harassment when the world has bigger problems?
For the answer to that question, we turned to the men, women, and gender non-conforming members of our community who have experienced street harassment. We looked within ourselves and gave voices to experiences that, for some of us, were once an enormous source of shame.
Growing up in New York City, I (and most or all of the girls and women I know) experienced street harassment at a very young age– around eleven years old. And it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s scary. It’s scary when someone exploits your vulnerability and forces their image of you upon you. You may see yourself as a kid, but what happens when someone stares, howls, hisses, or says sexually explicit things to you when you’re walking to school? What happens as a result of the rape culture you’ve grown up in? Most of us blame ourselves. We think abut what we were wearing or how we were walking, when in reality we are not to blame at all.
The Chalk Walk and the Art Installation were both successful in many ways. The Chalk Walk brought together a group of students to spread a message of respect across the neighborhood. We wrote phrases of our own making and phrases suggested by Hollaback! (an international anti-street harassment organization). Some included: “MY DRESS IS NOT A YES” and “MY NAME IS NOT HEY BABY.” The Art Installation in the Quaker Library provided an important physical space to safely meditate on an issue that, by nature, is rooted in discomfort and an absence of a sense of safety in public spaces. The photographs, text messages, poetry and audio recordings of personal stories from the community were all very moving. I felt extremely lucky to be part of both of these projects.
At the very beginning of the school year, I volunteered at Back-to-School Night. Back-to-School Night is a welcome event not just for new parents, but for all Upper School parents. Parents get a chance to meet their children’s teachers, ask questions, and learn a little bit about the content of the classes. In past years, I’ve completed my in-school service by doing a myriad of smaller events that added up (like Empty Bowls and sandwich-making), so to do a major school event like this one was new for me. Usually my in-school service experiences were physically in school, but to benefit an outside organization, so getting to help out at an event for the Friends community was a good experience.
I was assigned timekeeper– an interesting job, since it involved ringing a large metal bell in a hallway of the main building– and I served as a general guide for parents who were unfamiliar with the building. It was a fun, albeit slightly chaotic experience, and I enjoyed meeting parents and helping to keep the event running smoothly. I also got to keep my neon Friends t-shirt, which I will probably wear next year when I volunteer for Back-to-School Night again.
On two Sundays during April and May, I volunteered at the 9C Community Garden in the East Village. It is a garden on Avenue C between 9th and 10th streets where people who live in the neighborhood, such as Christel Johnson, keep up individual plots. I helped clean up the garden by picking up small pieces of trash, pulling up weeds, and reorganizing brick structures.
The first plot that we worked on belonged to a member of the community who was no longer able to work on it herself. It was rewarding to know that we could help just by doing small tasks to keep up her plot for her. We pulled up weeds, placed them in a wheelbarrow, and then chopped them up for composting.
I started this volunteer experience knowing very little about plants and gardening, and by the end of the second day I could identify which plants were good and healthy and which were harmful weeds. I really enjoyed this service work because it was what I think service should be: fun and rewarding. With lots of homework and studying to do at home, it was nice to have a break outdoors, helping out in a peaceful community garden.