Grant to help students ‘Use Their Voice’ to stop harassment

| February 15, 2012 | 0 Comments

St. Mary’s College senior heeds words of her St. Paul pastor about Christian compassion

Catherine “Cat” Cleary, a senior at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., will present a 60-minute program addressing teenage sexual harassment called “Use Your Voice” to high school freshman in four South Bend, Ind., high schools, this spring. Cleary, together with Laura Corrigan, a junior at St. Mary’s, were awarded a $3,900 grant from the American Association of University Women to develop the program. A graduate of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley and member of St. Ceclia in St. Paul with her parents, Paul Cleary and Julie Michels, Cleary talked about the program in an email interview with Pat Norby, The Catholic Spirit news editor.

Why did you and Laura Corrigan choose the topic of sexual harassment?

Catherine Cleary will soon present a sexual harassment program she developed for teens with another student at St. Mary’s College in Indiana. Photo provided by St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind.

St. Mary’s College was the recipient of an AAUW Campus Action Project Grant last fall. The grant was designed to allow student leaders and campus faculty and staff to design and implement programming in their local communities based on AAUW’s latest research report. Our project is based on a report that was released in November entitled “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School,” and thus focuses on sexual harassment in schools.

Why did you choose to focus on freshman high school students?

Our goal with this project is to encourage dialogue and begin to change a culture. We saw freshman students as the perfect group to work with to spark this change.

Did you or someone you know have a personal experience with sexual harassment?

As Laura and I began to read the AAUW research report and dive deeper into this topic, we realized that we have definitely been impacted by sexual harassment in both high school and college. What we realized was that in high school we didn’t know to call it sexual harassment. In high school, I may have laughed off a sexual joke, unwelcome sexual comment, or unwelcome sexual gesture as merely “boys being boys.” Like many high school students, I didn’t know that those would be considered harassment. The message we want to spread to high school students is that harassment is not just something that you have to “live with.” It shouldn’t have to be a part of your everyday high school experience.

Do you believe that this program ties in to your Catholic values? How?

This program absolutely ties in to my Catholic values. I believe I am called to be a servant leader, like Christ, and advocate for the poor and marginalized. Father Mike Byron, the priest at St. Cecilia’s where my family and I attend, said something very memorable in a homily he gave a few years ago. He said, “True Christian compassion comes not in seeing that every individual gets what he/she seems to deserve, but rather in tethering the fate of the greatest to the fate of the least.” With that in mind, I see this workshop as my way of acknowledging that sexual harassment is a social problem that negatively impacts students’ educational experience, and taking charge as a member of my community to do something about it. I feel a responsibility as a member of society to act.

Explain what will take place during the 60-minute presentation.

The “Use Your Voice” workshop is a 60-minute interactive presentation that is split up into three portions. We will spend quite a bit of time at the beginning defining sexual harassment, talking about examples of sexual harassment in school, and presenting research found in AAUW’s report “Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.” Then, we will have a ‘creative writing’ portion where students can journal and reflect on the information we just presented. Finally, we will wrap up by informing the students of their school’s resources for reporting and talking about sexual harassment.

Will you and Corrigan be tracking the outcome of the program in the future?

Laura and I will be staying in touch with school administrators to get a feel for how this workshop may have influenced the climate of their schools.

What are your plans for the future after graduation, this year?

I plan to attend graduate school after I graduate from St. Mary’s College. I have been accepted into a master’s program in higher education at the University of Michigan, but I still am waiting to hear from several other graduate programs.

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Category: Colleges and Careers