Youth organizers Shelby County Schools announce comprehensive sexual harassment and bullying policy, strengthened commitment to Title IX

Posted by Wesley Paraham on Nov 23, 2020

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Youth organizers Shelby County Schools announce comprehensive sexual harassment and bullying policy, strengthened commitment to Title IX

MEMPHIS––Bridge Builders CHANGE, a group of youth organizers seeking social justice through community organizing, has partnered with Shelby County Schools (SCS) to implement a new District-wide sexual harassment policy that centers the voices of survivors and ensures clear definitions and procedures for sexual harassment and assault cases. 

This unprecedented partnership brings a new understanding between adult policy makers and the youth those policies affect, gives youth voices power, and demonstrates the value of youth-led social change. 

In 2016, Bridge Builders CHANGE set goals to end sexual violence in schools and collaborate with SCS to revise its internal policies to increase advocacy efforts for student survivors of sexual assault. In 2017, they formed the Memphis Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (MASHA) cohort and drafted a seven-page comprehensive sexual misconduct policy proposal for SCS to consider incorporating into their existing Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying, or Cyberbullying policy. During this time, MASHA youth organizers worked with the the District to solicit feedback from their peers and enhance existing sexual harassment guidelines.

Recognizing that sexual harassment impedes the learning process for all students, in 2019 SCS hired a full-time Title IX coordinator, Mary Tucker, to oversee the District’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This summer, SCS revised their Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying, or Cyberbullying policy to formalize the District’s Title IX policy, including a reporting system and grievance procedure. The policy revisions in the Title IX section reflect recommendations drafted by youth organizers, and the District also launched an outreach page for students and families with details on how to report incidents. 

“Our greatest desire is keeping student safety a top priority,” said SCS Board Chairwoman Miska Clay Bibbs. “Using resources available to ensure all students are fully supported is what SCS has strived to do through the revisions of these key policies. We remain committed to being Change Champions and implementing policies in the best interest of our students, faculty and staff.” 

“When students are faced with discrimination, their social emotional health and well-being are at risk as well as their ability to learn,” said Mary Tucker, Title IX Coordinator. “These efforts help ensure the District supports the whole child as they work toward academic success.”

This week, Tucker met with the Bridge Builders CHANGE organizers who worked for years to make this a reality to share news of the updated policies. In addition, the District’s Non-Discrimination Statements policy was revised to include information about who to contact regarding sex-based discrimination. 

“MASHA youth organizers from the last 5 years met to hear this news, cried, laughed, read the policies all the way through together, cheered together from their various colleges, states and Zoom screens,” Mahal Burr, Bridge Builders CHANGE Manager, said. “MASHA would like it to be known that Shelby County Schools is truly centering the voice of youth, truly putting students first and truly standing at the forefront of history when it comes to making our schools spaces where youth feel safe.” 

Bridge Builders CHANGE is just one of the many ways youth can connect with others while strengthening their leadership and community action skills through BRIDGES. 

The organization has also recently received national attention from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, who this year awarded BRIDGES $25,000 for its youth-led community work, as well as its latest initiative, the Youth Action Center (YAC). The YAC will be a hub where community organizations and young leaders create authentic youth-adult partnerships to harness the energy and insights of young people and work together for the benefit of all.

Bridge Builders CHANGE organizers will continue collaborating with SCS administrators, teachers, and faculty to make classrooms more inclusive for all students and look forward to future possibilities.

Becca Folkes-Lallo, BRIDGES Youth Advisory Board Advisor and a Bridge Builders CHANGE youth organizer from 2015-2018, is eager to keep youth voices elevated in all spaces.

“I’m still in awe that a phone call made four years ago has turned into this,” said Folkes-Lallo. “This policy represents the culmination of many small wins brought about by the efforts of passionate young people. As we celebrate this win, know that there is more work to be done. Hopefully, more adults will see the type of change that can occur when we center the voices of young people.”