In my freshman class, I’ve been teaching the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. If you haven’t read it, but one day might, please stop reading now.
Seriously, I’m about to ruin the whole book so stop reading if you don’t want it to be spoiled.
Okay. So in class we got to the part where we find out what happened to her, and I had students write their reaction and then we began a sort-of discussion (we’re practicing responding to one another for when we begin Socratic seminars). We eventually got around to the topic of Melinda being raped as a result of her being drunk. To which a couple of students responded and said, “I think it’s Melinda’s fault. If she wasn’t at the party, this never would have happened.”
As a woman, this definitely took me by surprise. I changed the subject and moved on, knowing that I wasn’t ready to dive head-first into victim-blaming and rape culture, especially with 9th graders. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I know that it must be revisited. I’m thinking about taking an approach using a non-sexual example because I think it would be easier for students to make a connection, but I also want to back it up with an article about victim-blaming, without getting too deep into it. There’s a fragile line here, and I definitely don’t want to cross it as a first-year teacher, but I know that I at least need to get close to it. We’ll also be discussing the Columbia student who carried a mattress as her art project to symbolize the burden that rape victims carry with them.
Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me this week. Have you encountered a tricky situation like this before? Any ideas on how I should handle this? Let me know in the comments!