Junior at Bel Air High School starts her own feminist group

April 07, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Touching, name-calling and unwanted attention are increasingly prevalent in schools, students say, and one Harford County teen has decided it's time to fight back.

Nicole Bonis is setting up her own feminist group to address a variety of topics from sexual harassment to women's health.

"I've wanted to do this since starting high school," says Nicole, an 11th-grader at Bel Air High School who says she has experienced sexual harassment at school.

"It's so rampant," the 17-year-old says. "I try not to let it get to me."

With the backing of several Harford County women's groups, Nicole has been instrumental in organizing a forum to be held tonight at Bel Air United Methodist Church that she hopes will attract others interested in gender issues.

"The purpose of the meeting is to inform people on how they can get involved," Nicole says. She already has the support of students Kelly Arnold and Helen Thompson, who share Nicole's concerns about sexual harassment.

"It happens all the time," says Kelly, a sophomore at Joppatowne High School who distributed Day-Glo pink fliers about the meeting.

"It goes way past flattery," says Helen, a Joppatowne senior who is this year's student representative on the Harford County School Board.

Anne M. Brown, state program vice president of the American Association of University Women, has been an adviser for the students. "There needs to be a way to address these issues," says Ms. Brown, who helped pay for the 200 fliers and offered organizational advice.

She also obtained copies of two video tapes that are to be shown during the meeting -- one from a "Dateline NBC" program on gender equity and another on sexual harassment from a recent "Sally Jessy Raphael" show.

In the harassment program, two teens -- one male and the other female -- and their mothers talk about their frustration in dealing with school officials about this matter.

That's no surprise to Nicole. Sexual harassment policies in schools are a joke, she says.

"Women don't know what to do," the Bel Air teen says. "They end up giving up."

Harford County school officials aren't ignoring the issue.

"We're in the process of exploring it," says Carl D. Roberts, assistant superintendent for secondary education in Harford schools. "We don't feel the [current] policy and guidelines are as complete as they could be."

A committee of administrators, principals and assistant principals is taking a three-step approach, Mr. Roberts says. They are writing guidelines for school personnel, putting together a pamphlet that "describes everything you wanted to know about sexual harassment" for teachers and students, and are in the infant stages of devising a program for elementary school children, he says.

Nicole would like nothing better than to help. "That's one of my goals: to rewrite the sexual harassment policy," she says.

In the meantime, she's hoping tonight's forum will lead to the establishment of clubs in schools that will give students an opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them.

"The students will brainstorm on what they'd like to do," says AAUW's Ms. Brown, who will be at the 7 p.m. meeting in the church parlor at Linwood Avenue and Route 924. Other supporting groups include the YWCA, the Harford County Commission for Women and Delta Sigma Theta Inc. sorority.

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