Introducing Gender Week

Conversations on Gender & Culture Make Waves

Juniors Gigi Lopez and Anjali Chandel, heads of Students Affirming Gender Equality (SAGE), speak at Gender Week’s closing ceremony.

Photo credit: Anna Fuder

Juniors Gigi Lopez and Anjali Chandel, heads of Students Affirming Gender Equality (SAGE), speak at Gender Week’s closing ceremony.

At Parker…

More males than females strongly agreed with the statement: “I feel that the students in my grade respect me.” More females than males agreed that sexism is a problem at Parker.

Fewer females than males believed that adults in the community would respond to sexist incidents.

More females than males agreed that older students intimidate younger students. Female and male students respond similarly to the statement: “I feel stereotyped based on my gender identity at Parker.”

In 2017, Educational and Diversity Consultant Derrick Gay conducted a climate survey at Parker, returning with the aforementioned results among a plethora of data regarding safety, race, and culture. Although “The Parker Weekly” was unable to secure permission to publish specific figures, each of the preceding statements, save for the final one, saw a deviation of at least 15% between the answers of females and males––a statistically significant difference.

On Monday, March 4––following condensed morning classes––a Nike commercial resonated through the Diane and David B. Heller Auditorium, compelling over 350 assembled Upper School students and teachers to “show them what crazy can do.” The advertisement served to commence the Opening Ceremonies of “Gender Week”––a five-day series of conversations, workshops, and presentations on the topic.

“The most productive sessions and topics were ones that encouraged conversation between the students,” junior Micah Derringer said. “I think the main goal of Gender Week was to stir up a dialogue so it was at those points that it was the most productive.”

Gender Week brought with it a modified schedule for the Upper School. In the morning, students worked through a little over three hours of traditional classes. After lunch and a midday break, students spent their afternoons in any of 20 workshops lead by teachers or working with the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE).

According to Upper School math teacher Victoria Lee, the week was modeled after the professional workshops which Parker educators regularly attend.

Junior Gradehead and Upper School Learning Resource Specialist Bridget Walsh was the week’s lead organizer, and saw the dialogues as important to student development. “The issue of gender is going to be a part of their entire life,” Walsh said, “and the issues that are coming up in gender such as sex, healthy relationships, consent, all things that they are going to have to engage in for the rest of their lives.”

Freshman Alex Ostrom found her experience to be impactful. “I definitely felt a sense of unity within the girls in the Upper School. The shared experience of being a woman at Parker, all the girls in the grades in the Upper School have just gone through similar stuff.”

Walsh credits work with the 11th grade “Women in Chicagoland” Civic Lab – a combination community service-curricular enrichment group – and the results of Dr. Gay’s survey as dual inspirations for the week.

Through leading Women in Chicagoland, Walsh met Shalini Mirpuri of CAASE and Scout Bratt of Chicago Women’s Health Center. “I knew after meeting these two people and seeing how my Civic Lab interacted with them, that they needed to come into this building and interact with more students,” Walsh said.

By Walsh’s further account, Gay’s survey “revealed experience differences for different genders––both at the student level and the faculty level.”

“His data showed that the boys were having a much more positive experience at Parker than our girls were,” Upper School Head Justin Brandon said. Brandon and Walsh, alongside other administrators and teachers, recognized a need for outside expertise, leading to the further involvement of CAASE.

Each afternoon, Monday through Thursday, one grade split by gender to spend a two-hour period working with CAASE. The women’s sessions were lead by Mirpuri, the organization’s Prevention Manager, while Prevention Educator Jose Corea worked with the men.

In considering the aim of his workshops, Corea hopes to combat the “problematic” communications he sees in daily life. “It’s just the fact that we live in a culture where we receive so many problematic sexist and racist messages,” Corea said. “It’s just like 24/7…and they affect the way we perceive the world.”

After the gender separated CAASE session, the freshmen, sophomore, and junior classes reconvened as a whole to discuss the content of their breakout groups.

“I feel like the girls had a much different experience,” Ostrom said. “For us, Gender Week was very empowering. But from what I’ve heard from the guys, most of them took it as a joke.”

Bratt—Chicago Women’s Health Center’s Outreach and Education Director–– worked with Associate Director of Alumni Engagement Joe Bruno to organize optional workshops on Tuesday and Thursday for queer-identifying students.

“The intention was to create a safe and anonymous space for students who don’t feel as though they can present as themselves as fully as they would like,” Bruno said. “It is a space for students to ask questions that they might otherwise be afraid to ask in other settings. Those are sometimes difficult conversations to have, but I think this was an amazing start.”

For many students, the impact of Gender Week has stretched beyond the primary five-day period––extending to more casual conversation in subsequent weeks. “It’s a lot of just talking the hallway, talking to guys as well as girls and just…asking different questions,” Derringer said. “It’s… good to ask these questions now like ‘How can I be better?’ or ‘What did I do wrong?’ Before, that wasn’t really talked about at all—but now it’s more socially acceptable at school.”

Others, like senior Emma Adelstein, found themselves less than satisfied. “I thought that the group of faculty that organized it didn’t…understand how much of an emotional toll it took on individuals who identify as female,” Adelstein said. “I felt like through the whole week I was having to defend myself…and didn’t really feel like I was getting out of it what I should have been.”

Adelstein believed the content of the week should have been targeted toward her male colleagues. “Sexism is not a female problem,” Adelstein said. “Boys don’t realize that it’s their burden, not ours to change. I was also really frustrated that it was called ‘Gender Week.’ It’s not about gender, it’s about sexism, and it angers me that the school refuses to name the issue at hand.”