Where science and tech meet creativity.

I have to admit that I am a long time SNL fan. There is no good reason, other then tradition, to spend most Saturdays watching, but… It’s what I do.

And sometimes their opening bit and Weekend Update give my brain something to chew on. Last night I tuned in hoping for something sharp on the Obama – Clinton race. Instead, in this encore performance, I caught a statistic that scared the shit out of me: 1 in 4 teenage girls has an STD. Yes, most of them (18%) “just” have the human papillomavirus virus, which is linked to cervical cancer, but I don’t care, these girls have still had their long term health compromised by a moment of unprotected stupidity. (It should be noted that the girls were only tested for HPV, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and herpes. (AIDS is known to effect 1 in 300 people in the US of all ages, with teenage girls making up only a small percentage)) This is not a good statistic. Couple it with the fact that 1 in 4 college age women have survived rape or attempted rape, and you have a population that has really not gotten the best from their interactions with men.

This is information I don’t know what to do with. I’m a physical sciences (physics and astronomy) teacher. In general, I teach rooms full of 90% men. This semester I’m teaching two sections of physical sciences for elementary education majors, which means I’m teaching 46 girls and 2 boys. This is a truly weird situation and I actually had to institute a “No gross pregnancy stories” policy in one class (there is a women in the class who we’re all hoping staves off labor until the final on Tuesday, but it’s going to be really close). Still, as I wander from lab table to lab table, helping them learn magnetism and phases of the moon (but not at the same time), I don’t know how to say, “Keep it safe when you go into St Louis looking for guys.” I don’t think I can fit in a way to say, “Be careful when you hookup to always use protection.” It’s not in my job description. But, clearly from these statistics, it’s not in anyone’s job description. Based on these numbers, statistically at least 12 of my girls has an STD, and 12 have been sexually assaulted. And of those, several have probably dealt with both. Someone needs to say something, if it’s just “Remember you always deserve respect. Always. And keeping you safe is showing respect.”

I’m not a mom, but as a teacher I see my students as people with lives I can affect. I feel powerless in the face of these numbers, and the limitations of the topics taught in my class. (In HS my bio teacher made us read the chapter on human sexuality aloud in class – we were embarrassed, but it was a more powerful lesson than all 6 months of sex ed. I’m not in a position to do that. The life cycles of stars just don’t have the same facts).

So maybe the best I can do is chew out the guys when I teach the engineering classes and they are “boys.” Maybe I can have an affect if I earn their respect and then make it clear to them what language and behavior isn’t acceptable when they are discussing conquests in lab (yes, they do that sometimes, even when female profs can hear them). Maybe if I praise the Alpha Kappa Lambda students who join in on campus These Hands Don’t Hurt events, it will have an affect.

Maybe I, and every other professor, have to do both – Both teach the girls they deserve respect, and teach the guys that they need to respect everyone equally.

We have a long way to go. Women still don’t get equal respect on the job market, and we are still learning to stand up for ourselves when we are clearly getting abused in our jobs. If we can’t get respect and demand fair treatment when we are in completely public forums like work, how much harder is it for us to demand respect and fair treatment when the abuse is completely private?

Sometimes, I wish I didn’t understand statistics, and could just believe, “This doesn’t affect any of my students.” Sadly, I’m not that naive.