Jason Mendez's undergraduate class, "Teaching Masculinities," requires reading books such as "We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity," and "Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School."
Last week, his students in the Program in Education class heard from teens who have experienced the issues raised in the course, which explores the relationships between masculinities, gender, sexuality, race and class.
They've been bullied because of their gender, skin color, religion, sexuality and ethnicity. The talks by six Raleigh high school students were framed around bullying and the intersections of cultural identity, Mendez said.
"The event was a tremendous success, it was very intellectually challenging and emotionally draining," said Mendez, a visiting professor of the practice at Duke's Program in Education. "To be honest I did not know what to expect from this panel presentation. My hope was to connect our course readings and discussions to real-life experiences.
"This presentation awakened their consciousness. It moved them to critically reflect on their assumptions, beliefs and knowledge."
The students from Athens Drive High School spoke about the Rise Above Bullies initiative at their school, which was founded by senior Gabbi Kahela-Osuba.
Mendez said Kahela-Osuba had been bullied for being a "Tom Boy." She had contemplated suicide and went as far as cutting her arms. With the help and a support of a friend she eventually triumphed over the abuse and started Rise Above Bullies.
"Many of these students went into vivid details about their bullying experiences and how it moved them to consider suicide," said Mendez, also director of PIE's Minor in Education. "Many of them harmed themselves by cutting their bodies."
The teens addressed their bullying experiences, which included name-calling, insults, racial comments, being excluding from certain groups, cyber bullying and rumors.
They also discussed the links between suicide and bullying. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24, resulting in around 4,600 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The guest speakers from Rise Above Bullies said they appreciated the opportunity to speak to Mendez's class.
"Speaking at Duke was such a pleasure! The students and faculty were so supportive and nice. We are so grateful!," stated a post on the group's Facebook page.
Duke student Dustin Alin called the teens "brave to discuss their stories with us," and said their talk inspired him "to do more and stand up to bullying."