Teresa Williams, the principal of Oakland’s Bret Harte Middle School, said it seems like a brochure for some “Mean Girls” conference crosses her desk at least once a week.
Williams hasn’t attended such a seminar yet, but her school experienced a real-life example Nov. 7, when a seventh-grader was jumped at lunchtime by another girl – and then by two or three of that young woman’s friends.
The 13-year-old girl, who had transferred to Bret Harte from another Oakland school this year, suffered head, neck and arm injuries and spent at least two nights at Children’s Hospital Oakland. She did not belong to a gang, Williams said, but one of the suspected attackers claimed there was a Norteño/Sureño conflict at play.
The girl who apparently instigated the beating is awaiting an expulsion hearing and “most likely will not return,” Williams said. (That girl and the victim are Latina, and the others are African-American, according to the principal.)
The victim probably won’t return to Bret Harte, either – or any other Oakland school, for that matter. Her family apparently plans to move to Guatemala.
“That’s what’s sad,” Williams said, adding that many of her students were upset by what happened.
Williams said she heard the attack was plotted on MySpace beforehand, but that she hadn’t seen any evidence that it was true. She also said she didn’t know if any of the alleged attackers – two of whom, according to police, might face charges in juvenile court — actually belonged to a gang, or if “they just wanted to pretend that they’re bad.”
Still she said, girl-on-girl violence is an issue. “With girls, the fight doesn’t stop. It continues on,” she said.
This fall, I interviewed a female student at Oakland Technical High School who said she was regularly stalked at school this spring by a gang of girls from another school. The group of girls (who were obviously skipping class) would find her in the hallway or at lunch and harrass her, and she was ultimately jumped at an off-campus deli, she said.
My own high school in the Chicago suburbs made international news in 2003 when a group of girls met out in a field, ostensibly to play “powder puff football.” Video (filmed by male spectators) of the notorious hazing incident shows a group of high school juniors kneeling on the ground, getting punched and slapped — oh, and getting slathered with paint, mud and animal feces.
I don’t want to overstate the “mean girls” problem, or to suggest that it’s a new phenomenon that’s wildly out of control (or that it’s limited to physical violence). But I wonder how it’s manifesting itself in local schools, and how those schools and other agencies are addressing it. Does the issue need more attention? What kind?
image from Pink Rocker’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons