A West Virginia high school student is filing an injunction against her principal, who she claims is threatening to punish her for speaking out against a factually inaccurate abstinence assembly at her school. Katelyn Campbell, who is the student body vice president at George Washington High School, alleges her principal threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to report that she has “bad character.”
George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker, Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.
Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.
GW Principal George Aulenbacher, on the other hand, didn’t see anything wrong with hosting Stenzel. “The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her,” he told the West Virginia Gazette last week.
But it didn’t end with a simple difference of opinion among Campbell and her principal. The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they cant speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.
Despite being threatened, Campbell is not backing down. She hopes that filing this injunction will protect her freedom of speech to continue advocating for comprehensive sexual health resources for West Virginia’s youth. “West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S.,” Campbell told the Gazette. “I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW, under George Aulenbacher, information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.”
Campbell’s complaints about her high school reflect a problematic trend across the country. There are serious consequences when figures like Stenzel repeatedly tell young Americans that contraception isn’t safe. Partly because of the scientific misinformation that often pervades abstinence-only curricula, an estimated 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness — and some of those teens choose not to use it because they assume it won’t make any difference. Predictably, the states that lack adequate sex ed requirements are also the states that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.
Some of Campbell’s fellow students at GW High School are also rallying for her cause. They plan to take up the issue at a local board of education meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.
Via Twitter, Wellesley College has confirmed that Campbell doesn’t need to worry about her spot next year:
— Wellesley College (@Wellesley) April 17, 2013
Supporters across the country have rallied around Campbell after reading her story. Here’s how you can show your support.