Youth of Color Take Action in Preventing Sexual Harassment in Bay Area

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.

Reminie Chaidez loves the cultural diversity of the Bay Area, but that doesn’t mean the Oakland resident doesn’t see its struggles. “I think we forget how much hurt and pain this city has,” the rising junior said. 

Nearly half of the female students in San Jose State University avoid using the local transit for fear of sexual harassment, according to a 2020 survey, compared with 7 percent of male students. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed experienced some form of intimidation or assault on public transportation in the Bay Area. 

In order to make Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) safer for females and gender-expansive people, Chaidez and 99 other paid youth joined forces with Alliance for Girls to launch a campaign against gender-based violence in the country’s fifth largest transit system. 

Reminie Chaidez speaks to a guest at the Akoma Market. (Courtesy)

Launched this spring, the “Not One More Girl” campaign explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in BART’s Customer Code of Conduct and added it as a reportable offense on the BART Watch App. The Passenger Environment Survey was also updated last October with a question recording sexual harassment experiences. From the first surveying period of this year, 12 percent of riders reported experiencing gender-based aggravations during the previous six months, according to BART’s media department.

As part of the effort, over 300 posters featuring young people and anti-sexual harassment messaging now appear in BART’s traincars, stations and billboards.

Sienna Howard (center) and Haleema Bharoocha (right) with a guest at the West Oakland BART. (Courtesy)

“Young people have a lot to say,” said Emily Murase, former director at the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. “Good policy is about involving the people who are most affected.” 

Sienna Howard (center) and Haleema Bharoocha (right) at the West Oakland BART. (Courtesy)

Throughout the listening sessions Alliance for Girls held in 2019, nearly all the women of color present said they experienced harassment on mass transit. One girl, whose story was detailed in the coalition’s teen-led report, “Together, We Rise,” said she was followed off a BART train by the “grown, buff man” sitting behind her. “I got off on San Bruno. He gets off too. I started walking. I see he was following me. I stopped. He stopped. I ran so fast that day. It was in the dark, too,” she said.

Stories like this are what makes Sienna Howard, one of the teen activists who worked on the campaign, sick of being told “boys will be boys.”

Campaign badges. (Courtesy)

In 2018, when Howard was in the sixth grade, the killing of Nia Wilson shook the Bay Area. “It was just [Nia and her sister] coming back from a party on BART. They were both two Black girls in their teen years. Just like me. It was too relatable,” Howard said.

To her, it was more of a reminder than a realization of how dangerous public transit could be for Black girls. In the third grade, Howard had what she calls a “Civil Rights phase,” reading anything she could about racial justice. The year later, she began attending women’s rights marches. 

Now a rising high school freshman, she served as a social media strategist for “Not One More Girl,” creating playlists, designing posts and thinking up slogans and hashtags. By engaging with girls digitally during the pandemic, she helped keep the campaign’s momentum going. 

Bundles of campaign posters. (Courtesy)

This ability to impact the narrative is what kept Howard, Chaidez and 98 other teens engaged in the campaign.“Oakland is so diverse, but I’ve only seen white people—and they’re usually only male—who are in power,” Chaidez said. The diversity of the “Not One More Girl” campaign, she said, will impact the culture of Oakland and the broader Bay Area. 

“Youth are the legacy of public transportation,” said Haleema Bharoocha, senior advocacy manager at Alliance for Girls. “We want other people to take this as an example and ask their local transit agencies to do the same.”

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Esha Potharaju (she/her) is a student journalist who is passionate about enriching her community through storytelling. She is a staff writer for her school newspaper and on the editorial staff for the TeenTix Newsroom.