How’s this for cause and effect? Participate in a SlutWalk, get photographed, get fired. That’s what happened to Theresa Illgen, a student teacher in Las Cruces, NM.
Illgen, who is studying for her masters at New Mexico State University, is the president of the campus feminist group, Aggies For Feminism. She was student-teaching at Mayfield High School (one of the four main public high schools in town) when a photo of her, wearing a bra and a long skirt at the May 1 Slutwalk on the NMSU campus, was published on the front page of the local Las Cruces Sun-News.
On May 3rd, she was called into the office at Mayfield High and told she was to “consider her student teaching done.” Illgens says she was told to gather her belongings and leave Mayfield quietly, not to return for her last day of teaching at the school. The NMSU student newspaper, the Round-Up, reports that Illgen was also told that the administration didn’t want students to call her a “slut.”
If you, too, are wondering why a private citizen’s actions outside of her program of academic study/employer would lead her to be terminated from an aspect of her program of academic study/employer, listen to what Jo Galvan, the spokesperson for LCPS Public Schools, had to say:
“There was a lot of conversation, chatter, buzz among many of the kids at the school. It was determined by school administration that this was going to be a disruptive day. She (Illgen) had already gone through her student teaching evaluation, so to quit the buzz (LCPS) Human Resources decided she didn’t need to complete her final day of student teaching. …It was determined that it would be best for the kids not to have those disruptions.”
I lived in Las Cruces for three years and I received my MFA in Creative Writing from NMSU, the university where Illgen participated in the SlutWalk. I have to say I’m a little surprised about this turn of events; Las Cruces isn’t (by any definition) a city known as a bastion of liberal sentiment, but Illgen wasn’t doing anything wrong, either in her job as a student teacher or in her role as a private citizen. She was merely a woman exercising her right to wear whatever she wants, at a legal gathering of people rallying to end rape culture and victim blaming. Oh shit, a woman making herself visible! Cue the system crackdown; We can’t have a woman who is in charge of educating our precious young minds….actually speaking her mind!
Illgen said of her dismissal:
“I have to respect what the district is telling me. Mayfield is a good high school with good teachers. My time at Mayfield was very good and enjoyable.”
Illgen didn’t ask to be photographed, and it sounds like she didn’t even know the newspaper was going to use the photo of her until she herself saw it on the front page. She added:
“I think the reason I was released was out of fear. The photo could have been offensive to some, but people don’t want to address rape culture and people who are punished for standing up.”
Naomi Ruth Estrada, who commented on the article on the newspaper’s website (and, full disclosure, is also a friend of mine) was on-point when she said:
Had she landed on the cover because she donned a bikini at a newly opened pool, Mayfield officials would not have removed her. The school embraced the type of body image shaming that Illgen set out to protest.
If Illgen had been photographed in a bra or bathing suit in basically any other capacity, it’s doubtful she would have been barred from returning to Mayfield High, as Estrada said. But because she was photographed at a feminist event, one meant to challenge conventional ways we think about and see women, she lost her job.
I certainly don’t expect a public school system to consider a woman who marched in a SlutWalk as an example of a role model, but I do. A woman who unabashedly publicly proclaims her support against our society’s misogynistic and paternalistic mores is exactly the kind of person I’d want teaching my teenage children, especially in public school.
Although LCPS officials were hoping to draw attention away from Illgen by firing her, the controversy this situation has created has only served to do the opposite. It’s given Illgen an opportunity to draw attention to the shameful actions of the school system itself, as well as a platform to create greater awareness for the very issues she was out there in her (GASP!) bra trying to eradicate.
Photo: Robin Zielinski/Sun-News