Fierce High School Senior is Online Hero After Protesting Abstinence-Only Assembly

High school senior Katelyn Campbell is speaking out for better sex-ed in her school. Photo: Shay Maunz/Charleston …West Virginia high school senior Katelyn Campbell is fast becoming an online feminist hero after protesting a school assembly that aggressively promoted abstinence-only and shamed sexually active students, she said.

The assembly, held last week at George Washington High School in Charleston, featured national pro-abstinence speaker Pam Stenzel. Her technique, according to past YouTube videos and a new audio recording posted Tuesday by a classmate of Campbell’s, is to spend an hour angrily chastising, "slut-shaming" and threatening students, shouting hyperboles and inaccuracies—including “condoms aren’t safe, never have, never will be”—about the dangers of premarital sex, and using a cruelly ditzy voice to mock teen girls who choose to have it.

Stenzel was brought to George Washington through sponsorship of the West Virginia Youth Encouragers Network, part of the “faith-based, Christ centered” non-profit organization Believe in West Virginia. That, and the speaker’s track record, was enough to raise hackles on Campbell, 17, who is vice president of her student body. She filed a complaint with the ACLU and started speaking out about her anger over the assembly; that, she told the Charleston Gazette, prompted principal George Aulenbacher to scold her in his office, and threaten to call Wellesley College, where Campbell already had been accepted, to tell the college she has "bad character" and is a "backstabber," according to the Charleston Gazette.

Aulenbacher did not return a call from Yahoo! Shine for comment.

Pam Stenzel's abstinence-only talk is at the center of the controversy. Photo: YouTubeCampbell, meanwhile, has called for Aulenbacher’s resignation and also retained a lawyer, Michael Callaghan. On Monday she filed an injunction against her principal in order to prevent him from retaliating against her, and also appeared on CNN to talk about the situation.

“I mean the nature of [Stenzel’s] speech was so hyperbolic that most people thought it was a joke,” she said in the broadcast. “I know one student walked out and said, ‘Was that a satire? Like, was that real?’ So I think there were some people who took it very seriously and there were girls who were crying in the assembly because they were so upset, and felt that they had been so insulted by her. But I think a lot of students got that it was misinformation.”

In addition, she told the Gazette, "West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S. 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."

Online support for Campbell has been fast and furious.

Wellesley, in response to the story, had an awesome Tweet for her on Wednesday: “Katelyn Campbell, #Wellesley is excited to welcome you this fall.” Also, in a statement sent to Yahoo! Shine, the school added, “Wellesley College is delighted to welcome Katelyn Campbell as a member of the Class of 2017 this fall. The Wellesley community fosters a living and learning environment where diverse opinions, ideas, and perspectives are not only welcomed, they are encouraged. The College is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas, which we believe is an important catalyst for learning and growth.”

An alumni group, Wellesley Sisters, has started a Change.org petition in Campbell’s support called “Katelyn Campbell: Welcome to Wellesley College. We Think You’ll Fit Right In.” It had nearly 900 supporters by Thursday afternoon, and praised her for “exercising your right to free speech and advocating for women’s rights,” and for being an “independent thinker.”

The petition also beautifully notes: “That your principal would believe a call to Wellesley to inform them of this issue would be a threat to your admission status is laughable. In reality, your actions prove that the College couldn’t be a better fit. At Wellesley you will find students just like you: strong, independent, intelligent women who speak their minds and work to make the world a more just and equitable place.”

The Twitterverse is with Campbell (and Wellesley) in a major way, with kudos including, “You go girl!” “Thank you for encouraging leaders of tomorrow,” “Making me a proud alum,” “super impressed,” and “Katelyn Campbell is a badass and a role model” streaming in Thursday afternoon at a rate of about one every minute or two.

At the assembly, Stenzel, according to the recording posted on YouTube Tuesday, said to students that if they have sex outside of marriage “you will pay.” She implied that anyone who has premarital sex will acquire an STD and likely wind up infertile or dead as a result, and implored pregnant teens to choose adoption over abortion, explaining that she was the product of a rape and saying, “I don’t think I deserve the death penalty because of the crime of my biological father.”

Stenzel also lampooned students, saying, “We can usually tell who that ninth grader is who will date anything that walks because she’s the one with a senior boy who can’t get a girl his own age to touch him with a 10-foot pole,” and, to young men, “You think you can be a player? You think this is a big joke? You think sex is a game, you can just sleep around and then one day you can marry someone who will be faithful to you? You’re insane!”

Campbell explained on CNN that the reason she decided to make this an issue was to look out for students who might take Stenzel at her word. “Although I might have known what she was saying was wrong,” she explained, “is a younger or another student who hasn't had the fortune of being as informed as I have been going to take her seriously?”

A Facebook page called “Friends of Aulenbacher,” created this week in support of the principal, had 770 likes as of Thursday afternoon. But the majority of comments have been in defense of Campbell, and many discuss preparing for a school board meeting, set for Thursday night, about the situation. “Don't underestimate the opposition. They are planning to swamp the board tonight. Let's outnumber them! Bring your signs in support!!” wrote an Aulenbacher fan.