Beyond Vassar


By Samantha Soper '91 and Veronika Ruff '01

Harcourt, Inc., 2002

As the introduction to her new book discloses, Rachel Simmons ’96 was a victim of girl bullying as a child. Although the notion of girls as aggressors may seem foreign to some, there are many who understand it well — primarily from personal experience. Through extensive interviews with victims and bullies, Simmons’ Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls brings this subject to the national discourse.

Odd Girl Out book cover
Odd Girl Out book cover
While a Rhodes scholar attending Oxford University, Simmons attempted to research the thesis of child aggressors. She quickly discovered that most of the available information was about boys. To gain the female perspective, Simmons decided to go to the source. For 18 months, she interviewed girls, parents, teachers, and adult women in the mid-Atlantic, northeastern, and southern areas of the United States.

Simmons’ findings reveal a “hidden culture of aggression [in which] anger is rarely articulated, and every day of school can be a new social minefield that realigns itself without warning.” Simmons is not alone in her investigation of a problem that has faced girls of yesterday and today. In a recent New York Times Magazine cover story, Margaret Talbot reviewed the current interest in girls’ relational aggression, and prominently mentioned Simmons’ book and theories.

With greater public attention to this subject, Simmons is encouraged that more and more girl bullies and victims will be able to confront their fears about bullying and share their experience with alternative aggression. “When I was bullied, I felt like the only girl who had ever gone through it,” she said. “As I talked with other women and girls, I realized how universal the behavior is. And discovering there was some research psychology on the subject, however small, helped validate my experience. I also was able to see my own anger and aggression as normal, rather than something terrible or dysfunctional,” she added.

Based on the input of the hundreds of girls interviewed, Odd Girl Out offers readers a glimpse into the world of girl bullies as well as advice to parents and teachers who may observe it. (In addition to her career as the class of ’96 Class Notes correspondent, Simmons was the sole guest on Oprah on April 24, 2002, and Odd Girl Out was #6 on the New York Times bestseller list at press time.)



Ronit Avni ’00 recently produced a video called Rise: Revolutionary Women Reenvisioning Afghanistan for the international human-rights project WITNESS. WITNESS was founded in 1992 by musician Peter Gabriel in partnership with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the Reebok Foundation, to promote the use of video and technology to give a global voice to locally based advocates around the world. It has provided 150 human-rights groups in 50 countries with video cameras, enabling them to expose human-rights abuses while increasing international awareness for their causes.

Using regular and hidden cameras transferred to Afghanistan through Avni’s efforts, Rise was shot by a WITNESS partner organization, Revolutionary Association of the

Witness still image
Witness still image
Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). It documents the lives of Afghans following the recent American-led military campaign. “RAWA members interview refugees, victims of factional fighting and Taliban abuse, as well as residents who witnessed the recent bombings of civilian homes,” Avni said. The video was the February installment of WITNESS’ Rights Alert, a monthly series of video exposés on human-rights abuses that airs on On March 8, International Women’s Day, playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) delivered the video to RAWA in Afghanistan.

Avni, a political science major at Vassar, is currently developing another project, with the help of David Neil ’99, entitled Just Vision, to foster closer ties between Israeli peace activists and progressive American Jews. For more information about Rise or WITNESS, contact Avni at or call 212.274.1664, ext. 201.