Monday, November 16, 2009

Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture: A new Lesley course and community project.

By: Marie LaFlamme

I was chosen as the Graduate Assistant to a project headed by Amy Rutstein-Riley, Assistant Professor of Sociology, and Alice Diamond, Associate Dean for Career and Community Service. The idea has grown out of a component of Amy Rutstein-Riley’s Women’s Studies class, where the undergraduate students designed and facilitated a girls group for middle school girls in Cambridge. The groups involve discussion-based activities around the issues of body image, media literacy, self-esteem and identity. There is an important cultural component integrated into the discussions to address inevitable stereotypes that exist between people of different backgrounds.

Over the last three years, the program grew from three weeks, to five, and will run for seven weeks this year. The value of the experience was evident from the college students as well as the middle-school girls. Dr. Rutstein-Riley decided to create a new Girls Studies course, titled Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture, which will be taught in the Spring of 2010 as a service-learning course. There has been an enthusiastic reaction to the course and it has already been filled.

The middle school girls who were involved in the program have been from grades six through eight. They attend the Fletcher Maynard Academy, which serves Area 4 of Cambridge. The girls come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and each bring their unique perspectives to the group. Many of the girls are involved in tutoring and mentoring relationships facilitated by Tutoring Plus, a non-profit organization, which is led by Ellen McLaughlin.

I was privileged to have been invited to the 6th Annual Celebration of Tutoring Plus, where Lesley University was honored for our dedication and contribution to supporting the community. President Joseph Moore attended this event and spoke about the importance of service learning to the mission of our university. The girls groups were mentioned and we were thrilled to see the enthusiasm around the project.

For the past few months, Dr. Rutstein-Riley and I have been collaborating to apply for permission from the Lesley Institutional Review Board to conduct research on this project. We hope to gain insight on the value of this project for the middle school girls and the college students. We will be using photography and videography to capture the sessions, as well as conducting individual interviews and focus groups with the girls. Eventually, we would like to write and present on this topic and discuss the experience and its implications.

This project has potential to blossom and grow into a much larger initiative. The positive reaction from Lesley has fueled our dedication to its success. Several other women have been eager to contribute to this exciting service-learning initiative, including Arielle Jennings, from the Community Service Office, Daphne Strassmann, from the Lesley Women’s Center, and Lesley College Bonnie Bryant, who is the Teaching Assistant for the course. I feel so privileged to be working on such an important project with a team of strong women. To be continued!

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