Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture: Project Update

Identity maps by: Emily Frost and Rachel Howe

Excitement is in the air at Lesley! This unique service learning course is well on its way and the girls’ groups begin this week! Enrolled in the course, Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture, the 20 female Lesley undergraduates are a group of strong young women that each bring a valuable frame of reference to this experience. There are students from every year at Lesley with career interests that include, Counseling, Education, Art Therapy and Women’s Studies. The class has met for four weeks and Dr. Amy Rutstein-Riley from Lesley College, has facilitated the analysis of Girls’ Studies theory, encouraged group discussions of the students’ own experiences of girlhood, and allowed time and resources for planning the girls’ groups. Dr. Rutstein has been supported by Lesley College junior Bonnie Byrant, who is the Teaching Assistant for this class and also the president of Third Wave, the feminist organization on campus.

Through the course, we have been able to discuss and analyze our own girlhood experiences and the outside forces that affected us as we were developing our identities. We found that we shared some similar experiences of rebelling from parents, fitting in with social norms of behavior and dress, and starting to become more aware of our bodies. We giggled as we talked about relationships as sitting together at lunch and the sense of independence that was achieved by walking places after school. We admitted that we watched the Disney Channel into high school and learned our sex education from Boy Meets World and VH1. The room grew more serious as the subject of body image came up. As a collaboration of intelligent and creative young women, it was sad to hear that we all felt that we could never be good enough during middle school.

During the past month, we have been reading through literature on Girls’ Studies, which is still a relatively new field of study. We are learning about girlhood from a multicultural viewpoint and discovering that the media has an immense impact on girls and women today and the way we view ourselves. Largely due to the influence of the media, young girls are being forced to fit into a mold that is simply impossible to achieve. The voices of girls have been silenced throughout history, especially those from minority backgrounds. The crisis of girls today has become a social epidemic of self-esteem and poor body image. Girls are being bombarded with pressures to be perfect: skinny and pretty, smart and successful, relaxed and together, spontaneous and fun-loving, ambitious and focused, innocent and virginal. It is no wonder that pre-adolescence is such a difficult time, since girls are attempting to form their identities in a society that is telling them who to be.

The seven-week Girls, Media, and You! project kicks off this week and to our delight, there are currently 25 girls, ages 11-14, who have registered for the program. Lesley students have been exploring educational initiatives similar to Girls, Media and You! to gain insights and ideas for our program and have drafted their program agendas. With significant help from Alice Diamond, Associate Dean for Career and Community Service at Lesley, many of the logistics of the project are organized: the bus is booked, the pizzas are ordered, and the pencils are sharpened. Last week, we were engaged in a panel discussion in which several interesting perspectives were introduced to the class. Ellen McLaughlin, Executive Director of Tutoring Plus, spoke to the Lesley students about her knowledge of the girls that will be attending. Yolanda Neville, Director of Diversity at Citizen’s Schools, and Rebecca Jackson, a clinician from Children’s Charter, spoke to us about their experiences of working with urban youth. Arielle Jennings from the Lesley Office of Community Service was also on the panel and spoke to us about service learning and the importance of its integration into college curricula. The students also had a chance to ask questions in preparation of facilitating the first groups this week.

On the sidelines, Amy, Alice, Bonnie, and I have been collaborating on the research arm of this project. Bonnie and I have been collecting observation notes from each class session, taken photographs of the artifacts from class, and will be videotaping each of the seven sessions with the middle school girls. We will analyze the quality of the experience of middle school girls as well as the Lesley College students. We are also attempting to study the effectiveness of a service-learning partnership between a college course and a community organization. Amy presented about this multi-faceted project at Faculty Development Day and the response from the faculty and administration was enthusiastic to say the least. A buzz has generated around Lesley about this project and we are working hard to fulfill the high expectations we have set for ourselves. We will be presenting during Lesley’s research day at the Community of Scholars event on March 31st. Amy’s proposal has also been accepted by the New England Women’s Studies Association and we will be presenting our project at the conference at UMASS Dartmouth on April 30th.

By Marie LaFlamme

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