WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

How the Power of Representation Transformed My Wellesley Experience

Headshot of article author, Budnampet RamanudomBy the end of my first year at Wellesley College, I knew that I wanted to explore the world of research. I had taken the first of many gender studies courses to come, and left class with a head full of questions that I not only wanted answers to, but wanted to take a stake at answering. A stroke of luck brought me to an event for students to meet with research scientists at the Wellesley Center for Women. A stroke of better luck brought me to Dr. Linda Charmaraman.

She was the only researcher I gravitated towards, the only researcher I left my resume with. Conducted research on media and identity? Check. Person of color? Check. Personable and inviting? Check, check, and check. One application, two interviews, and a letter of recommendation later, I was offered a position as a research assistant for the next school year. Little did I know that by accepting the offer, I would also be gaining an invaluable undergraduate experience shaped by inspiration, warmth, and empathy.

There is something really special about being able to work with someone who looks like you. This is something you often hear as a Wellesley College student, though its meaning is often one dimensional ( Women in politics! Women CEOs! Women in STEM!). I really came to understand the power of representation in two ways: when it became personal and when it became central to the research I was helping bring to life.

Quote from the article: I was learning so much from someone who shared my most salient identities...if she could do it, maybe I could too.The power of representation became personal when I began to cultivate a mentor-mentee relationship with Linda. Our weekly/bi-weekly research check-ins were not only crucial for the advancement of the qualitative research we were conducting and my own research skills, but also for developing my own sense of worth and potential. Little by little, I was able to learn about Linda’s life and experiences, research and otherwise. I found out she was Thai (like me)! I found out that she also struggled in her undergraduate years (who knew that researchers were not perfect?). She spoke about her queerness in ways that normalized my own burgeoning questions about sexuality and gender. She validated my questions, hopes, and fears no matter how naive, incomplete, or overwhelming. I was learning so much from someone who shared my most salient identities - - from a successful academic whose work brimmed with passion. If she could do it, maybe I could too.

Themes surrounding representation were also crucial to the research that Linda was allowing me to take part in, providing an important link between the personal and the professional. In our new round of research, Linda entrusted me with the task of selecting the participants for our qualitative interview. I took a chance and spoke to Linda about my interest in highlighting South and Southeast Asian participants, knowing fully that this demographic/ group of people who looked like me seemed to be underrepresented in bodies of research. I will always remember the feeling of being able to capture the lived experiences of people who looked like me - - to be able to document their narratives in a way that emphasized the diversity of the Asian American community. In one interview session, a fellow Southeast Asian American student ended the interview with an emotional thank you. She told me that it meant so much for her to not only be able to contribute to a body of work that sought to capture her experiences, but to know that the academics themselves were also Southeast Asian. She told me that she had never seen herself in research papers. She told me that she was excited. Representation really matters. Representation has a real impact on real people.

Now at the tail-end of my Wellesley College experience, I now understand how lucky I was to be able to engage with such meaningful work so early in my academic life. I hope to be able to continue to contribute to the world of academia in a way that is similarly passionate and emotionally driven. I want to live my life knowing that I am actively working to raise the voices of those that are being systematically ignored. I hope to do all of this with the same kindness, patience, and grace that Linda has given me.

Budnampet ‘Pet’ Ramanudom ’18 was the Linda Coyne Lloyd Intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women during the 2015-16 academic year. She studies Computer Science and Women and Gender Studies at Wellesley College.

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For the Trailblazing Women Who Mentor Me

For the Trailblazing Women Who Mentor Me

January is National Mentoring Month, a time to recognize the value of mentoring in all its forms. Kavindya Thennakoon ‘19, a student assistant in the WCW communications department, reflects on the profound impact that mentors have had on her path to Wellesley and beyond.


KaviAntoniaMentorship was the reason I came to Wellesley College, all the way across the globe from Sri Lanka. Back in 2013 on the day of the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child I was given the opportunity to address the Sri Lankan parliament on the status of young women in Sri Lanka and on what can be done to make things better. I spoke on how Sri Lanka lacked a comprehensive sex education curricula, how the judiciary victim-blamed women and girls, and how male parliamentarians sitting in the audience had set a very bad precedent.

Little did I know that in the audience were two Wellesley women, the past U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele Sison (Class of '81) and UNRWA chief of staff Antonia DeMeo (Class of ’89) who was the UNICEF deputy representative to Sri Lanka at the time. In the years to come Antonia became such an important part of my life -- a mentor if not for whom Wellesley would have remained just a distant dream.

Antonia has remained such an incredible role model, who I constantly run back to for advice, guidance, and reassurance. For me, both my mother and Antonia were such good role models of women who’ve broken the barriers, defied the norms, and shattered the stereotypes.

Coming into Wellesley I was embraced by a host of wonderful mentors, from Sarah Isham and Elizabeth Mandeville (Class of ‘04) from Career Education, who connected me with a number of great opportunities while helping me figure out my options and interests, to Milena Mareva (Class of ‘01) from Admissions and Karen Pabon from Slater International Center, who were always there with advice and support to handle the tough transition from home to college. From there I made my next stop at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and I couldn’t have possibly asked for anything better.

My work here at the Centers as a communications assistant is something beyond a mere task-oriented job. To me, it has been a learning journey where I’ve gathered such important skills in the areas that I am most passionate about. It’s such a refreshing change to be mentored and guided rather than merely supervised, which is the exact environment that the WCW communications team members, especially Donna Tambascio and Megan Cassidy, have created.

WomenWhoMentorMe

At WCW I have ample creative space to work on projects that I am interested in, to work with software that I am keen to know more about, and to learn something new every day instead of ticking a to-do list. More than anything else, it’s such a great feeling to work under people who value your mental health and wellbeing above all else, and who are ever ready to give you all the space and time you need to recover. Looking back at my journey starting off in a community where girls are not allowed to be out on the streets past seven and where rape victims are blamed for their dress and chastity, I can not stress enough the critical role played by the trailblazing mentors in shaping my life.

Young adults who face an opportunity gap, but have a mentor, are 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor, according to a 2014 study commissioned by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. However the report also stated that 1 in 3 young people in the U.S will grow up without a mentor. This number could grow when considering countries like mine where the concept of mentorship is still foreign. Having a safety net of women who you can fall back on for advice, guidance, and mentorship is a chance that every girl deserves. In a world where board rooms are tipped off balance, where feminism is a crime, and where women are constantly othered every step of the way, we all need that extra push.

Kavindya Thennakoon is a student assistant in the communications department at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She is a Wellesley College sophomore (Class of ‘19) double majoring in Anthropology and Cinema and Media Studies.

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Poverty and the Rural African Girl

BNasPovertyBlogSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

Poverty and the Rural African Girl

When people have limited choices, have no secure directions to follow, and are held back by insurmountable barriers, they are bound to remain in a situation of stagnancy, including poverty. Poverty is experienced physically and spiritually. It is too often the plight of the rural African girl—generations of whom have lived with little food, no clean water in poor housing, the SocialJusticeDialogueBox New target of domestic violence and rape, forced into early marriage for the bride price, with little (if any) schooling, no sex education, and no basic supplies for daily care and health. Their dreams are limited by not knowing their potential--they have very few resources, mentors nor models to help them.

A typical day of a rural girl who does attend school starts with fetching water and going to the garden to work before walking miles to school. Most children will go hungry at school; there may be no chairs or even books. They walk home in the evening, after gathering wood and picking greens that they will cook over a fire for the family dinner. There is no light to study by, no beds on which to sleep. Older girls cannot afford sanitary supplies and they use rags and leaves instead, often skipping school when they menstruate. In rural Uganda, secondary and higher education for girls is impossible without outside assistance. There are numerous financial demands for families—food, soap, kerosene, clothing, and medication—education is not considered essential. Because of this, many adolescent girls are often married off as their parents cannot afford educating them beyond the free primary education in public schools. There is much illiteracy throughout the communities and the cycle of poverty continues generation after generation.

blogpullquoteRuralAfricanGirlI was fortunate, however, that my parents were not desperate for the bride price when I was a growing up. I could have been sold for a cow or a goat. Instead, at age 14, when I was feeling hopeless and working as a barmaid, a wonderful family in Kentucky (who knew one of my cousins from when they had done missionary work years earlier) enabled my return to school by paying my school fees for five years. I went on to earn my college degree before working with organizations that were striving to improve the lives of poor families in Africa.

I then turned my attention to Africa’s rural girl. I founded the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation because I wanted to directly involve, empower, and benefit rural communities in Eastern Uganda through education, mentorship, trainings, and advocacy. I wanted to develop partnerships for social, cultural, and economic development. I knew that secondary, tertiary, and vocational education could break the unending cycle of poverty. Girls who are educated can become role models for their siblings and communities. They can learn new ways of growing crops. They can understand how to keep their families healthy. They may develop new skills to bring income to their families.

Working with individuals and partners from around the world, the Foundation helps rural girls in Africa and others in their communities, to break out of poverty. We are supporting girls’ education by connecting them with sponsors and mentors from across the globe. We facilitate a letter exchange program between students from the rural schools and students from other corners of the world. We teach the parents, grandparents, and communities about the importance of education. We train parents in crop production, micro-financing, and making hand crafts. We also encourage our partners and volunteers from across the globe to not just support our work but to visit. Two years since our founding, we have hosted in rural Ugandan communities 16 volunteers from the United States, Australia, and Europe—last week, five visited from England. The visits are meaningful and wonderful learning experiences for everyone.

More girls need such support. We have been able to send 67 girls to secondary school—these are 67 less girls who have been married off at young ages. More than 1,600 have expressed interest in our program. While there is still so much to do, we know that in collaboration with the international community, our grassroots communities can help break cycles of poverty and create cycles of opportunity through education. I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the opportunity, education and motivation, anyone can become someone inspiring. Nobody is a nobody, everybody is somebody.

Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a Community Solutions Program Fellow through the International Research & Exchanges Board, is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women for the fall 2013 semester. She worked previously with Build Africa Uganda before founding the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation.

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Elias Trajan
While social justice is being overcome by educating people, it is good to be aware of the fact that deliberately certain wealthy o... Read More
Monday, 19 May 2014 07:27
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Is Grit Another Name for Resiliency?

cooktutorIs Grit Another Name for Resiliency?

Over the past few months, in my role as the Chair of the American Camp Association’s (ACA) Task Force on Non-Cognitive Skills, I have been immersed in the research and popular literature on what journalist-author Paul Tough calls “non-cognitive skills.” Numerous discussions, papers, books, and organizations have surfaced that are creating a great deal of confusion about what we are actually talking about. From Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, who uses the term “grit,” to Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making, to the Partnership for 21st Century skills, to CASEL's work on Social and Emotional Learning, I have become overwhelmed with the attention this issue is currently receiving. But what exactly are we all talking about? Is nomenclature getting in the way of a shared understanding of the “it”? Several labels or terms have been used (grit, life skills, applied skills, executive function, emotional intelligence, non cognitive skills, soft skills, character skills, leadership skills, and on, and on) but are they all same?

And more importantly are we missing something? Are we overlooking the importance of relationships and caring adults? Willis Bright, past director of the Youth Program at Lilly Endowment and a member of the ACA Task Force, speaks about “navigational and interpretative skills” thus adults helping youth to develop a moral compass in an increasingly complex society. That got me thinking about the work of Bonnie Benard and her colleagues at Stanford University on Resiliency Research.

blogpullquoteGritAccording to Benard, “we are all born with innate resiliency, with the capacity to develop the traits commonly found in resilient survivors: social competence (responsiveness, cultural flexibility, empathy, caring, communication skills, and a sense of humor); problem-solving (planning, help-seeking, critical and creative thinking); autonomy (sense of identity, self-efficacy, self-awareness, task-mastery, and adaptive distancing from negative messages and conditions); and a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future (goal direction, educational aspirations, optimism, faith, and spiritual connectedness)” (Benard, 1991).

But when faced with adversity, these inborn traits may not develop. Benard (1991) Werner (1993) and others have discovered there are “protective factors,” that can help young people develop resilience despite high levels of risk: caring relationships, high expectations and meaningful participation and contribution.

Our work at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time supports the resiliency research. The Afterschool Program Assessment System and its linked outcome tools, SAYO (Survey of Afterschool Youth Outcomes), are based on this framework. Our theory is that afterschool program can be the place where young people can learn social and emotional skills in an environment where caring adults, set high expectations and provide meaningful leadership opportunities for young people.

Despite their similarities, grit emphasizes one's internal resources while de-emphasizing the important external factors that help contributes one's success--something that resiliency theory includes. The APAS system, which is based on this resiliency framework, highlights the importance of supportive adult relationships in the healthy development of youth--something we should keep in mind as we begin a new year of academic and out-of-school-time programming.

Ellen Gannett, M.Ed. is the Director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College where she ensures that research bridges the fields of child care, education, and youth development in order to promote programming that addresses the development of the whole child.

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Alexander Wei
As this is a very emotional subjects it's sometimes hard to distance oneself to look at the whole picture. But besides having a ne... Read More
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 21:19
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Mentoring, Sports, & Girl Athletes

GymnastsMentoring, Sports, & Girl Athletes

January was National Mentoring Month, as President Barack Obama recognized on January 3. Next week we celebrate National Girls and Women’s and Sports Day. The notion of “mentor,” and of one imparting wisdom to others, has its origins in Greek Mythology. It has long been a relationship dynamic that has been promoted, studied, arranged, and challenged over many years. Formal mentoring programs have been a regular and consistent strategy for engagement and relationship building in the youth development field and regularly a human resources approach used in non-profit and private business. And sports have been a perfect venue for mentoring relationships.

However, there is also great potential in the more informal ways we mentor. It is interesting that when surveyed about school, out-of-school time, and summer program experiences youth consistently express a desire for more opportunities for leadership and responsibility. We underutilize the natural dynamic and model of cross-age grouping. Across the spectrum both in academic content and enrichment activities, older and younger children working together can be an empowering and nurturing experience for both. We seem to embrace cross-age group more naturally in sports than many other settings. I was interested to observe the placement of high school students (with some training and supervision) as coaches at my younger daughter’s pick-up soccer tournament in the fall. The opportunity for the older girls to share relevant “on the field experience” and for the younger girlsblogpullquoteMentoring to have a more accessible image of where practice and commitment could get them was inspirational. It’s more than just the final score.

Encouraging these connections for young people in our daily work without having to be derailed by the tasks involved in more formal mentoring programs (and quality mentoring does require careful and plan full work), might allow us to exploit some of the natural interests of younger youth to learn from and older youth to lead each other.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.

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