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.

Let’s Put the Humanity Back into Human Rights

Quote: Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967, famously characterized the human mind as a storehouse filled with two kinds of seeds: good and bad. Humans have the capacity to be both good and evil, he pointed out, and it’s the seeds we water that ultimately grow. Think about that.  When we look around the world today, we see a lot of evil sprouting up all around, and we wonder where it came from. We scratch our heads, we point fingers, and sometimes, in frustration, we join in the fray. Based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s insight, we should really take a closer look at how we are watering the seeds of the very evils we decry and detest – incivility, hate-based conflict and violence, and even basic intolerance.

Human Rights Day on December 10 gives us the opportunity to think about the ways in which we are dehumanizing each other, and to find our way back to affirming – and, indeed, watering the seeds of – one another’s full humanity. Isn’t that the point of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed 70 years ago? This is a tall challenge right now because we are very much in an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” moment. This polarized point of view is now an emotional trigger affecting every single policy issue and every single attempt at public discourse. It’s even dividing families and weakening friendships.

The truth is this: Human beings yearn for the water of connection and the sunshine of goodness. Like the seeds of any plant, human being-ness takes root in rich soil and stretches its leaves toward the light. If you doubt this, just look at babies and how they thrive in the presence of love, care, kindness, helpfulness, connection, validation, and education.  When these forms of goodness are absent – or worse when the opposite kinds of conditions prevail – little ones fail to thrive. Often, when watered with the bad things, children are traumatized, and they carry these traumas with them throughout life, where they become far more susceptible to extreme degrees of fear, anger, and hate. We have the power to shape their world, to water their world with goodness. We hold their future in our hands, beneath the water in our watering cans. This understanding – and this responsibility – is enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year, in addition to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

If we wonder why people are engaging in conflict, erupting in violence, exhibiting intolerance, and expressing incivility with such ferocious abandon, we need only to think about how we are re-traumatizing each other, over and over and over – interpersonally and systemically, in ways both small and large. As we fray the threads of the social fabric with vitriol and ire on the one hand and exploitation and indifference on the other, we undermine the progress we have made across the decades towards a world in which human rights are universally recognized and upheld. If we truly want to transform the situation, we need to start watering different seeds ASAP.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – revered, even if imperfect – provides a roadmap for bringing ourselves back to sanity and full humanity. What are some of its pointers? First, we are urged to recognize the inherent dignity of all people. Second, we should protect human rights with the rule of law. Third, we must stay connected to the truth that everyone wants social progress, better standards of life, and larger freedom. Fourth, we must remember that we need to teach people about these rights so that they will be more widely affirmed and enacted. From these initial suggestions follow 30 specific articles, crafted together by the nations of the world, to create a common footing for justice and human wellbeing. If there’s only one thing you do for Human Rights Day this year, just read it, from beginning to end.

Layli MaparyanLayliMaparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. An expert on Womanism, her scholar-activist work interweaves threads from the social sciences and the critical disciplines, incorporating basic and applied platforms around a common theme of integrating identities and communities in peaceable, ecologically sound, and self-actualizing ways.

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Poverty, Black Women, and HIV

black womanAbout twenty years ago, I received some unbearable news about a dear friend.  A highly intelligent, strong, and beautiful woman of African-descent revealed to me that she contracted HIV as a result of having unprotected sex with a man who had the virus. Twenty years ago, I was convinced that the virus was an automatic death sentence for my friend. Thankfully, with advances in medical technology, not only is she still with us but she is healthy and thriving. However, keep in mind that she has the necessary resources that are needed in order to take care of herself, so she can successfully manage her overall health. She is middle class, has a good health insurance plan, has access to the appropriate health care, and has a supportive social network that encourages her to maintain her health.

However, the reality is that many Black women who contract the virus are not as fortunate as my friend. Black women mainly contract the virus through sexual activity with infected men. Many who contract the virus not only must live with HIV but also poverty. As a result, there are higher morbidity and mortality rates among Black women as compared to other racial communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are 18 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than are White women and due to lack of resources have an increased chance that they will die from AIDS. The theories surrounding this staggering racial disparity are complex. However, much of the discourse among published research discusses poverty as one of the main risk factors for the contraction of HIV among this marginalized group.

Research has demonstrated that poverty and HIV are inextricably linked. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 percent of Blacks live in poverty vs. only eight percent of Whites. An impoverished woman is much more likely to have an insufficient education about sexual health practices, less access to proper health care, as well as a reduced amount of access to appropriate contraception (i.e., condoms). In addition, research suggests that life stressors fueled by poverty can be the catalyst for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Such sequela may affect the sexual behavior/practices of women living in poverty that are detrimental to overall health.

This problem is systemic and multifaceted. Addressing this issue through actions based upon the ideals of social justice is key to preventing its escalation. There are several organizations that are dedicated to addressing HIV among Black women including the Black Women’s Health Imperative and the National Black Leadership on HIV/AIDS.

Katherine E. Morrison,KatherineMorrisonPhD Ph.D., is a former post-doctoral intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women.  She is currently the coordinator of the Health & Wellness major at Curry College, Milton, MA. She specializes in the prevention of disease and injury among marginalized populations including communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.

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Recognizing Student Parent Needs during Caregivers Month

student parent with child wearing cap and gown“Someday you will go to college, too,” a young mother tells her eight year old son at her baccalaureate graduation ceremony.

“Mom. You're silly,” he replies with a grin. “I already went to college with you!”

Walking hand in hand in cap and gown with their children at graduation is a culminating moment for nearly all of the student parents who I have known and worked with over the years as a researcher, program director, and mentor. These students are nearly universally motivated to pursue post-secondary education as a means to lift their families into the middle class and secure a better life for their children. Parents and children aim for a light at the end of the tunnel, but in the words of my colleague and collaborator Sheila Katz, Ph.D., we have observed that a family’s journey to and through college, doesn’t just make their lives better someday, but in fact begins to change and impact their lives in significant ways from the first day.

Having had the opportunity to work and visit with student parents and their children in multiple programs and in multiple capacities at colleges and universities across the U.S., what I see is that the most important moments are not at the end of the journey, but the everyday steps along the journey itself. It is through these moments that this little boy believed, unwaveringly and unapologetically, that he and his mom had gone to college together: celebrating grades and accomplishments by displaying their school work side by side on the refrigerator, finishing homework assignments side by side at the dining room table, reading together, and sharing in learning and developing knowledge and skills.

As a parent, there are also a number of other little things involved in this journey with the potential to make big impacts on making or breaking a family’s success: safe and affordable housing, childcare, and food security to start. Although one in four undergraduates in the U.S. are parents, these students often lack these basic foundations of college success. A recent study by Sara Goldrick-Rab, Jed Richardson and Anthony Hernandez found that 63 percent of student parents experience food insecurity during college, while 77 percent experience housing insecurity and/or homelessness. Yet, we know through data we have been collecting on campus-based family housing, childcare, and student parent programs, that the need is much greater than the capacity of currently available programs.

Our free downloadable National Family Housing Database finds, for example, that only ten percent of colleges and universities in the U.S. offer student housing options that allow children to live in residence. Yet, this includes institutions where available family housing units may be extremely limited, and/or unaffordable to undergraduate students attending college with student financial aid. Furthermore, as we continue to update these data, we have observed a number of institutions that are reducing or eliminating their family housing programs, despite rising demographic need. This further varies by region, whereby disparities between need and available support programs are even further illuminated.

While the capital expenses involved in building family housing and childcare may initially be seen as cost-prohibitive by many institutions, colleges are also working to impact student parent success in other ways, starting small. Opportunities to engage and bring families to campus together provide low-cost strategies for impacting intergenerational college access and success.

For example, I worked with Endicott College’s Boston Student Parent Initiative to implement a family literacy program through which the program arranged trips to local museums and cultural events, at which each family received an age-appropriate children's book related to the field trip, to take home as an extension of learning together. After taking the families to see a musical rendition of the classic children’s book Caps for Sale, one of the students came to my office to report that not only had her son insisted on reading the book together every night for weeks, he wanted her to, “Sing it Mom! Like they did at the play!” At Mt. Wachusett Community College in Central Massachusetts, I was privileged to visit during a Halloween Arts & Crafts event organized for students and their families by the student parent program coordinator. Portland State University’s Resource Center for Students with Children provides tablets and activity backpacks that students can check out for the day if they need to bring their child to class with them. Partnerships between universities, government agencies, and nonprofits can also allow affordable retention and support strategies to be created for student parents.

Ultimately, student parents need support in both big and small ways: they need housing and childcare. They need support to balance work and family and toward their academic success. They need opportunities to engage with other students on campus and to share the college experience with their children. Ultimately, it is these experiences that not only caused the little boy to genuinely believe that he had gone to college with his mom, but also, to support their family together as learners so that both mom and child share in the mutual investment in education together.

Autumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. In addition to studying the lives of student parents, she has worked to help create two-generation programs on college and university campuses to support student parents and their children together as families pursuing education and shared goals for a future of happiness, security, and opportunity.

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Eliminating Violence against Women

united nations day for the elimination of violence against womenI spend a lot of time thinking and talking about our research on sexual violence case attrition and why most rape cases do not go forward to prosecution. The way that cases move through the criminal justice system has been a concern to victims, practitioners, and researchers for the last 40 years. Our recent findings on sexual violence case attrition make it clear that most sexual assault reports made to the police do not result in the arrest of a perpetrator or in any prosecution. This isn’t because no one knows who the perpetrator is—it is not a reflection of random stranger-danger. Women are assaulted, raped, and murdered by someone they know much more often than by a stranger. This is true across the globe and yet the response to violence remains weak.

Societal response to reports of sexual violence reflects deep-rooted cultural ideals about women and a feminine ideal. In our research, we found that cases are less likely to move forward when women have engaged in behaviors that signal “risk taking" like drinking alcohol or are of lower status and reputation. It is the “ideal” woman who is more likely to be believed—the conservatively dressed woman, the woman of means who was shopping or walking home from her professional position, the woman whose career and family life reflects strict adherence to social norms. So, even while we celebrate a changing cultural environment that purports that women now have more agency, independence, and are “permitted” to embrace more of the behaviors that have always been okay only for men, women who were out alone and who had been drinking when they were assaulted are less likely to find that the man who raped her is arrested or prosecuted.

Now, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—and after a week of more incidents of violence against women—both sexual violence and gun violence--- and amid concerns about the policy changes taking place on college campuses that will make women’s lives more difficult; and accounts of survivors of sexual assault who have been silenced, denied due process, and pushed back against on many fronts, we know we have not yet eliminated violence against women. Further, gender-based violence—violence that happens to women because they are women—is as blatant and as bigoted as violence perpetrated against one religious group. We are talking gender-based violence and femicide. How far have we really come? And what is needed to keep moving us closer to truly eliminating gender-based violence?

We have evidence of positive changes in rape law and sexual violence prevention, in care and support for survivors, and in bringing this issue of gender-based violence to the forefront both nationally and globally. We know that reductions in gender inequality can happen—this may occur when we elect more women to government leadership and we reverse the reductions in government social spending in areas such as health and education. Internationally, there are many leaders, advocates, and research that help us move the action against gender-based violence forward.

Now we must focus attention on turning research into action and promoting the changes needed in the community. Change requires that we not reify one form of knowledge over another. It’s no surprise to advocates that victim characteristics and victim behavior are associated with whether or not charges of rape go forward to prosecution. Recently in Ireland, an individual was acquitted after senior counsel for the defense remarked on the fact that the young female complainant was wearing thong underwear. This led to protests, the display of women’s underwear, and the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent. Meanwhile, it is reported that an independent review conducted by a legal expert who is examining how rape and sexual assault cases are handled in Ireland is due at the end of the year. While such data will no doubt be valuable as are similar reports from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., these provide evidence of what women have known all along--that what women wear or what they drink is used to sway the court system and jurors and to reinforce common stereotypes about men, women, and rape.

Clearly we need to assure that funds for implementing prevention programs and innovative campaigns directed at ending violence against women are available, and that such programs and the research conducted on their impact must continue to draw on feminist roots. All such work on gender-based violence also must be informed by intersectionality—the product of Black women’s activism and scholarship. For example, Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement that later became a global phenomenon to raise awareness about sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in society. #MeToo supports all who experience sexual violence and grounds this work in the real experiences of all women—young and old, Black, white, and brown, rich and poor. Research, undertaken in a setting that allows the linking of activism with the research, and that highlights the importance of data as a social change agent, is a necessary step to ending gender-based violence. A call to link activism and research should not be confused with activist research that seeks to prove a particular hypothesis. Sound principles of scientific research must be followed. However, we must assure that the voices of survivors and the skills and approaches of grass roots organizations underpin this work. These efforts are critical to success in eliminating violence against women and girls in all communities across the globe.

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research focuses on justice system response to sexual violence, commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and child maltreatment.

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Tolerance as a Virtue

handsIn the “New World Order,” nations are becoming multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-“colorful.” The act of embracing our common humanity remains a task for all to strive toward. Embracing the right of everyone to be different without judgment, is something we each can nurture and act upon. As we strive to rejoice in this diversity, it will make us stronger, amplifying the very best part of human nature. We are a hemisphere of immigrants. In the U.S., this concentration of different people has lead to new ways of understanding, even with pockets of intolerance and hate fighting against the greater society. As an immigrant from the world’s cradle of civilization—Africa—I was welcomed into the U.S. and I have felt welcomed.

The idea of promoting tolerance is characteristic of many societies, including the U.S. Regardless of the current challenges, this country has stood as a beacon and role model to the rest of the world to strive for the common good of humankind. This year, 2018, is an ideal time to reaffirm the values that we share as we reflect on the International Day for Tolerance. These values first uttered by John Locke (1632-1704) and well articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. History has modeled and reaffirmed these words, inching us closer to peace.

So what is tolerance? It is an act of unconditional kindness, forgoing wrongdoing, burying anger and hatred, being liberated from anxiousness, bondage, prejudice, and hindrances. In essence tolerance is a prime virtue for human dignity, where diverse peoples can live together with a richness of beliefs and experiences, where people are willing to listen with tolerance and compassion. To live and let live.

In my own experience, having been raised by a Muslim father and a Christian mother in Nigeria, and being married to an Italian, I have an appreciation for the compatibility of multiple systems and beliefs, and of the traditions which began early in life. These have made my life richer. And I have found that in truly listening and living tolerance, that I have been the beneficiary of respect and acceptance.

If we plan to promote intolerance, I urge that it be against tyranny in any form. Let us promote social justice by our very own actions and deeds. Let us look to ourselves to ask what we have to work on? Let us not be content with the status quo. Let us ask ourselves what we have in common with our community and what we are doing to welcome and accept those who seek a helping hand both in America and abroad.

In contemplating these questions myself, it is clear that we all need to step outside of our comfort zones, and at the minimum, use the soft power of parenthood, and friendship, to help both children and those in need, to embrace and understand the absolute virtue of tolerance. Let us promote inclusive knowledge, promote justice, and openly address issues of prejudice and discrimination. Let us make multiculturalism a continuum and not a conversation on separate culture, a Mosaic of cultural coexistence and interfere. Let us test our own reactions and assumptions. I will continue to strive to follow the Commandment I was raised with, ”Above all, love one another.”

It is for each of us to decide how we can strive to live and model the gift of tolerance and acceptance in each of our hearts and minds. We are strengthened by the efforts of those who have gone before us to achieve this unique place in history, where peoples from all walks of life in the world, like myself, have enjoyed the beauty of this American experience. It has allowed me to become a global citizen and advocate for peace on a world stage. Understanding that tolerance is unique in many parts of the world, I have worked with others to bring international visitors here solely to absorb the American experience. They become witnesses and spokespersons for the benefits of tolerance and living together with differences. Each returns a spokesperson in some way, of having witnessed these phenomena.

My older sister was flabbergasted, for example, that she saw a Mosque, Jewish Temple, and Christian Church as next-door neighbors while visiting me in the U.S. When she returned to Northern Nigeria, she was telling everyone who would listen. They trusted her account and perceived America and cultural tolerance in new ways.

I am reminded of the words of Rumi (1207-1273), a Sufi scholar, writer and poet who summed up tolerance as unconditional acceptance, patience, love, compassion, and benevolence embodied in what he referred to as ‘Seven Advices’ which epitomize the highest sentiment of humanity, transcends religious boundaries, and encompasses the common values of all religions:

  • In generosity and helping others: be like the river
  • In compassion and grace: be like the sun.
  • In concealing others’ faults: be like the night.
  • In anger and fury: be like the dead.
  • In modesty and humility: be like the soil.
  • In tolerance: be like the ocean.
  • Either you appear as you are, or: be as you appear.

So let us celebrate the 2018 International Day for Tolerance, renewing and retooling our own efforts to strive for these virtues. I hope to model tolerance in my daily life to my children and those who I am fortunate enough to cross paths with. Modesty and humility allow us to put down our preconceptions, personal differentiations, and preferences. In any faith and knowledge, practice will bring forth many good fruits.

Hauwa IbrahimHauwa Ibrahim, Esq., is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College whose research interests include the root causes of terrorism, including radicalization of youth and building bridges of cooperation between religious and non-religious communities.

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Changing the Landscape of Hate After Pittsburgh

Changing the Landscape of Hate After Pittsburgh

This article was originally posted by Dana Rudolph on the Mombian blog, on October 30, 2018. This weeks marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

tree in landscapeThis landscape is familiar, strewn with ash and blood. We’ve been here before, too often, seeking the living, counting our dead. I know the terrain, can pick my way stumbling over the bodies, the stench of fear and hatred lingering in the air; the thoughts and prayers; the headlines and statistics.

I walk here with other Jews after the massacre in Pittsburgh, seeking comfort and strength, as I did with other LGBTQ people after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as I have done with other parents after school shootings, and as I know communities of color do every time they, too, are targeted by hate.

This time, though, the tragedy causes reverberation deep in my soul, touching the first act of hatred I ever knew about, one directed at people like me: the Holocaust. My Jewish parents were minimally observant, but conscious of their cultural heritage as the son and granddaughter, respectively, of Jewish immigrants—a heritage that stood out in our predominantly Christian New England community. I don’t remember exactly when I first learned of genocide, but it feels as if I’ve always known.

Later, on top of this, came the knowledge of homophobia. I am a lesbian born two years before Stonewall, and the milestones of my life have shared space with markers of the LGBTQ rights movement. I’ve seen progress–my son was born the same year the first U.S. state ruled that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. I’ve also seen how far we still need to go–less than three weeks after my son’s bar mitzvah came the shooting at Pulse.

In both my Jewish and queer identities, then, I’ve seen hatred and inequality directed at people like me and families like mine. At the same time, I recognize that people of color in the U.S., of all religions, face far more danger and far more inequities on a daily basis than I do. Being White and middle class gives me a tremendous amount of privilege, which I hope I can use to be an active ally to those who have less.

Still, the spectre of anti-Semitism gave me pause when it came time to enroll my son in Hebrew school. My spouse is Christian, and we could have placed our son in either a Christian or a Jewish religious school program. As the child of two moms, he already had one aspect of his life that could make him subject to harassment or worse. Why give him two?

I have never been particularly observant, but wanted our son to experience the part of his heritage that he would get little exposure to in our mostly Christian community and society. Additionally, my father had died about two years before, and I was feeling the need to connect our son with the half of his family that felt like it was fading away—mine is a small family. My wonderful spouse was simply happy that we would be part of a faith community.

I asked myself, though: Am I making our son more of a target? I had to answer that in our country, rife with school shootings, simply going to school could be equally dangerous. And as someone who commuted through the World Trade Center every morning to my job next door until two business days before 9/11, I know that hatred sometimes casts a wide net, regardless of the identities of its victims. The best we can do is not let fear of such hatred cause us to hide parts of ourselves. One lesson I have learned from the queer part of my identity is that doing so causes its own damage.

I’d like to think, too, that in giving our son a Jewish education, my spouse and I have also given him strength: the strength of a people that has survived thousands of years of oppression. The strength of a people that values welcoming the stranger and repairing our all-too-broken world. The strength of a people that wrestles with the tough questions of human existence and still finds joy in each other and the world around us.

That joy is dimmed this week, though. How can we regain it and find our way out of this bleak and too familiar landscape, tainted with fear?

In the aftermath of the shooting this past February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 students, some of the surviving students adopted the slogan “Never again” for their gun control campaign. The phrase has long been tied to the Holocaust, and a few people seemed perturbed at what felt like appropriation for a different cause, even if the students did not do so intentionally.

The students were prescient, however. Anti-Semitism met mass shooting in Pittsburgh and to both we must say “Never again.”

“Never again” means doing whatever we can to stop the violence and hate that only seems to be increasing. That includes reaching out in kindness to our neighbors of all identities, calling our elected officials, voting, supporting advocacy organizations if we are able, putting financial pressure on the supporters of hate groups, and marching in the streets if necessary. It means taking time from our lives when we would rather be doing other things. It means overcoming our small fears (of approaching that neighbor; of speaking in public) in order to hold off the big ones.

It won’t be easy. As the Talmud teaches us, though, “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Let us resist and not desist, so that where once was a desolate landscape, a tree of life will grow again.

Dana Rudolph launched the Mombian blog, a lifestyle site for lesbian moms and other LGBTQ parents, offering a mix of parenting, politics, diversions, and resources, in 2005. A member of the National SEED Project team, she manages the project's website content and social media.

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Justice, Peace, and Wellbeing

Justice, Peace, and Wellbeing

Stand With Others Blog QuoteAt the Wellesley Centers for Women, we envision a world of justice, peace, and wellbeing for women and girls, children and youth, families and communities, in all their diversity around the world. Like so many, our will and spirits have been tested by recent events, but our resolve has been strengthened. The fatal shooting of two African Americans in a Jeffersontown, Kentucky, grocery store; the more than a dozen pipe bombs sent to CNN and prominent progressive political leaders and supporters across the country; and the mass shooting of eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are evidence that we need to stand strong and work together—to provide comfort, hope, knowledge, and power — to help shape a better world. We at WCW stand with those whose lives are forever changed. Only when social equity and equality, psychological wellbeing, peace, and freedom from violence and want evince for all people will our work have reached its true aim.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D.

Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director

Wellesley Centers for Women

 

 

 

 

 

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Stop Pretending Sexual Assault Can't Happen in Your School

This commentary by Nan Stein and Bruce Taylor was originally published by Education Week on October 4, 2018.

Christine Blasey FordThe sexual assault allegations leveled by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have consumed the country. The events as described by Ford are not an anomaly for U.S. teens. As researchers, we know that there is a high prevalence of sexual assault among teens today and that schools are not implementing effective strategies to address this kind of violence. But the data haven't always been available—it is only in about the last two decades that we can reliably measure the prevalence of sexual assault among teens.

We are researchers, not psychologists—one of us (Bruce Taylor) is a criminologist, the other (Nan Stein) is a former middle school teacher who focuses on curriculum development and teacher training. With the support of grant funding from the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, we have spent the last 10 years conducting research on school-based interventions that has taken us into middle schools in the Cleveland suburbs and New York City. Using rigorous scientific data, we have created interventions designed to prevent the kinds of behaviors Christine Blasey Ford described in her testimony—and they have been shown to be effective. Our 2010 study, "Shifting Boundaries: Lessons on Relationships for Students in Middle School," was one of two evidence-based community-level primary prevention strategies that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified in 2014 as effective at reducing sexual violence.

The general public's opinion of sexual violence is largely shaped by high-profile crimes they encounter in the news. In 1989, three high school football players from Glen Ridge, N.J., sexually assaulted a mentally handicapped girl. For years, these boys had been throwing wild drunken parties. Yet, they never got in trouble until there was a rape—their conviction came four years later. In 2012, there was another incident that garnered a lot of attention. In Steubenville, Ohio, the rape of a drunken female teenager by two drunken high school football players at a party gripped the nation; the boys were later convicted of sexual assault. The incident was recorded by some of the partygoers, and images were posted on social media.

Sexual assault, including the incidents above, can have a devastating impact on its victims. Although it can take years or decades for victims to begin to address the trauma and come forward to report the incidents (as we are currently witnessing), the rumors and whispers may begin the following day at school, in the hallways, and over lunch—even when some of the participants were too drunk to remember anything. The underreporting of sexual violence has been documented by researchers extensively. According to a 2017 report from the Justice Department, only 23 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police.

In the early 1980s, when Ford alleges her assault occurred, there weren't many surveys of teenagers focused on either perpetration or victimization of sexual violence by their peers. For example, one of the nation's largest youth surveys conducted by the CDC did not start measuring sexual violence until 1999. Perhaps officials doubted that sexual violence among teens happened, or they assumed it was only perpetrated by strangers carrying a weapon who jumped out of a dark alley. It certainly could not have happened among privileged white kids, perpetrated by good white boys who attended private schools where the dress codes require jackets and ties.

Today, we find ourselves swimming in statistics from an abundance of surveys measuring sexual violence among youths. Based on the CDC's 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, about 10 percent of high school students were sexually assaulted in 2017, with females (15 percent) experiencing higher rates than males (4.3 percent). This was in line with another national survey: An analysis of 2003, 2008, and 2011 National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence survey data of 15- to 17-year-olds found that between 12 and 18 percent of girls and about 3 percent of boys were victims of sexual assault.

When it comes to dating, the rates of sexual assault are even higher. In the National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence conducted in 2013-2014 for dating youth 12-18 years old, funded by a grant from the Justice Department, the researchers found a sexual assault rate of 17.8 percent for girls and 17.3 percent for boys. The high rate of sexual assault among teens is of particular concern because our research has found that it is often a precursor to intimate partner violence.

There are at least three steps that schools can take to address sexual violence among teens.

1. Implement evidence-based effective interventions. In addition to the approach we laid out in "Shifting Boundaries"—which combines classroom lessons with schoolwide interventions addressing sexual harassment as a precursor to teen dating violence for middle school youths—other programs have been recognized for their efficacy, including Safe Dates (a school-based teen dating-violence prevention program for 8th and 9th graders); Coaching Boys into Men (a program where high school athletic coaches promote respectful behavior among their players to prevent sexual assault); and Bystander Intervention (an approach where bystanders are trained to interrupt potentially harmful situations).

2. Implement schoolwide interventions—not merely classroom lessons. The key components of our evidence-based Shifting Boundaries intervention include working with students to map safe and unsafe areas of the school so that staff can make necessary modifications to prevent violence, creating quasi "stay away" or restraining orders to protect victims, and saturating the school's hallways with messages and posters on safe teen relationships.

3. Conduct staff training. All faculty members and staff should understand the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and assault among teens and how to implement evidence-based strategies.

You might think that school districts would welcome these interventions. However, as researchers, we have experienced resistance, particularly from high-performing, privileged schools when attempting to introduce prevention programs. Despite scientific survey data demonstrating the pervasiveness of sexual violence among teens, some school districts apparently still believe "sexual violence can't happen here." What other evidence do they need to start taking this problem seriously? It is time for K-12 schools—private and public—to begin to implement evidence-based strategies designed to address sexual assault.

NanSteinBruceTaylorPhotosNan Stein, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she conducts research on sexual harassment and gender violence in schools. Bruce Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior fellow in public health at NORC at the University of Chicago, where he studies the etiology of violence and evaluates violence prevention programs.

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On the 30th Anniversary of Emily Style’s “Curriculum as Window and Mirror”

LMaparyanThis week, the Wellesley Centers for Women celebrated the 30th anniversary of Emily Jane Style’s influential essay, “Curriculum as Window and Mirror,” first published in 1988 in the Oak Knoll School monograph, Listening for All Voices, and, in 1996, distributed more widely in the journal Social Science Record. This important critical, yet accessible, analysis of the limitations of a culturally one-sided curriculum made an important intervention on classroom culture and pedagogical praxis. Style’s introduction of the “windows and mirrors” metaphor helped educators to see that students and teachers needed to see both others and themselves in the curriculum and in the classroom. Indeed, this essay drove home the point that education should be about both “scholarship on the shelves” and “scholarship in the selves.”

“Curriculum as Window and Mirror” became a foundational document of the National SEED Project, founded by Peggy McIntosh in 1987, which Style co-directed with McIntosh for its first 25 years, and, later during the third decade, also with Brenda Flyswithhawks. The National SEED Project, with its New Leaders Week trainings, has transformed the thinking and practice of nearly 2,600 attendees, who in turn have influenced 30,000+ teachers, changing the classroom experience of over three million students, in the United States and around the world.

The National SEED Project has been integral part of the Wellesley Centers for Women and its strategy of “Shaping a Better World Through Research and Action.” The Wellesley Centers for Women has served as a home – indeed, as fertile ground – for the evolution of SEED, which needed a supportive home base from which to do its transformational public work. As a feminist and womanist institution that upholds the holism of research, theory, and practice, SEED has perfectly embodied the ethos of WCW, and WCW has embraced all that SEED is, has been, and will become.

It is against this backdrop that Emily Style’s article, “Curriculum as Window and Mirror,” is such an integral part of WCW’s intellectual history. From it, multitudes have encountered, to quote her, “the need for curriculum to function as both window and as mirror, in order to reflect and reveal most accurately both a multicultural world and the student herself or himself. If the student is understood as occupying a dwelling of self,” she continues, “education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected. Knowledge of both types of framing,” she ultimately concludes, “is basic to a balanced education which is committed to affirming the essential dialectic between the self and the world.”

Multiculturalism in education, particularly K-12 education, was still a new and contentious idea when Style put these words to paper. Both perspective and method were needed to realize the nascent notions of multicultural education, and, because she offered both, particularly through the vehicle of SEED’s peer-led model of professional development, thousands of teachers, and millions of students have been awakened to themselves and each other in a way that defies the force of conventional socialization and enriches the humanness of all who have been touched. The social justice impact of this single piece of scholarship has been profound!

Current events only remind us of the value of Style’s windows and mirrors metaphor. Apropos of today, Style wrote these signal words in her original paper: “Now, the common sense of needing to provide both windows and mirrors in the curriculum may seem unnecessary to emphasize, and yet recent scholarship on women and men of color attests to the copious blind spots of the traditional curriculum. White males find, in the house of curriculum, many mirrors to look in, and few windows which frame others’ lives. Women and men of color, on the other hand, find almost no mirrors of themselves in the house of curriculum; for them it is often all windows. White males are thereby encouraged to be solipsistic, and the rest of us to feel uncertain that we truly exist.” A generation after she penned these words, we see their truth in action, as white women and women of color, as well as men of color and those across and off the gender binary of all colors, strain to assert voice against the backdrop of a resilient white male social fabric. And yet, over time, because of work like hers, we see this fabric fraying to reveal a beautiful quilted tapestry of ebullient difference coming up from the rear and recoloring and retexturing society. This new fabric creates a circle in which all can be included.

At moments of historical reflection, we look back, we pause at the present, and we look forward. As we revisit Emily Jane Style’s 1988 “Curriculum as Window and Mirror” today, we celebrate its wisdom and genius around transforming society through the institution of education and the human-relational-power of teachers and students – particularly at the classroom level. We can also affirm that work such as this has never been more badly needed than it is right now. By celebrating together – celebrating both Emily and her essay - let us lay the seeds for the next 30 years and beyond.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a developmental psychologist by training. She has published two books on womanism, The Womanist Reader (2006) and The Womanist Idea (2012), with a third, Womanism Rising, under review. In addition to these books, she has published extensively on identities and their social context, including race, gender, sexual orientation, and spirituality, as well as in the history of psychology on the social scientific activism of Kenneth and Mamie Clark.

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Re-conceptualizing a Classical Educational Concept

CroccoPhotoEmily Style’s beautiful phrase “curriculum as window and mirror” has had an enormous impact on my work as a teacher and teacher educator over the last 30 years. Other proponents of multicultural education have, over those years, deployed many more words to assert what curriculum ought to be and do. Emily’s lyrical imagery is testament to her skills as both poet and educational theorist. And, generations of teachers are all the better for having taken these words to heart as they consider the choices they make in responding to the students in their classrooms.

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Many Windows But No Mirrors

erkutWhen I first came across Emily Style’s words, “A good curriculum is both a window and a mirror,” I began realizing what had been missing in my education at an English language immersion high school in Turkey.

We started with English as a second language material developed by our teachers, but by the middle of seventh grade we knew enough English to be assigned readers that had been used some years back in elementary schools in the U.S. These books had numbers on them such as 3-2 or 4-3, which I later surmised referred to grade and semester levels in elementary schools. One story we read in such a reader has stayed with me all these years. It was about a little girl from New England whose family had moved to an arid town in the Southwest. She was upset that there were no evergreen trees that could be cut to decorate a Christmas tree for the coming holiday. In the story she used her ingenuity to pick a prickly bush that grew in the desert and decorated it with tinsel and ornaments. Happy ending.

The story opened a number of windows for me, a Muslim teenager growing up in a lush Mediterranean climate. Start with Christmas, the need for an evergreen tree, prickly bush growing in a desert, a little girl’s agency to find a tree to decorate, on and on.

What I realized when I read Emily’s work was that my English curriculum had indeed broadened my vision but it did not have mirrors for me to see myself reflected. This realization helped me discover why my learning stood a little bit away from who I was deep inside. It had nurtured an “other” in me that was open to new ideas and knowledge but was not fully integrated with who I truly was, in a way that was satisfying nor authentic. Recognizing the source of the problem was important for me bridge that divide.

Many years later when my colleague Ineke Ceder and I were reporting our findings on the scarcity of women and people of color leading large theaters in the U.S., we advocated for an industry-wide shift in who holds power so that theater programming can more widely incorporate the voices of wider segment of humanity. We wrote, “the function of theater is not only to hold a mirror to the varieties of human conditions, but also challenge it and bring fresh perspectives. In the words of a visionary educator, Emily Style (2014), good theater, just like a good curriculum, must both hold a mirror to and open windows for new ideas.”

Erkut, S. & Ceder, I. (2016). Women’s leadership in residential theaters: Final report. Wellesley Centers for Women. p. 106.

Style, Emily. "Curriculum as Window and Mirror," Listening for All Voices,OakKnoll School monograph. Summit, NJ, 1988.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., currently a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), was a WCW senior research scientist and associate director. Her research interests include women’s leadership, racial/cultural norms and identity in youth and families, and adolescent development.

 

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Building a Culture of Bullies: Chronic judging builds a culture of "us" and "them" and a world of pain.

banksThis article was posted by Amy Banks, M.D., on September 18, 2018 in her Wired for Love blog on Psychology Today.

A number of years ago, a 15 year-old child hung herself after repeated, prolonged bullying by a group of peers. Phoebe Prince was different, but not that different. She had recently moved from a small town in Ireland to a small town in Massachusetts. In Phoebe’s case, her difference alone may not have made her a target for bullying. She also dated a popular, senior football player when she was just a freshman. She had unknowingly crossed a social line. Accounts of the abuse Phoebe endured are painful to read, but nevertheless essential in comprehending the magnitude of the social tragedy unfolding in many communities. The perpetrators did not fit the typical stereotype of the loner from an abusive home lashing out at a vulnerable child on the playground. In fact, a number of Phoebe's peers—both boys and girls—joined an all-out attack on her using every option available. She was verbally and physically assaulted repeatedly in school and cyber-bullied on Twitter, Facebook, and with text messages after school. In addition, two young men were accused of statutory rape.

While technology allows people to connect 24/7, it also allows people to harass others night and day. Phoebe had nowhere to hide, no safe haven from her tormentors. The country was shocked and outraged by the severity of the bullying and by the fact that an innocent child had taken her own life as a result of it. As these tragic events were dissected, layers of blame were passed around freely—to the children who bullied Phoebe, the parents who raised the bullies, the teachers who may have witnessed the assaults, and the school system in charge of student safety. Certainly, when a child takes her own life, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Seth Walsh and Asher Brown are two other young people who took their own lives. In another part of our country, these two young men were relentlessly harassed by peers for allegedly being gay. Both killed themselves at 13. These three children are the tip of the iceberg. With so many similar, heartbreaking stories, we can no longer discount these episodes of bullying as isolated incidents carried out by a few rogue students. The constant stratification of human beings into "better than" and "worse than" actively pits groups and individuals against each other. In this toxic culture, any child is just a weak or immature frontal lobe away from bullying someone else. In this toxic culture, every child could be bullied.

Awareness of the devastating emotional and physical impact of bullying is a step in the right direction, but most of the focus remains on the individual bully, as if each school or playground has but one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. The bully and the bullied exist along a continuum of disconnection and destructive relational templates constantly reinforced by society’s message of separation, individuation, and hyper-competition. Our children receive confusing mixed messages even in the most relational communities.

A child succeeds in a hyper-individualized society by focusing on what he needs, labeling other children as “other,” and using “others” as a means to get what he needs or as competition in the way of what he needs. A successful businessman and the father of an old friend of mine summarized the dog-eat-dog world of American capitalism when he warned her, “Along the way to the top you have to step on some blades of grass.” This was not a threat, but a life lesson offered as a wise tip to his beloved daughter who was following in his business footsteps. It was a loving piece of advice from a caring father, embedded in a very sick culture.

When was the last time you went a day or an hour or even a minute without judging yourself or someone else? You walk into a fundraiser at your child's school and without even thinking, you compare yourself to every person in the room. Sam is prettier than Felice, Frank runs more than Bill, Hector's house is bigger than Sally's. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. In a society built around individual success, judging is an essential relational skill. In a cooperative society, difference is an asset, but in a competitive society, difference is a threat. If you and I are different, one of us is better than the other, and the better one is more deserving of the capitalistic rewards.

Remember the controversial book written a few years ago by the “Tiger Mom,” Amy Chua? It was an extraordinary account of raising Asian American daughters. Many of my peers were appalled by her rigid, controlling parenting style. Chua banned play dates and sleepovers, tolerated no grade below an A, and enforced daily music lessons for her two girls. Is this Tiger Mom an abusive parent, or a disciplined parent grooming her daughters for success? The debate started the minute the book hit the bookshelves. In her mind, she was raising her children to be successful in American culture—and they were wildly successful! So many children today are burdened by the pressure to compete in school, sports, and music. Our kids' lives are packed with activities designed not only to keep them engaged, but also to help them “get ahead.” The cultural message is very clear: Be better than those around you. I believe the cultural pressure to be better than the rest (as opposed to being the best you can be) launches a destructive cascade of pitting people against each other. The competition reinforces separation, the separation stimulates distress, and the distress helps shape a dysregulated anterior cingulate cortex (a part of the brain activated by both physical pain and the pain from social exclusion) in everyone, not just the bullied and the bully.

IF YOU DO NOT FIT IN, YOU WILL BE LEFT OUT

Last year, a good friend’s 11-year-old son asked if he would be able to go to college and if not, if he would end up homeless. From college to homelessness, his young mind had grasped the implications of a hypercompetitive society. He had struggled in school because of a nonverbal learning disability and had just started middle school feeling the huge uptick in peer pressure. I was shocked and deeply saddened by his question. Even in my friend’s loving home, he had ingested the pervasive cultural message: If you do not fit in you will be left out.

The data is clear: being socially disconnected is not just painful; it is lethal. Because we are social beings, social exclusion stimulates our pain pathways and our stress response systems. Chronic exclusion means chronic pain which leads to chronic stress. There is an overwhelming amount of research documenting the negative effect of chronic stress on the immune system, including higher rates of illness and death from all causes. But still we socialize around hierarchy and stratification. Early on, children learn both their ABC’s and who is the smartest and who is the dumbest, who is the fastest and who is the slowest, which kids are shipped from the inner city to the suburbs for a better education and which kids can walk to the same school from their large house. Make no mistake: Extreme competitiveness is at the core of childrearing and brain-building in our successful capitalistic society.

I believe human experience is richer when differences are less dichotomized; when we focus on being differentiated from others rather than separated from others. We are not all the same, and it is in this amazing diversity of human experience that true resilience resides. If we can find ways to connect across these differences with respect and openness, the true power of connection is released. As adults, we must teach our children (and remind each other) that humans are most productive not when they are stressed out by the threat of social exclusion, but when they are cooperating and can take for granted that they belong to a larger interconnected web of people. In human networks, the whole is bigger then the sum of the parts. Whether you are on a sports team, in a family, or part of a business, you can take pride in working hard and trying your best, but it is just as important to encourage others. In life, everyone has a role and everyone is needed to succeed. In the long run, our society will be stronger when everyone is included and everyone has a well-modulated anterior cingulate cortex with strong relational memories of acceptance and inclusion.

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Quality Summer Learning In Action: Encouraging Dancers to Create and Learn

Kids DancingAbout 20 tweens pile into the unassuming studio space of their ballet school in mid-July. There are no frills here. The waiting area is small and a bit disheveled; the cinder block building has seen its share of life. But look closer: there’s magic inside.

The dancers are not exactly sure what to expect from this week of “choreography camp,” but are glad to be there and ready for anything. Starting from nothing, in five days they will create a 20-minute ballet for family and friends. The director says she has it easy this week because the kids do all the work. The dance choreography might be the most straightforward part; they are also charged with music selection, costume and set design, hair and makeup. They first choose which story they will perform, selecting Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps knowing on some level that the fun and magic of the story will parallel their own experience that week.

As a parent, I watched the final performance (criss-cross applesauce on the floor) with a huge smile on my face, amazed to see what these kids could accomplish in a week--without many resources beyond, of course, the staff’s and their own creativity, skill, and knowledge. I tapped my toe to the jazzy music they selected, laughed at the Oompa-Loompa’s pigtails and freckles, and the squirrels’ (who separate out the “bad nuts”) tails constructed out of cardboard tubes and old nylons, and was impressed by the level of dance, particularly of the older girls.

As a research associate of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, I watched with a more serious eye, knowing that there were many best practices here in the room that could be shared with the larger field. What made the program seem so magical? How could the director, along with several other staff members, keep the youth so happy, relaxed, and engaged all week and guide them to create something wonderful?

The answer is simple: They do it by using many of the research-based quality practices that we know work, and are measured by field-tested tools (the APT Observation Tool, for example).

Activities were of a high quality and included:

  • Youth choice and decision making – Each decision was made by the students, so the ultimate product was theirs.
  • Project-based learning – The activities were all part of an ongoing project (the production of a ballet), designed to promote specific skills and concepts over time.
  • Opportunities for collaboration – Youth were organized into groups based on ability and age, and worked together toward a common goal.
  • Challenging activities – The week’s activities all provided challenges and stimulated thinking as youth learned and applied new skills and solved problems.

Staff were of a high quality. The director has a master’s degree in education and decades of experience teaching youth, and the assistant director is mid-way through her master’s degree in counseling. Leadership development, which helps youth and at the same time sustains quality staff, has always been built in; the small dancers hold the even smaller dancers’ hands at performances, older dancers assist the younger ones in classes, and the director offers a more formal leadership program, thus creating well-trained staff. In fact, the staff assisting at this week’s camp were former students.

But it’s what they do that counts. They:

  • Built positive relationships and supported individual youth by engaging in friendly conversation with youth, encouraging individual youth as they worked on their own goals, and listening actively and patiently.
  • Promoted youth engagement by being enthusiastic, actively engaging in the activities with youth, and helping youth think through problems themselves rather than just offering answers. They also engaged youth in reflection and feedback. The director even sneakily – and skillfully – used the time at the performance while waiting for each expected guest to arrive to engage the dancers in a discussion about what surprised them, what had been hard, and what they had learned.

At the end of the final performance, the dancers took a big bow and soaked in the well-earned applause. Was it really magic I witnessed, or simply high-quality out-of-school time programming in action? I think both – aren’t they the same thing, after all? Like any good trick, it only looks like magic.

Elizabeth Starr, M.Ed., is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women since 2007. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

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Reflections on a time in Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde Flag

This article was originally posted by Natália Marques on her Medium blog on June 4, 2018.

I landed in Cape Verde on June 17th. I’ve been here for a while already, but as someone who has just spent the last four months away from home, I know that the adjustment period to living in a foreign country lasts essentially the entire time you are there.

I’m here as part of an internship with the Center for Research on Women and Families (CIGEF). My internship involves participation in a much larger project of labor inclusion for the young women of the community of Bela Vista, Praia. As an intern, I will be conducting workshops on the topic of women’s empowerment, and gender-based violence, as a way to contribute to the end goal of including the women of Bela Vista in the formal labor force. Luckily, I will not be working alone, I will be partnering with Mira, a student studying English at the University of Cape Verde (UNI-CV). Together, we will be researching gender-based violence and leading these workshops.

Last week, I visited Bela Vista. It does not look radically different from other parts of Praia, apart from a larger prevalence of spontaneous settlement housing. Those who cannot afford regular housing will stake their claim to a plot of land by building a tiny, one-room structure, and then slowly adding on to it as they are able. This type of housing often lacks basics such as running water and bathrooms.

Many members of the community, notably the women, are employed in the informal sector. This means that the women that I pass by every day on my way to CIGEF, selling fruit, candy, or cigarettes on the sidewalk, might be from the community of Bela Vista, and might be the women who I end up working with closely.

Based on what I have learned so far, Bela Vista has been characterized as an underserved community. But there is always so much more to a place than it being “underserved”, and I am eager to learn more about Bela Vista’s people and their celebrations, past-times, diversity, food, apart from only their struggles. I was very glad to visit Bela Vista’s community center last week, where I will be holding the workshops.

That being said, I also do want to focus on the struggles of the people of Bela Vista in a more productive way, as in, are there community leaders that are currently fighting for better conditions for the community? Who are they, and what exactly are they concentrating on?

Especially as I am doing research and leading workshops on the issue of gender-based violence, which from what I hear is a prominent issue in Cape Verde. How to the women of Bela Vista understand gender-based violence as an issue in their lives? How do they understand gender, as it applies to them? Do they see obvious, unchanging biological differences between men and women? Do they see a need for women to be liberated?

I am extremely curious to know how these women conceptualize the world around them, as it relates to issues of gender. And I have started reading critical pedagogy, and an important principle that stood out has been that there are no new ideas that I can introduce as an educator. I am not here to teach these women anything new about their lives, I am not here to tell them that they are oppressed, that they must memorize and regurgitate the latest gender theories that I learned in college. I am here to “lend theoretical coherence to available evidence” (as Theodore Mills Norton states). If a theory is valid, the evidence of it is out there in the world. If the women of Bela Vista are deeply affected by gender-based violence, and this violence is mass violence that has the potential to poison an entire community from within, and the only way this violence can be combated is through a radical feminist understanding of the world, then these women and I can work cooperatively to stitch together the evidence that proves this to be the case. If this cannot be done, then the theories and the teaching methodology have failed in their principal objective: to remain rooted in reality. These theories are on trial here, not the “correctness” of theoretical knowledge of Cape Verdean women.

Therefore I want to be the type of educator that challenges both herself and her students to sift through evidence and reach conclusions together. I don’t want to teach anyone anything really, because I don’t think I know much at this point in my life, and because I am very aware of the implications of a white western woman educating proletarian African women. I am very aware of the choices I must make as someone who has been tasked as an educator within a group of people who will share radically different experiences from myself. Intersectionality theorists such as Crenshaw argue that sexism is not universally experienced by all women. Women who grew up in Bela Vista might have very different ideas of gender, and the role it plays in their community. I must learn from them as much as they must learn from me.

These next few days, I need to challenge myself to continue reading about radical pedagogy, gender & feminist theory, theories around abuse and gender-based violence, as well as how this phenomenon exists in Cape Verde specifically. I need to inform myself so that these workshops are as useful to the women of Bela Vista as possible. I hope that I can commit to writing these posts weekly, so that next week I can return by sharing more research that I have done around the topic of gender-based violence in Cape Verde. I am also challenging myself to write each post in both English and Portuguese, so that I can strengthen my language skills.

P.S. This internship experience is made possible through a collaboration between the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and CIGEF, and by funding from the Anchor Point Fellows Program at Wellesley College.

Natália Marques is Political Science major at Wellesley College (Class of 2019) and the second intern participating in the WCW-CIGEF internship program.

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The Lessons We Should Learn from Settlement Houses

Hull House in Chicago during the 1900sAs a country we seem to be moving far away from the nurturing and sustaining activity of the settlement houses of our past. The first settlement house, established in New York City’s Lower East Side – Neighborhood Guild – was founded by Stanton Coit, and just a few years later came Hull House in Chicago, materializing through the passionate vision of Jane Addams. Settlement houses were the cornerstone of communities as they over time took on the task of educating citizens, providing English language classes for immigrants, organizing employment connections, and offering enrichment and recreation opportunities to all in the neighborhood. A most significant beginning to the current child and youth development field, settlement houses provided childcare services for the children of working mothers. The Immigrants’ Protective League, The Juvenile Protective Association, The Institute for Juvenile Research, The Federal Children’s Bureau, along with Child Labor Laws can all trace back to the persistent national efforts of settlement house founders and advocates.

Today, the health and wellbeing of thousands of children are in peril.It has long been established in the field of child and youth development that caring relationships are key factors in the positive and healthy development of children and youth. Separating children from their primary caring relationship--their parents--is critically detrimental and traumatizing. To grow up healthy and be productive citizens of whatever community and country they attach to, children need to acquire, practice, and effectively apply the skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Adolescents who were besieged by trauma as children cannot undertake successfully the daily tasks of growing-up. Nor can a hostile environment possibly support positive mental health and trust in adults, for even the youngest. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that “children torn from their parents experience serious short- and long-term health consequences.”

Decades of research in the child and youth development fields have made it clear that children need to be surrounded by appropriate structure, safety, supportive relationships, skill-building, high expectations, continuity, and predictability. It is imperative that we do not detach ourselves from these important tenets of caring for all children. We could use the more collective and holistic approach of the settlement house in our methods of organizing immigration. Former first lady, Laura Bush has asked, “In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis?” I believe we can and we must--immediately.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Hall specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs, settings, and learning experiences.

 

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Separating Parents from Children: A Policy of Abuse? Research tells us the negative consequences are lifelong.

Shadow of adult and child holding hands while walking next to a fenceThis article was posted by Amy Banks, M.D., on June 19, 2018 in her Wired for Love blog on Psychology Today.

Like many, I have been watching in horror the images of children taken from their parents, housed in caged containers, huddled under silver blankets. As the intellectual debate about whether this is sound border patrol policy or outright child abuse wages on, it feels urgent to share my perspective as a psychiatrist with twenty-five years of experience treating individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder from related childhood abuses. When you look through the lens of neuroscience there is no debate – ripping children from parents is extraordinarily traumatizing. In fact, the pain and impact of the separation is likely setting off the same biological alarm system that would be activated if they were being beaten in these cages. Let me explain.

When mammals evolved from reptiles millions of years ago something very interesting happened. Reproductive strategy shifted dramatically from mass producing eggs and hoping a few of the offspring survive to adulthood (like turtles) to producing offspring internally. Carrying a child internally for nine months meant a dramatic decrease in the number of children born to mammals and the infants created were immature and unable to fend for themselves making attachment to parents or caregivers essential to survival. To assure attachment a corresponding evolution of the nervous system occurred. Humans developed a “social engagement system” to assure that parents and children stay connected.

When separated from his parents, a child’s nervous system sends out a loud signal to signify that he is in grave danger. The child will become dysregulated, extremely anxious and stressed out – he will protest by crying out for his parent as a full load of adrenaline or norepinephrine is surging through his system. The child separated from his parent is terrified and because the brain function to modulate affect is built within this care taking relationship and is ongoing well into the late teen years, that child is also not able to calm the terror. Over time, if the parent does not respond (or in this case can not respond), the child will flip into a parasympathetic shutdown of his body creating a state of learned helplessness or despondency. At this persists, the child enters an extremely dangerous state called failure to thrive in the attachment literature.

This is not new information and certainly should be in the hands of anyone considering making public policy that adversely impacts children. It was learned back in the late 1950’s when Harlow set up an experiment where he placed an infant monkey in a cage with a cold wire monkey that provides milk and another wire monkey covered in a warm material that offered comforting contact. Repeatedly, the young monkeys chose the comfort of the cuddly mother over food. That is how important touch and holding is to primate children. One of the policies being reported at these centers is that workers are not allowed to pick up or comfort the children. The results for these children will be devastating.

Likewise, the Abnormal Childhood Experience Study (ACE Study), a twenty-year longitudinal research project on the health outcomes of children who have had traumatic experiences in childhood, suggests that a child disconnected from his/her parents (as one of only a few abnormal experiences) has negative impacts on health and well-being. Not only are mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse found to be higher in people with a high ACE score but also physical illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even infections are increased.

Additionally, research by Eisenberger and Lieberman at UCLA (SPOT Theory)identified an area of the human brain – the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex- that is activated when a person is feeling socially excluded or disconnected. The dACC also happens to be the same area of the brain that is activated when a person is feeling the distress of physical pain. Essentially, SPOT Theory tells us that being connected to safe others is so important to human survival that it shares a neurological alarm with the distress of physical injury or illness. In essence, ripping children from parents carries the same risk as hitting them. To human beings pain is pain and so these children, their parents, and anyone who is witnessing this cruelty without disconnecting from it, is in deep, deep, preventable pain.

Given the clear science, how is it that some humans are not upset about this abuse? One explanation is found by looking at the neuroscience of "othering." Studies show that when I see someone as “not like me”, my mirror neuron system shuts down and I do not feel a physiological resonance with his suffering. Rather, I look at him through the area of my brain that helps me understand abstract ideas. This is a disconnected way of knowing another and heavily influenced by cultural stories and biases. This is not an excuse but rather a warning of the social impact of policies and rhetoric that divides people and communities into “us” and “them”.

The neurological bottom line is clear, separating children from their parents is child abuse. And anyone who has a sense of morality must do everything in his or her power to help it stop ASAP.

Continue reading the full article on Psychology Today in Amy Banks' Wired for Love blog.

Amy Banks, M.D., is a senior scholar and director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, a legacy project of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She has spoken throughout the U.S. on the neurobiology of relationship and has an ongoing passion to spread the message that humans are hardwired for connection.

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What Does It Mean To Be a Female Athlete?

Caster Semenya and other female runners compete at a track meet.We don’t live in an “either/or” world. Most non-sport institutions get this. It’s why Starbucks has unisex bathrooms, why there are forms to change your gender on government documents, why there is even a concept of “preferred pronouns.”

But athletics remains stubbornly committed to a male-female dichotomy. Enforcement of that rigid divide is again causing a stir. Last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (the I.A.A.F.) issued new rules for track athletes that will take effect in November requiring some female athletes – those with naturally elevated testosterone – to take medication to suppress those hormones.

The requirement applies to females the IAAF describes as “athletes with differences in sexual development” (they call it “DSD”) and only to middle-distance running events between 400 meters and the mile. Athletes would have to take the medication for six months prior to the Olympic and international events the rules govern.

The IAAF said the rules hope to ensure “fair and meaningful competition within the female classification.” Higher levels of testosterone provide an advantage in speed, power, and endurance, said the IAAF, giving an unfair advantage to these hyperandrogenic athletes.

Reasonable, right? After all, transgender female athletes competing in women’s events must undergo hormone therapy to lower testosterone levels.

Yet it’s one thing to decide to transition and another to be forced to change. Perhaps the problem is the guardianship of “the female classification”? It’s true that a 2017 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (commissioned by the IAAF), found that athletes with “elevated testosterone levels gained a competitive advantage from 1.78 percent to 4.53 percent,” in the hammer throw, the pole vault, the 400 meter, the 400 meter hurdles and the 800 meter.

The new rule, however, applies to running events, not the hammer throw or pole vault.

The rule also has a personal – even cultural or racial – sheen. That’s because there is no way to consider this rule without looking at the consequences for South African middle-distance runner and two-time 800-meter Olympic champion Caster Semenya, criticized for her muscular physique and deep voice. Since she burst onto the scene in 2009 as an 18-year-old who broke a South African record at the African Junior National Championships, and then won the world title in Berlin, there have been questions about the “unfairness” of her natural physical gifts. (In Berlin, she was reportedly subjected to sex testing).

Semenya has also undergone public sex-questioning, including news reports citing unnamed sources describing her sex organs. “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I am proud of myself,” she tweeted on May 1.

Image shows the text of a quote pulled from this article in white text on an orange background. The quote reads, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand also has suffered public questions and humiliation. In 2014 at the Glasgow Games, she was pulled aside and not allowed to compete. Offered medical “treatment,” she refused. She appealed to the Court of Arbitration, which in 2015 ruled that Chand could compete. The court suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism rules, citing “insufficient evidence about the degree of the advantage” the condition provided.

This is presumably why the IAAF rules now dig into ranges of performance advantage in terms of muscle strength and hemoglobin associated with elevated testosterone levels. While Chand is not affected by the new rules as a sprinter, Semenya certainly is. Two weeks ago, South African law professor Steve Cornelius resigned from the IAAF’s tribunal, stating that he could not associate with “an organization that insists on ostracizing certain individuals, all of them female, for no reason other than being what they were born to be.”

His point: Who defines “female”? How “female” must one be to be “female”? Men in the sport world do not face scrutiny of their physical gifts or surveillance of their hormone levels. At what point is this about biological conformity and social norms? At what point is enforcing a dichotomy – male/female – a failed approach?

Last month, a study in Journal of Sports Sciences analyzed Semenya’s actual times, finding they “were 1.24 percent and 1.49 percent faster than the predicted performance in 800m finals.” That relatively small percentage confuses the male-female divisions even more.

Wrote the authors: “The present study indicates that the percentage difference in performance between women with and women without hyperandrogenism does not reach the 3 percent difference requested by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for the reinstatement of the Hyperandrogenism Regulations, neither does it reach the 10 percent accepted range of difference in performance between men and women.”

Is hyperandrogenism an advantage? Yes. Is it more of an advantage than other naturally-occurring physical gifts athletes enjoy? Unclear. Is it “fair” that Michael Phelps has size 14 feet, double-jointed ankles, and a prodigious wingspan? That Usain Bolt is 6’5”?

If testosterone is the game-changer, then eschew “male” and “female” and re-classify athletes based on testosterone levels – like weight classes in wrestling. Or create some other structure. Otherwise what we are doing here – without naming it – is demanding biological conformity to a Western view of what it means to be a woman.

Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women and was a leader of the Women’s Sports Leadership Project. She is an award-winning journalist, co-author of Playing with the Boys (2008), and for seven years, she edited the FairGameNews blog, now an archive.

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Wellesley Centers for Women Mourns the Loss of Advisory Council Chair, Activist Deborah Holmes

Headshot of Deborah Holmes, who looks at the camera smiling. A yellow and black artwork hangs in the background.The Wellesley Centers for Women is mourning the death of Deborah Holmes, Chair of the WCW Council of Advisors and a passionate activist committed to the lives of women, people of color, equity, and social justice across the world.

“Deborah understood the intersectionality of social justice causes as well as the necessity of making change on multiple fronts at once, and she lived it,” reflected Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of WCW. “She brought indefatigable energy and an indomitable spirit to our Council of Advisors, and our global outreach and media impact expanded under her influence.”

Last spring, WCW cosponsored a research forum for change makers, “From Persistence to Power: Facts, Truth & Equity for Women,” in Washington, D.C., during which Deborah spoke about the need to address issues of intersectionality in order to achieve equity for all women in the U.S.

“It is hard to be black every day in America; but at the same time, I love being black. Because we have so much power, and the fact that we are in this room, and in this place, and still strong, and nobody has knocked us down, says a lot about our people,” she told the hundreds of attendees. “We are at a moment now where we have an opportunity, perhaps in coalition with other black and brown folk, to really rise up in a way that we rose up when we shut down the buses in Montgomery, when we forced people to listen to what we have to say.”

At the time of her death, Deborah was the Chief Communications and Engagement Officer at the Women's Funding Network (WFN), one of the world's largest philanthropic networks devoted exclusively to the equality and rights of women and girls around the world. There, she oversaw external and internal communications, brand and reputation management, strategic partnerships, and member relations. Prior to WFN, Deborah served as Chief of Staff and Vice President of Communications at the Global Fund for Women (GFW), where she was senior advisor to the CEO and charged with the development and execution of GFW's mission, vision, and strategies. Additionally, she was responsible for nurturing key organizational relationships and initiatives, enhancing staff and board capacity to steward the GFW brand, talent management, and human resources.

"No one met Deborah Holmes and was not immediately impressed,” said colleague Deborah Richardson, Herndon Human Rights Expert in Residence at Honors College, Georgia State University. “She wore her confidence and brilliance well, while openly embracing you as a fellow sister and comrade. Every moment of her life was purposeful—her yes meant yes. If she committed to something, she was all in.  What I learned from Deborah is we have to do more. Speak out more. Confront injustices more and love each other more. Those who had the privileged of working with her, and the thousands she felt a deep responsibility to—we are all blessed by her many gifts.”

An award winning television news correspondent and analyst for more than 30 years, Deborah worked for local, national, and international news organizations covering an array of issues including race, politics, and social justice. She addressed the importance of quality journalism during the D.C. conference.

“Backing down is no longer an option,” she argued. “The facts matter and we have to get the facts into the right hands of the people—and that includes your friends and associates who need to read and use critical thinking skills. Because there are facts out there. But if you choose not to read them, or you ignore them, then they are of no benefit to anybody. Losing first-rate investigative journalism,” she stressed, “is one of the worst things that can happen in this democracy.”

Prior to her work in women's rights, Deborah was Senior Vice President at a global communications firm, Fleishman Hillard, Inc., where she led client strategy in brand and reputation management, healthcare, and multicultural audience development and initiatives. She was an outspoken activist for issues impacting people of the African diaspora including racial equity and economic and political empowerment. Throughout her career, she promoted and facilitated opportunities that brought diverse voices into public discourse and debate to inform social change.

“This [work] takes time, and so you have to make a commitment within yourself and among your friends that you are going to devote some actual time to this in addition to the knowledge, but we have to show up,” Deborah said.

In addition to her service on the WCW Council of Advisors, Deborah’s board and community service included Global Press Institute, Change Philanthropy Partners, Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Reporters Without Borders, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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Family, friends, and colleagues are welcome to share their reflections in the Comment Section below.

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How Can We Support Working Parents?

A woman working as a server clears an outdoor cafe table in a European-looking city or town square.A few days ago, my eyes fell upon an online post discussing recent studies that showed how unpredictable work schedules in low-wage industries, especially food and retail, are really bad for families. The article highlighted that some practices, such as last-minute notices, on-call shifts, irregular and/or variable work schedules, etc., which are common in many industries in the U.S., harm workers, especially women who care for children.

My colleague, Senior Research Scientist Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., and I had just written about that same topic, as we continue to explore cross-industry relevance with our recent study on women’s leadership in the theater field. Through our interviews, surveys, and conversations at conferences, women had shared with us the challenges they faced in their lives when they wanted to rise to a leadership position in the theater. Our piece, published in Harvard Business Review, showed how some of the theater field’s practices, such as unpredictable scheduling of rehearsals and auditions, the 70-hour tech weeks before a show goes live, and extensive travel demands to get national visibility, all require work-life balance provisions that most workplaces currently have not yet put in place.

Image shows the text of a quote pulled from this article in white text on a dark blue background. The quote reads, Even in this 21st Century, we have not yet come to accept that parenting is a shared component of our human condition. Every industry employs parents who are trying to balance their work obligations with their family roles. In fact, even non-parents can be called into a caregiving role, for example when their ageing parents need help. Gone are the days when a two-parent family could live on a single paycheck and when family roles were clearly divided. Therefore all of us, across gender and age, would benefit from a variety of workplace supports that accommodate our multiple roles as modern human beings.

The business argument for implementing work-life balance policies is fairly clear: these supports will help us stay better focused on our jobs’ priorities and be more productive, because we will be assured our home life is protected while we work. And, these policies will go further than just supporting us while we care for others. I remember the story a theater-study interviewee shared of how a policy change in one particular theater to make schedules a bit more predictable was received with gratitude by non-parenting colleagues: they now could more easily schedule every-day necessities, like medical or dental appointments.

Even though women and their allies have been calling for changes in workplace policies for decades -- and while some were indeed made -- we still have quite a way to go.

In the U.S., parental leave is still largely unpaid, financially penalizing those who start a family, and partially causing the gender pay gap, which becomes a lasting disadvantage for women’s economic security. Once past the period immediately following the birth of a child, working parents still face several more hurdles to be able to balance their family and their work obligations. Not only is the cost of good quality care astronomical, child care centers or other child care providers are organized along schedules that may not align with those of parents who need access to that child care. Public schools are equally uncoordinated with parents’ employment reality. Many workers have weekend duty or work overnight shifts, again most often in lower paying industries. However, there are almost no providers that take in children over the weekend or for overnight care, and most organized care requires a family to enroll with a predictable schedule for an extended period of time.

Thinking back on the findings in our women’s leadership in theater study, we identified that the hurdle to upward mobility among caregiving women is not the lack of a mother’s ambition or her creativity toward addressing those roadblocks, but rather the virtual absence of any workplace provisions. Indeed, women are just as intentional and strategic about their upward mobility as men are, and just as ambitious for that top spot. But, because caring for others, especially for children, is still predominantly a woman’s job, a working mother faces discrimination, lack of willingness to make any adjustments, and forced invisibility, expressed in statements like “I don’t think [women] aspire for that type of leadership role given their family situations,” which we heard in our theater study.

This mothers’ day, let’s honor all mothers in our lives in two ways. First, let’s pledge to share caregiving responsibilities equally in our homes, not just for that one Sunday, but for the rest of the time our loved ones need support. And second, both respect working mothers’ second shift as much as we do her employment contributions, and help advocate for change in policies at work to make that second shift easier to coordinate for all working parents. Showing children how families can be built with intentional gender equity is a crucial gift to our society’s future parents. Indeed, when our children in turn become leaders, their belief in work-life balance provisions will inform their future company policies toward fairness.

Ineke Ceder is a research associate at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, where she has been involved since the 1990s on projects that focus on race/ethnicity, sex education, child and adolescent development, and women's leadership. Her work described above is based on the research she conducted with Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., on women's leadership in theater.

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Q&A with Jennifer Baumgardner, Editor in Chief of the Women’s Review of Books

WCW and Old City Publishing named feminist writer and activist Jennifer Baumgardner as the new editor in chief of Women's Review of Books. She will be its third editor, after Amy Hoffman and WRB founder Linda Gardiner. Baumgardner was most recently the executive director of the Feminist Press -- the longest running women’s publisher in the world -- and is the founder of Dottir Press, a new feminist publisher that will launch with the fall 2018 season. She's been an editor at Ms. magazine, a writer for venues such as The Nation, Glamour, and The New York Times, and is the author of six books.

To get to know her a bit better, Sitara Zoberi '19, a Wellesley College student and communications assistant at WCW, did a Q&A Baumgardner.


Photo of Jennifer Baumgardner, new editor in chief of Women's Review of Books at Wellesley CollegeSZ: Why Women’s Review of Books? What is the point of writing about women’s writing?

JB: The original urgency animating the Women’s Review of Books is that in the 1970s and 1980s, more and more women were writing significant books and working as writers and critics. But the major book reviews rarely, if ever, reviewed women and rarely hired women reviewers. Concurrently, feminists were carving out a niche where they could focus on work “by, for, and about” women, to correct the culture as well as the historical record, which focused mainly on white men. WRB, Olivia Records, Feminist Press, the feminist bookstore movement, Ms. magazine, women’s studies, the women’s music movement, Off Our Backs, On Our Backs -- these were all outgrowths of this “second wave” era and its energy. WRB, founded in 1983, specifically created a platform that took seriously women’s scholarship and writing.

Now, 35 years later, things have changed in lots of positive and negative ways. You don’t have to look to a feminist periodical in order to see writing by women or by feminists, but feminist institutions still magnetize feminist energy and often see and value work that has yet to penetrate the mainstream. Additionally, there is still a gender gap when it comes to reviewing and supporting work by women, as the VIDA count makes clear each year. While women’s and feminist voices are no longer marginalized categorically, there is still a margin that only feminist entities tend to value. The Women’s Review of Books is proudly part of amplifying that margin as well as participating in more mainstream culture conversations provoked by books.

Finally, because WRB is an institution of feminism, many amazing writers feel an investment in it and want to be part of its present and future, which is very exciting for me. There is authenticity and history in its pages, which is very valuable.

SZ: An online biography of you states that you are most known for your contributions to third-wave feminism. The term “third-wave feminism” has many definitions, but what does it mean to you personally?

JB: When Amy Richards and I wrote our first book together (Manifesta, 2000), the term third wave was barely in use, so we had a lot of space to define it within that book -- which was convenient! To me, third wave refers to the feminists who grew up in the wake of the changes wrought by the second wave (1960s and 1970s era feminists). We grew up with feminism -- Title IX, legalized abortion, new terms such as date rape and battered women’s syndrome, and critiques of beauty culture. Our childhoods were markedly different than our mothers' had been, and thus we had the opportunity to enact the values they had articulated, to step into the more “equal” society that they had dreamt up. There were still all the old problems, but new expectations and experiences.

Third wave is also an approach: a feminism that focuses on creating culture as well as politics (riot grrrls), is portable (you bring your feminism with you where you go, vs. join a group to be a feminist), and acknowledges that the priority issue for a feminist can change with each person you ask.

SZ: Beyond being a writer and filmmaker, you are also an activist, a mother, a bisexual woman, and a third-wave feminist. How do your various unique perspectives influence your position as editor in chief of the Women’s Review of Books?

JB: Hopefully, my identities will support me having an open mind and good taste in order to curate an important piece of print media. My through-line is always that I’m drawn to common but silenced experiences and that I love the interplay between different generations. I think my identities that will be most brought to bear on editing the Women’s Review of Books are those of editor, feminist publisher, author, journalist, and frequent guest of Women’s and Gender Studies programs. I have had an eclectic career, but each frond intersects with the mission of WRB.

Cover of 2018 March/April Women's Review of Books, featuring cover art by Elise R. PetersonSZ: Your books and documentaries have explored a variety of topics related to feminism, including rape, abortion, and bisexuality. What role has reading and literature played in your understanding in any or all of these topics?

JB: Books were my best friends when I was a kid growing up in Fargo, North Dakota. I loved losing myself in those worlds and I still believe that books have a unique power to promote empathy, understanding, and real transformation. Case in point, I have always worked on abortion rights (literally since I was a kid) but I’d never thought about women who couldn’t get abortions pre-Roe and were coerced into surrendering their babies until I read Ann Fessler’s bookThe Girls Who Went Away in 2006. It enabled my understanding of the importance of full-spectrum reproductive justice and made me a better activist and person. I still give that book to people all the time. You should read it, if you haven’t.

SZ: Can you talk about the direction you chose for the March/April issue of the Women’s Review of Books? What made you choose the theme you did, and how was the process of editing the publication for the first time?

JB: You know, I was lucky that Amy Hoffman, my predecessor, was so industrious—most of March/April was assigned and edited by her before I was hired!

I did add a few reviews: Jessica Jernigan on Stray City and We Were Witches and Susana Morris on When They Call You a Terrorist. I also chose the cover art by the extraordinary Elise R. Peterson, with whom I work in my other life as the publisher of Dottir, an independent press in New York City. I wanted the theme to resonate both for women’s history month (March) and the fact that there is a really activist feminist movement happening right now. For May/June, you will see more of my fingerprints on the books and reviewers chosen.

The only real change I’ve made thus far is to assign reviews to coincide with the month the books are published as opposed to reviewing books that have already been out for quite a while. I want our reviews to harmonize or disrupt the conversation a book is eliciting, and that conversation tends to happen right when the book is launched. Reviews when a book is just out are also more helpful for the book’s author and publisher -- and book sales! -- all of which are important considerations.

Photo of Sitara Zoberi, Wellesley College student who did Q&A with Jennifer BaumgardnerSitara Zoberi is a member of the Class of 2019 at Wellesley College majoring in South Asia Studies and minoring in Women’s & Gender Studies. She has worked in the communications office at the Wellesley Centers for Women since her first year. Sitara is also a member of Café Hoop, a student-run cooperative, and Al-Muslimat, the Muslim student organization at Wellesley College.

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Helping Children Deal with Traumatic Events

Students sitting at a classroom tableA message from Open Circle, the elementary school social and emotional learning (SEL) program at the Wellesley Centers for Women: Since the start of the new year, 17 schools had experienced the terrifying reality of gun violence. Yesterday, unfortunately, the eighteenth school was added to this list. In light of these and past school shootings, we are writing to share some resources that school communities might find helpful. These tragedies impact all of us, both near and far, regardless of whether we are educators, parents, or students. Building off of materials we shared following the Newtown, CT, shootings, we at Open Circle would like to offer our assistance during these difficult times. It is important that we help schools support students who, understandably, may have questions or concerns in response to this tragic event.

Children may need reassurance that their classrooms and schools are safe places for them. It is important to recognize the needs of individual children who might have a harder time coping with this event than others. Often children who are prone to anxious feelings or thoseQuote from the article: During difficult times, safety, consistency, and predictability are critical to helping children maintain a sense of stability and psychological comfort. with their own trauma history can be triggered by another traumatic event, even if it did not directly happen to them. In addition to the positive, supportive classroom climate and the social and emotional learning tools that Open Circle provides, some students may need additional time with a school psychologist or guidance counselor to help them manage their fears.

It is also critical that adults get the support they need to help students with their questions and feelings about this tragic event. Modeling how to stay calm and knowing when to ask for help yourself will help reassure students of their safety and remind them that the adults in school will be there to take care of them.

During difficult times, safety, consistency, and predictability are critical to helping children maintain a sense of stability and psychological comfort. Open Circle provides a classroom routine and climate that is safe, consistent, and predictable -- one in which you may be able to discuss sensitive topics. Continuing to do Open Circle, as usual, is very important. Revisiting and applying the following skills and concepts may be one way to help students and adults as they deal with this traumatic event: Calming Down; Understanding Feelings; Speaking Up; and Listening Skills.

Additional Resources:

We recommend the following additional resources from the National Association of School Psychologists on School Safety & Crisis:

Open Circle’s mission is to advance children’s wellbeing and learning by partnering with school communities to foster social and emotional development and caring learning environments.

 

 

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Unraveling Power Structures in Sports

Two female athletes standing on a track in a stadium.As I reflected earlier this month on National Girls & Women in Sports Day, it felt different this year. Rather than a pumped-up opportunity to celebrate strides—the sweat, guts, and proficiency of female athletes—my conscience urges reflection.

I can’t write about National Girls & Women in Sports Day or the Winter Olympics which opened this week without considering the abuse of young gymnasts by Lawrence Nassar, former doctor for the national team. So far, 140 (140!!!!) women and girls have said that Dr. Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of “treatment.” Somehow their voices were pervasively and effectively muted, disregarded or explained away. Coaches, athletic training programs, and facilities and that exalted sports governing body—the Olympic Committee—failed to protect these athletes from a monster.

Yet this is not merely a question of “speaking up” but the problem of whose voice matters. For years, it was Larry Nassar’s. To those young women caught in the broken culture of gymnastics, abuse was the “price” for the opportunity to compete at the highest levels.

Athletic excellence requires sacrifice, but it’s not communicated well enough what, exactly, that entails and where the lines should be drawn. We need to nail that. We are living in an era of outcomes. The final, shining product, the result, is what dominates our attention. It has made us less interested in the messy “how” and less focused on the unquantifiable value of the process. And, less willing to hear upsetting or complicating information. Yet, culture must be built from the inside out and the bottom up. On the balance beam or off.

This is just as critical for sports as it is in other fields. It is not enough to celebrate wins. We must ask how they were earned. How was it made? The #MeToo movement is pressing the matter, not just in movies and on TV news desks, but in museums, as many wonder about adding an asterisk and explanation beside the work of egregious sexual harassers. This is interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which is recognition that solo brilliance may not be solo—and, or—that in a time when simplicity (“build the wall”) has anchored political decision-making, that we crave complexity. All is not quick or easy.

Sports—in highlights—reflect split-second plays. One key move. But athletic endeavors are the culmination of multiple inputs, of practice, advice, persistence, teaching, cheering, anger, love. And every part matters. This is to say that we must pay attention to our system of sport. Which unearths another explosive conversation. Last month, an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by a professor and former track athlete, Victoria Jackson, argued, as the headline put it, that “College Sports are like Jim Crow.” It inspired viral debate.

The pointed issue—unpaid black male athletes in football and basketball raking in revenues that fund “white” sports like swimming (and women’s sports) —is not new (check out a 2012 paper, “Challenges of Being a Black Student Athlete on U.S. College Campuses”). The matter of whether to pay or not pay revenue-producing male NCAA athletes is the leading edge of a bigger conversation: What is the purpose of college sports?

Pull quote from blog: If sports are more than athletic contests—if they have social, economic, and political value—we must care who gets to play. But the very fact that we can clearly delineate “black sports” and “white sports” is not an accident but something nurtured and presumed. If sports are more than athletic contests—if they have social, economic, and political value—we must care who gets to play.

If you look at NCAA participation by sport and race—for women—in 2016-2017, the latest NCAA data available, not a single black female athlete in Division I played squash or sailed (one skied and one played ice hockey). Black women are overrepresented in basketball (47 percent of players) and track (27 percent). We can make a list of “reasons” why this is.

But if we care about who is on campus and what role they play there—and then out in the world once they leave —as we recognize National Girls and Women in Sports Day and cheer on athletes during the Winter Olympics, let’s begin the conversation about how to diversify sport. We must use this #MeToo spotlight to unravel old power structures and standard practices. It’s not just a problem on the men’s side. Let’s notice who is on the roster—and who isn’t. And let’s commit to doing something about it.

Journalist Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women and was a leader of The Women’s Sports Leadership Project. For seven years, she edited the FairGameNews blog, now preserved as an archive.

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Why the #MeToo Movement Disrupts the Creeping Commodification of Feminism

This blog was originally posted by the International Press Service News Agency and is reproduced with permission from the author.

Headshot of the author, Rangita de Silva de AlwisAs the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York draws near, women from every corner of the world will convene to deliberate on the theme of CSW 2018: Challenges and Opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. This year, the theme of empowerment has added significance. The #MeToo movement has shocked our collective conscience and made it impossible to ignore that empowerment goes far beyond economic agency.

Women’s economic empowerment has enormous consequence. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that gender equality adds U.S. $12 trillion to the global economy, yet women are conspicuously absent from boardrooms and in some communities, school rooms. The evidence is now clear, when women are absent from the marketplace, the market suffers.

Although the cost analysis is important, the #MeToo movement has helped unmask the way in which sometimes women’s economic participation pays lip service to women’s power, while serving those in power. Feminism’s urgent charge is not to commodify women through glossy stories and data, but to pierce those veils to identify the underlying power structures and structural barriers that prevent women’s access to and retention in the market.

Feminism’s latest incarnation, “economic feminism,” poses a complicated challenge to the pursuit of gender equality around the world. By providing legal economic rights to women empowerment is thus framed as voluntary, and structural barriers are normalized.

Herein the champions of economic feminism proudly parade entrepreneurial women as proof of gender equality, a byproduct of a transformation in a society that sees value in women. In this cultural shift, if a woman is not in the marketplace, it is because she has made a choice not to work – and not because of debilitating structural inequalities.

However, this thinking masks patriarchy’s power over women. Economic feminism, in its unquestioned authority, can pose a threat to women’s advancement around the world. The importance attached to economic instrumentalist arguments for women’s rights can hide unexamined challenges.

Without a doubt, the plethora of recent research confirming gender equality significantly boosts economic growth from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), as well as the aforementioned McKinsey study, is to be celebrated for giving a tangible economic reason for countries to improve the status of women.

Unfortunately, this message has been warped by some economies, and economic policies such as Abenomics in Japan supplant important social change policies on sexual abuse and hold back feminism’s goal of full realization of gender equality under law. The reality is that women continue to face inequality that goes beyond just economic opportunity.

Quote from the article: Gender equality in all laws, most importantly family laws, have a profound impact on shaping and advancing women’s economic participation. Several countries, notably Japan, have put forward “win-win” economic policies, but they ignore controversial and difficult social policies such as violence against women. This approach is similar to the nations that peddled the “Asian Values” theory in the 1990s. The better approach is to reveal the interconnectedness of women’s economic participation with equal protection of laws.

For example, in many corners of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, women have unequal access to property and land. Globally, women’s unequal access to citizenship, residency, inheritance, and decision-making in public and private often subordinate women’s economic participation.

Gender equality in all laws, most importantly family laws, have a profound impact on shaping and advancing women’s economic participation. In many countries, laws that regulate women in their families require women to get permission from their husbands to travel and disallow married mothers to confer citizenship on their children. Several nations have legislation that do not recognize women as heads of household and control their free movement.

Further, laws around the world permit underage and forced marriage for girls. Every two seconds, a girl is forced into marriage. Women married as children will reach one billion by 2030, according to UNICEF.

Martha Minow, the former Dean of Harvard Law School, has argued that the rules of family law construct not only roles and duties of men and women, but can shape rules about employment and commerce, and perhaps the governance of the state.

And not to be forgotten is that violence is one of the most insidious barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Where a woman suffers sexual and other forms of abuse, her capacity to work and function are severely impaired – Fortune estimates that it costs the US $500 billion, but the human cost cannot be computed.

Fortune argues that when talking about equality, the focus should include violence, or more specifically, violence against women. And according to McKinsey, violence is one of the biggest factors holding American women and all other women back.

Feminism’s and the #MeToo movements’ power lies in its potential to disrupt seemingly immutable gender norms. The international women’s rights community, as it convenes in New York in March, should not be swayed by the promise of economic opportunity alone, it must continue to press on issues of violence, sexual abuse and discrimination that disallow women from participating in economic activity, and inhibit women’s full empowerment.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, S.J.D., is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, associate dean of International Affairs at University of Pennsylvania Law School, and advisor to the UN SDG Fund.

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Five Ways to Support Social and Emotional Learning with Children’s Books

Collage of children's book covers that are mentioned in this article.The fifth-grader’s voice was full of emotion as he shouted, “That’s not fair! What a mean thing to do!”

He wasn’t upset about an event on the playground, or on the school bus. This student was reacting to an incident described in a picture book entitled Yoon and the Jade Bracelet, by Helen Recorvits. As other students chimed in, the teacher took the opportunity to facilitate a discussion about peer mistreatment, how it feels to be left out, and the role of bystanders. Students expressed genuine concern for Yoon, the main character in the story. Throughout this time of authentic connection to each other and the story, the teacher and his students focused on some key social and emotional skills, such as recognizing and naming feelings, perspective-taking, and empathy. The combination of the book, the teacher, and the children created the equivalent of an electrical current that energized an authentic conversation about how people choose to treat each other.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies the following social competency skills as keys to success in school and beyond: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness/empathy, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills can be taught to children in schools through programs such as Open Circle, a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, which uses children’s literature as a vital part of its curriculum.

Whether books are shared in a classroom, a public library, or a living room, there are some specific ways that educators and caregivers can leverage the emotional connection between children and literature to reinforce SEL skills, including empathy. Some people may make a New Year’s resolution to read more books; I encourage us all to include children in this goal. Here are five ways to support SEL skills through children’s literature:

1. Help children build their feelings vocabulary.

The most basic building block for social competency is self-awareness, being able to recognize and name your emotions. Sharing picture books that highlight a range of emotions, such as Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner, or Yesterday I Had the Blues, by Jeron Ashford Frame, helps children expand their feelings vocabulary and recognize that it’s normal to have many different feelings, including negative ones.

2. Model and reinforce self-management strategies.

It’s important for children to know that they can learn some ways to calm down when they are upset. Books such as Sometimes I‘m Bombaloo, by Rachel Vail, or Mouse was Mad, by Linda Urban, illustrate effective self-management strategies. As you read aloud stories like these, share your own experiences with challenging feelings and describe your coping strategies. Encourage children to find strategies that work for them.

3. Choose books with diverse content.

Emily Style, a co-founder of the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women, has written about how curriculum serves as both mirrors and windows for students. Sharing literature that is culturally diverse ensures that all children can see themselves reflected in books, and can see beyond their own world and experiences. Encourage children to explore the perspective of characters who are different from themselves in order to build their capacity for empathy. Books such as the Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke, or Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, can dispel stereotypes and pave the way for building positive relationships and making responsible decisions about how we treat each other.

4. Use an interactive approach.

Megan Dowd Lambert, author of Reading Picture Books with Children: How to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see, emphasizes the importance of “reading with children as opposed to reading to them.”

Lambert suggests asking open-ended questions, such as: “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?” Open-ended questions also help children connect to their experiences and feelings. For example, you might ask: “How do you think the character feels? What are some things that make you feel angry? (scared, upset, happy, etc.) or, “What might you have done differently if you were this character?” To help children develop consequential-thinking skills, ask them to predict what might happen when a character behaves a certain way or makes a particular choice.

5. Choose books children can connect with.

Anyone who has read with one child, or a group of children knows that literature engages both the heart and the mind. Pairing the right book with a child, and helping her explore personal connections to the story completes the circuit to power up social and emotional learning. For inspiration, get started by looking at Open Circle’s list of children’s books connected to SEL.

Peg Sawyer is a trainer and coach at Open Circle, a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, that provides a unique, evidence-based social and emotional learning program for grades K-5.

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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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#MeToo—Changing Brains, Relationships and Power Dynamics

This blog was originally posted on Psychology Today and is reproduced with the permission of the author.

Headshot of article author, Amy Banks, M.D.The #MeToo movement is giving a viral voice to women (and men) who have been the targets of violence and harassment. It is a social change campaign that I never thought would happen in my lifetime. Honestly, when it first started to spread on Facebook I thought it might be cathartic for the people who joined, but I didn’t anticipate it having wider social change potential. My bad—because I temporarily forgot about relational neuroscience and the power that can be unleashed when groups of individuals come together and support one another.

What does the #MeToo movement look like through the lens of relational neuroscience? A few studies come to mind that might help shed some light on interpersonal dynamics across power differences. Check-out "The Cookie Monster Study" as described by Dacher Keltner and his colleagues at University of California at Berkeley.

Quote from article: ...the qualities that often bring someone to power, like empathy and the ability to listen to others, diminish once a person is in power.For those too busy to watch the five-minute video, here is a summary of the study. The researchers brought three individuals to the social science lab and told one of them that they were in charge—essentially giving that person power over the other two. While the group was busy with the assigned task of writing boring university policy, the researchers brought out a plate of four cookies. Initially, each of the three participants ate one cookie each, leaving one on the plate. Interestingly, most of the time, the person given the power eventually ate the fourth cookie. In Dr. Keltner's study taking the fourth cookie correlated with having power and also with a decrease in activity of the mirror neuron system (the circuits in your brain that produce empathy and allow appreciation of the impact of your actions on others). Further, as the researchers watched the behavior of those given power, they observed that the people in charge ate differently. They chewed with their mouths open and occasionally had little pieces of food dropping out of their mouths. Dr. Keltner describes this change in the level of interpersonal awareness as the "paradox of power"—the qualities that often bring someone to power, like empathy and the ability to listen to others, diminish once a person is in power.

Kelner's research and theory suggests that for many people simply having power over others decreases the activity in the part of the brain needed to understand the impact of your behavior on others. Just the opposite of what is needed to be an engaged, respectful leader.

The potential corrupting and disconnecting impact of power is an enormous problem in Western societies where success is often culturally prescribed as gaining power over others and obtaining more resources than those around you. In the US, the myth of individual success is promoted in business, politics, and sports. This model of capitalism is great for making money but not great at creating cooperative, balanced human beings. In fact, one of the "benefits" of making it to the top of the power hierarchy has been a blissful ability to do whatever you want to whomever you want, and because your empathy pathways may be immobilized by power you don’t have to feel the pain you are causing. Essentially, the abuse of power goes hand in hand with power over others, the dominant organizational model in our country. Because power over environments is everywhere, most people have witnessed power abuse at work or family gatherings, in religious communities and on sports teams. Sexual harassment and abuse has been and continues to be ubiquitous which makes the rather sudden rise of the #MeToo movement all the more stunning.

Amy Banks, M.D., is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women who has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships.

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What’s Our Resolution to Progress Gender Balance in the Workplace?

capgemini1As we enter 2018 with eager anticipation, it is a natural part of the transition into the new year to establish personal and career resolutions. Many business leaders consider ways to refresh the strategy for their organizations seeking to answer questions such as “How can my team help our organization achieve its goals with a greater impact?”

For Capgemini’s North America Corporate Responsibility Team, the answer is easy… We understand that to realize sustained change for greater gender equality we must facilitate courageous conversations, identify opportunities for improvements as they arise, and maintain accountability for our progress through measurable goals.

Some context on our current state:

In 2016 and 2017, Capgemini in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, became EDGE Certified. EDGE is the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender equality. Capgemini was awarded the recognition after a third-party review of its inclusion practices across five dimensions: equal pay for equivalent work, recruitment and promotion, leadership development training and mentoring, flexible working, and company culture. This recognition confirms our commitment to gender balance through impactful actions across North America, which include new benefits such as our backup care program. We will continue to be an innovative environment where our talent helps our clients transform business through solutions fueled by inclusion, diversity, and team development.

capgemini resolutions

Capgemini’s EDGE Certification set the stage for our thought leadership on diversity measurement in the workplace enabling best practices sharing with other companies and community partners. In 2017, Capgemini sponsored two external events with the Anti-Defamation League’s Women’s Initiative, which had cumulative audience totals of over 600 attendees. Capgemini representatives joined other business leaders in addressing global gender balance challenges and the related topic of unconscious bias.

In July and December of 2017, Capgemini North America hosted its first Women in Digital sessions in San Francisco, CA, and New York, NY. Capgemini’s Global Women@Capgemini Group created this strategic program to explore how women are driving change as executives, navigating organizations through digital disruption to innovation.

Capgemini was also proud to support the National Diversity Council’s Women in Leadership Symposiums (WILS). The program’s mission is to bring together a diverse mix of successful women leaders who, through the discussion of topics relevant to today’s issues, educate, inspire, and encourage women to reflect on their own goals and status as they strive to move higher in their organizations.

capgemini3Finally, Capgemini enhanced our Women’s Leadership Development Program (WLDP) to ensure a positive impact on the development of our women leaders. As a three-month program designed to provide training, mentoring, career objective-setting, and coaching for women in North America, WLDP is a signature program of the company’s talent development initiatives.

Our resolution for 2018:

We recognize that we need existing and future leaders contributing to the conversation on gender balance and equality in the workplace. This year we will empower our North America Employee Resource Group Leaders to build on last year’s 16,000+ hours of engagement through a focus on deeper partnerships with our leaders and clients to drive accountability across organizations, not only on gender balance but on all aspects of diversity and inclusion. In 2018, we will partner with our clients on everything from unconscious bias training to volunteering. We will continue to make progress by holding ourselves accountable to be the change we want to see through our behaviors anchored by our seven core values and leadership commitments. We’ve found past success where our grassroots efforts met our leadership goals and expect this year’s results to take us even further.

Janet Pope is a member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors. Additionally, she and her colleague Yvonne Harris work to grow the reach of Diversity & Inclusion initiatives at Capgemini North America.

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My Visit to MarketPlace: Handwork of India

marketplaceindia groupI have been a fan of MarketPlace: Handwork of India for decades, not simply because it is a Fair Trade organization but also because I love their clothing. I am the happy owner of many of their shirts (long and short sleeved), dresses (winter and summer), jackets, and wraps. Some of my clothes are bordering on 30 years old, faded and sadly, no longer available -- not even on the clearance site.

Generally, I make my purchases from the catalog, not from their website. I would wait until the catalog arrived to make my choices and over time, I began to notice that the catalog held more than just items to purchase. Indeed, it had stories and photographs of the women -- their lives at work, at their homes, their children, their recipes, their excursions, their wishes, their struggles, and accomplishments. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. This was not your usual catalog.

Since my Wellesley colleague Emmy Howe and I were traveling to Delhi for the Sex/Ed Conference in November 2017, we decided to schedule some visits in the Mumbai area. Among those we wanted to visit was the office of MarketPlace, located in the suburbs of Mumbai. After some negotiations with the CEO Pushpika Freitas and with input from the local director/supervisor, Linda Machado, we arranged to visit their office in the Santacruz East area of Mumbai.

IndiaMarketplaceWith our cell phones actively participating in locating the office, along with the skills of our car service driver, we arrived after lunch on November 14, 2017. About 12 women artisans were gathered together along with some staff -- they greeted us with a special handmade mandala on the floor, and after a candle lighting ceremony, they sang us a song that they had written.

Our conversation got off to a lively start as we shared with them a song, albeit on YouTube, “Bread and Roses” sung by Joan Baez, and told them about the history and lives of women workers in the garment industry in the U.S.

With translation provided by some of the social workers from the NGO part of MarketPlace, called SHARE, which is responsible for the social development and empowerment of the women, along with our host Linda Machado and with some of the artisans who spoke English, we discussed the MarketPlace clothing that I wore and how I had spread the word among my colleagues. In addition, and more substantively, we discussed some of the unique features that MarketPlace offered them -- help with the education of their children, literacy programs, health improvements, the kids programs (148 kids between ages 4-25 years old); and how some of them had been promoted from within from artisan to supervisor. As they were promoted within the organization, they were provided with additional training in accounting and bookkeeping. Throughout our time together, we detected their obvious pride in their work and in their organization. One of the women said, “If not given this opportunity, we’d be washing dishes or doing housework in someone else’s house.”

marketplace0group3

Another special experience awaited us after some of the women artisans left with their bags of garments, which needed their embroidery; we climbed the stairs to the workshop. There we met additional artisans who worked on sewing machines, creating some of the prototypes for new clothing. Best of all, we watched a weekly discussion group -- an article of interest from the newspaper was selected and a group of women, ranging in age from 20-70 years old, sat in a circle expressing their opinions. This week’s topic was on dowry, which provided for a heated conversation. Even though we could not follow the conversation in Hindi, we noticed the animation that it produced. I asked Linda privately if all of the women were literate and she told me that some were not but the articles were read aloud so all participants were able to be involved.

The visit with the artisans in Santacruz East was so meaningful and vivid, and I know that I speak for both Emmy and myself when I say that we treasured our time there and the photos that we have of it. I will buy their clothing with new meaning attached to each and every item. And a big thank you.

Nan Stein, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has conducted research on sexual harassment/gender violence in K-12 schools and teen dating violence for more than 30 years and co-led the Shifting Boundaries, school-based dating violence prevention program.

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What Happens to Gender Pay Gap Among College Educated?

sariblogWe all have heard it, women earn about 20 percent less than men. But when, how, and why does the gap emerge? Everyone has an opinion on it, and these opinions range widely – which leads to many frustrating public opinion exchanges. Are we eternally stuck in a rut arguing about what the relevant facts are? Or could administrative “big data” shed some new light here and help move us forward? We think so…

Two new studies find that college grads start their career with a tiny gender earnings gap, but end up with a substantial gap by age 45. What are women doing wrong, or men doing right, for this to happen? This seems to be a story about “career acrobatics”, one with chutes and ladders. First, it turns out that the gap widens both in existing jobs as men climb the career ladders faster and higher within firms, and through job changes since men disproportionately move across firms to higher paying ones as they age. By the time college grads reach their peak earnings, men earn on average 55 percent more than women.

What could possibly account for such enormous earnings gaps during the first 20 years of working life? Not surprisingly for anyone, a chunk of the initial gap and its subsequent growth comes from differences between men and women in terms of the sectors and occupations in which they work. Women are definitely over-represented in lower paying sectors and occupations. The best-known examples include teachers, nurses, occupational therapists, and social workers. Many commentators argue that women themselves are responsible for pay gaps as they choose careers where starting salary is low and salary growth modest with work experience and seniority. In reality, the reasons why women congregate in these occupations are complex, and addressing occupational gender differences requires societal changes. More importantly for the debate though, women are not “causing” the earnings gap with their “bad choices” – occupational segregation accounts for no more than a third of the overall earning gap. Something else is at work.

blog sari paygap2017Another expensive “choice” women make is motherhood. Women are more likely to move into part-time positions, take time off after having children and work fewer hours than men – even in full-time work. How much of that 55 percent gap does motherhood explain? Unfortunately our data does not give a direct answer to that, but arguably all of these factors contribute to the growing earnings gap between ages 25 and 45. What we can say though is that much of the widening of the earnings gap comes from married women: their earnings grow much more slowly with age and they see little benefit from job hopping compared with men and unmarried women. Why are they not able to capitalize on their college degree like others even by switching jobs? This may be related to a phenomenon called “tied migration.” Family makes their location decision based on the “primary career”, which usually is that of the husband. This is why job moves tend to only benefit that primary career and could even hurt the secondary career. Ironically, the primary career is typically chosen to be the one with greater earnings potential – bringing us right back to the gender pay gap conundrum. This begins to look like a self-reinforcing cycle.

Career choices that look “less than optimal” in terms of long-run earnings growth may also be explained by college educated women consciously moving to lower-paying firms (within a given industry) in anticipation of needing more time flexibility when children enter the picture. Similarly, the gender earnings gap is largest in sectors, such as financial, insurance, and real estate (FIRE), that are more unforgiving of career interruptions and shorter or more flexible work hours. At age 25-27, female college grads working in FIRE earn almost exactly as much as male college grads. However, already by age 30-32 men earn about 35 percent more. In this sector men are able to obtain greater career advancements within a given firm, but a sizeable chunk of the earnings gap is due to women’s disproportionate shift into lower-paying firms by age 34.

We promised that these data could help shed some new light, but there are still many questions in making sense of the patterns. For one, what happens to the career and earnings dynamics within households as the family composition changes? Time-use studies say that the arrival of children makes spouses specialize more: one parent focuses on work while the other takes more responsibility at home, often balancing a job in the mix. It is easy to guess how this specialization usually goes, but might the dynamics look different if it was the father rather than the mother who takes a career break? Answers to those questions can clarify policy recommendations. For example, would a Swedish-style shared parental leave policy reduce gender earnings gaps or do we need a more wholesale approach to workplace organization? The latter approach would include reducing the earnings and career cost of temporal flexibility, making a work-family balance easier for both moms and dads, and reduce the need to designate a “default parent” who takes over the majority of household and child-related responsibilities.

Sari Pekkala Kerr, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist/economist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her work described above is based on the research she conducted with Erling Barth, Claudia Goldin, and Claudia Olivetti.

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Adding a Lone African American to its Board is Unlikely to Solve Facebook’s Diversity Challenges

blog thumbsdown In a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus earlier in October, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, made a public commitment to appoint an African American to its currently all-white board of directors – in the foreseeable future.

The promise came when members of the Congressional Black Caucus were questioning Sandberg about the lack of diversity on Facebook’s board and at all levels of employment at Facebook where only three percent of employees are African Americans, and there are no black executives. Lawmakers confronted Sandberg about Facebook advertising that has been linked to Russian accounts purchased during the 2016 election that were connected to Black Lives Matter. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus said that if more blacks were in decision making positions, the connection with Russian accounts and anti-Black Lives Matter content may have been caught before the FBI looked into the issue.

But is one African American board member going to be able to bring a loud enough voice to change the status quo on the board and also move the company toward greater diversity in its rank and file? Drawing on our research on how many women it takes to change corporate board dynamics we conclude that a lone member of an underrepresented group is unlikely to be an effective voice for change.

blog sumruquoteMy colleagues Vicki Kramer, Allison Konrad, and I interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (nine male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. We found that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

While even one woman can make a positive contribution, more typically, the token minority person is simultaneously invisible as a peer who can contribute and hyper-visible for being different from the majority, with irrelevant aspects of their demographic difference overshadowing their professional skills. We heard examples of lone women directors being talked over and otherwise ignored when they responded to a strategy question but asked about their preference for home decorating. In other words, being a token tends to be a powerless position.

Having two people different from the majority is generally an improvement over the token position. But it is corporations with three or more different people on their boards that tend to benefit the most from the diverse perspectives they can bring. Our results showed that with three or more women, board discussions expanded to include the interests of multiple stakeholders, including the community and to pursue answers to difficult questions such as CEO compensation and diversity. Three or more women were also able to change board dynamics toward a more collaborative approach to leadership, improving communication among directors and between the board and management.

Important to note is that Facebook’s board is currently comprised of eight individuals—six white men and two white women—and two of these individual are the inside directors, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. This elite structure reflects the lack of a wider perspective of viewpoints, experiences, concerns, priorities, and sensitivities. While this may have helped the organization’s growth, there are corporate responsibilities beyond the bottom line.

If Facebook is serious about its diversity problem, adding one African American to its board is not going to be enough. It takes a critical mass of three or more people who are different from the majority to bring about change on a board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., is senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research interests include women’s leadership, racial/cultural norms and identity in youth and families, and adolescent development.

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#MeToo is a step forward, but it's time for bystanders and perpetrators to stand up

metooI applaud the strength and solidarity of the women (and men, too) who are asserting with the hashtag #MeToo, that they are among the estimated one in five women who have been sexually assaulted and one in four working women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted each year in the U.S. Enough IS enough. What I now want to know is how many men will stand up against it. Maybe things are changing… It did not take long before we saw that men were writing #IHave and now as I suggest #IWill which can reflect steps they are taking and will take to end the role they have had in promoting gender-based violence and sexual assault, to assert that they will NOT stand by while sexual harassment and assault happen, that they will call it out when they see it.

Classic rape is recognized as a crime --- when a male stranger attacks a woman at night, kidnaps her, or breaks into her home, and then forces her at gunpoint to submit to sexual acts it is (usually) seen as rape. But this does NOT describe most rape, nor are most perpetrators of sexual assault strangers. Those of us working in this field have recognized for years that most rape occurs at the hands of someone the victim knows. While some of what draws our attention today is workplace sexual harassment not involving sexual contact, clearly in the context of the Harvey Weinstein allegations we are hearing about actual sexual contact, forced sexual contact, contact against the will of the victim. The lawyers can tell you what statute covers this behavior in your particular state, but when it occurs without the consent of the woman or child or when she is unable to consent, this is a crime. A serious crime that can result in jail time, a crime which should result in the attention of the criminal justice system-- though nine times out of ten it does not.

We have known for decades that most rape is perpetrated by men known to the victim; study after study have found that many hundreds of thousands of women and girls (as well as many men and boys) are sexually assaulted each year. So why are we still surprised to hear about it today? (Yes, we are doing better responding to sexual assault and, yes, it is gratifying to see the support that the women who have come forward to report what has happened to them in Hollywood are now—mostly—receiving. But year after year after year this is still with us.)

Again and again we see a backlash against the victims. Perhaps our system of justice will prosecute those who rape very small children or 97-year-olds, or those who assault women who are the valued mothers and daughters of powerful white men, but most sexual assault is not reported and, even when reported, does not lead to an arrest or prosecution.

blogquote linda metooWe must remember it is not only Hollywood producers who sexually assault and not only young actors who are the victims. The rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault include:

  • the boss of a 17-year-old working in a fast food restaurant who needs her job so she can go to college, or
  • the supervisor of a 30-year-old mother who is a dishwasher, waitress, cashier, salesperson and needs her low wage part-time job to feed her family,
  • the manager who knows his employee can’t quit or take the chance of being fired so she won’t report or can’t find the time to go to the police or to court to press her case,
  • the manager, the frat-boy or the professor who knows the victim won’t risk the shame and humiliation of reporting and this won’t make it dangerous for him to continue assaulting her or others,
  • The senior colleague of an assistant professor who will decide her fate on the promotion and tenure committee,
  • The fellow student, the upperclassman or the star football player who knows his attention will flatter the first-year student or the jock who knows after she has had a lot to drink that he has a good chance of getting away with a sexual assault-- he knows that when she passes out in the dorm room, or by a dumpster in the parking lot, or no matter what happens to her, she will be too afraid to scream out or report what this star athlete has done,
  • Or a bus driver or taxi driver, priest, teacher, uncle, military superior, or neighbor who assaults the mother of his child’s best friend,
  • Finally there is the ex-boyfriend or partner who thinks that he is entitled to sex because she consented in the past, because he knows her secrets and can prey on her fears, insecurities, or her shame.

This is the reality of rape—a crime most likely perpetrated by a man known to the victim – an acquaintance, “friend,” classmate, employer, or partner. Such rape is more common than stranger rape. In spite of extensive data showing that rape is underreported, rarely falsely reported, and even after many Harvey Weinsteins--too many to count-- many still hold inaccurate beliefs about the nature of rape, when and to whom it happens, and its impact on the victim—the women who are young and old; Black, white and brown; rich and poor.

Yes, it is notable that women can now join in and feel supported enough to tweet #MeToo and in so doing make it clear that rape is not rare, that rape can happen to anyone. But now, it is also time to ask the bystanders and the actual or wanna-be perpetrators to stand up and say #IHave to indicate “I sexually assaulted someone,” “I stood by while my friends or classmates or colleagues did it,” or “I know men who bragged about it.” And use the hashtag #IWill to assert they will no longer stand by and do nothing but instead that they will stand up and support victims and survivors. #IWill stand up and call out these behaviors even when powerful men state “I just start kissing them. I don't even wait...when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is senior research scientist and director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.


Need help or assistance? In the U.S., call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673.

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In India, Action to End Child Marriage Has a Long Way to Go

india schoolgirl blog crop2The Supreme Court of India ruled last week that sex with one’s wife under 18 years of age will be deemed as rape for which the husband can face up to 10 years of imprisonment. This judgement, being hailed as “landmark” by Indian media, irons out a major discrepancy in the Indian law: while the age of consent for women in India is 18, an exception in the Indian penal code allowed men to have sex with their wives between 15-18 years of age regardless of their consent (Indian law does not acknowledge marital rape).

While it is indeed a laudable step on part of the Indian judiciary that called out the “artificial distinction” between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child to be “arbitrary and discriminatory”, the judgement puts the spotlight on the issue of child marriage itself. A recent study conducted by IndiaSpend -- a journalism non-profit -- found that nearly 12 million Indian children are married before the age of 10, a mind-boggling figure that shows that child marriage continues to be a real and persistent threat in the country. We also know that early marriage can be disastrous for a girl’s sexual and reproductive health. According to Girls Not Brides, complication in pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 globally. Considering that, this indeed is a landmark judgement which will now present a barrier to men wanting to consummate their marriages with their underage brides. However, the moment one begins to think about the wider socio-cultural context that child marriages take place in, the judgement sounds wildly optimistic and impracticable.

india childmarriage quoteIt is common knowledge that there is a link between lower levels of education and early marriage. The IndiaSpend research also found that as many as 5.4 million married under the age of 10 were illiterate, and 80 percent of them were female. Given that we are talking of a largely illiterate female population that is subjected to child marriage, what are the chances of them seeking legal recourse when faced with the prospect of forced consummation of marriage? Child marriage is also very often a discreet affair, one that is deeply entrenched in patriarchal values and traditions, and wary of the State machinery. Given how little agency a girl child has in a marriage, it is highly unlikely that she will report her husband for having sex with her. What, then, is the way forward? The obvious answer is education. It has always been known that educating girls and boys is one of the most effective ways of eradicating child marriage. Even the government of India acknowledged it when it said that child marriage is a reality in India due to economic and educational inequalities. However, what our government really meant was that given that child marriage is a reality, we might as well allow the consummation of marriage before the legal age of consent because “the institution of marriage must be protected”.

The government’s paranoia regarding the institution of marriage, as if it were more endangered than the Bengal tiger, is preposterous. And I don’t mean to be facetious about this. The government’s delusion is both amusing and scary; it has used this defence not only to argue for lower age of consent in child marriages but also against criminalizing marital rape which is an ongoing battle in the courts. In fact, in defence of not criminalizing marital rape, the government said that India could not follow the lead of western countries as “India has its own unique problems due to uneven literacy, economic and social diversity." Granted that India is an extremely complex terrain for the implementation of any such law, it cannot be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. Besides, it is not the government’s job to uphold the institution of marriage and what they call the Indian family system, based on the assumption that sexual consent is implicit in marriage and a nod to women’s autonomy will destabilize the institution. This is important because unless the government gets its priorities right, it will not be able to focus on levelling the “uneven” playing field that it acknowledges as the cause of social problems, also required for the effective implementation of women-friendly laws.

Nandita headshotNandita Dutta is deputy manager at the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) at Ashoka University in India. CSGS is a partner of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Envisioning a World of Feminist Peace

catiapostSince 1981, the United Nations has observed International Day of Peace on September 21. In its resolution, the UN marked the day as a “globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.” But how far along are we in this process? Terrorism, nuclear weapons, militarization, and other visible forms of violence are in plain sight. And if one considers the hidden and silenced forms of violence, it is difficult to be optimistic.

As a global and long term trend, some popular and academic publications would have us believe that violence in the world (from wars to homicide) is declining. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, the 2013 Human Security Report, or Joshua Goldstein’s Winning the War on War argue that the data at our disposal shows that, not only has the number of interstate and intrastate wars decreased, battle-related casualties have also been in a downward trend since the end of the Cold War. Pinker goes as far as saying that recorded violent deaths have been on the decline at least since 10,000 BCE.

As feminists, however, we know better than to trust just numbers as if they were the only data at our disposal. Feminist scholarship and advocacy shows that those numbers and statistics are misleading, particularly as they ignore and make invisible violence against women and girls (VAWG). Monash University Professor Jacqui True claims that if qualitative and quantitative data on VAWG are taken seriously, we are not witnessing a decline in violence, quite the opposite. Feminists have exposed the extent and gravity of political violence committed in the home (so commonly characterized as non-political, because ‘domestic’); the underreporting and ignoring of sexualized and gender-based violence; and the multiple forms of harm – psychological, physical or economic – suffered by women and girls as a consequence of unequal gendered power structures during armed conflicts as well as in so-called peace times.

Feminist insights compel us to make violence and threats of VAWG central to our definition of peace. If VAWG is increasing, we cannot really say that we, as a human species, are getting better at peace. The challenge is then to recognize and make visible VAWG, its causes and consequences, as a precondition to, but also as inextricably linked to achieving a more peaceful and just world. In the view of the world’s longest-operating international women’s peace organization – Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), feminist peace is expansive and inclusive. It is about recognizing all forms of oppression and violence as interrelated; about questioning how systems of power and privilege – from neoliberal capitalism and patriarchy, to militarism and racism – underlie and sustain a violent world; about providing feminist visions and models for a different, more just and peaceful future.

catiaquoteWILPF has been one of many women’s peace organizations who successfully lobbied the UN Security Council to recognize, in Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), that peace and security are linked to gender equality. Specifically, UNSCR 1325 – and several follow-up resolutions in subsequent years – created obligations for UN member states and other parties in armed conflicts – i.e., non-state actors, militias, humanitarian agencies, etc. – to adopt a “gender perspective” in the prevention of war, in peace processes, and in relief and recovery efforts. Often criticized for, among other things, adopting a narrow view of gender, UNSCR 1325 nevertheless recognizes the particular ways in which women are victimized during war, as well as the ways in which they participate in armed conflicts and in subsequent peace efforts.

A 2015 report on the implementation of the resolution – authored in consultation with women’s groups across the world by Radhika Coomaraswamy – shows, however, the chasm between feminist peace activists’ goals and the political and financial support their agenda receives from international and state policymakers. For example, despite growing evidence that women’s participation in peace negotiations contributes to the durability of peace agreements, there continues to be a reluctance to include women in conflict resolution and peace-building processes. Despite strong links between women’s rights (such as the right to education, health, political participation and leadership, or property) and their security and bodily integrity, gender equality is yet to become a central organizing principle of post-conflict humanitarian assistance, development, or human rights work.

Coomaraswamy’s report offers unmistakable evidence of the connections between justice, peace, and gender equality. Commitment to “Peace above all differences” and to “building a Culture of Peace” commands us, then, to take seriously both the work of feminist peace advocates and feminism as a lens with which to approach questions of peace, justice, and security. Only then can we begin to establish the conditions and institutions that nurture and support non-violent and just human relations, and recognize the inherent worthiness and dignity of every human being.

Scholar and activist around issues of peace and gender, Catia Confortini, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Wellesley College and a member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

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Back to School, This Time with Social and Emotional Learning

27659266260 e65542181d zIt’s back-to-school time and families, youth, and educators must adjust their schedules for another school year. In the midst of the forms and information families receive – or that get “lost” in a child’s backpack or locker – you may have heard something about a social and emotional learning (SEL) initiative or curriculum. In fact, the local school system in my rural, seaside community is convening a team of educators to consider how SEL can inform and improve what teachers are already doing to promote positive youth outcomes.

SEL refers to the way individuals learn and use a set of social, emotional, behavioral, and character skills to navigate successfully in school, work, and relationships across the lifespan. Related experiences, programs, and curriculum vary widely just like the school or afterschool settings in which they are taught. Whether the particular program is focused on conflict resolution, character education, bullying prevention, or another version of social skills instruction, the development of SEL programs is based on the consensus among social scientists, educators, and health care professionals that social and emotional skills matter. The positive youth outcomes from high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs include improvements in behavior, attitudes, and academic outcomes. (Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405- 432).

Across the country at all levels of education – from state administrators of federal child care funds to infant-toddler and early childcare teachers or public school and afterschool leaders – a focus on SEL practices is gaining ground. For many, this is not a new conversation.

Here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, SEL has been an ongoing part of our work for the past thirty years.

  • In 1987, Open Circle was launched as a research project committed to the social and emotional wellbeing of children. Today, Open Circle provides a unique, evidence-based SEL program for grades K-5 aimed at proactively developing children’s skills for recognizing and managing emotions, positive relationships and problem solving, as well as helping schools develop a community where students feel safe and engaged in learning.
  • The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) has brought national attention to the importance of children's out-of-school time using research, training, and advocacy to strengthen children's emotional, physical, and social development.

gwynneblogFrom my desk at NIOST, I’m starting the school year by working at the national, state, and local levels to support educators and administrators in their efforts to promote positive youth outcomes, especially in the expanding field of SEL. Specifically, I am researching the SEL programs that states are currently adopting in preparation for our forthcoming workshop for out-of-school time (OST) leaders on how to integrate these practices into school-age child care or other OST settings. As I do this work, my background as a former school committee member and education advocate means I can’t resist passing along the newest SEL information that comes across my desk to the regional school administrators in my community who are convening the SEL planning discussions for local schools.

If you want more information about SEL programs and practices, check out the Wallace Foundation’s May 2017 report, Navigating SEL from the Inside Out.

If you simply want to celebrate the importance and purpose of afterschool care for the wellbeing of children and families, consider joining the 18th annual Lights On Afterschool on October 26, 2017. This campaign includes a series of events across the U.S. promoting awareness of the many ways OST programs contribute to positive youth outcomes and children’s wellbeing.

If you have other ideas or resource recommendations for how SEL can be incorporated more into OST programming, please share in the comments. Let’s make this a rewarding year all-around for our young people and those who support them!

Gwynne Guzzeau, M.S., J.D., is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She has been affiliated with the Gestalt International Study Center for a number of years as a faculty member and Professional Associate and served as executive director from 2014-2016.

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Developing Babies’ Literacy Skills

BlogBabyTalkFriday, September 8, is International Literacy Day! In my opinion, every day should be called Literacy Day given its critical importance to all. This is especially true for very young children as developing language and pre-literacy skills are paramount to later academic success.

Parents, caregivers and other adults can do so much to help young children with these needed skills starting with their birth. Talking with babies before they even can use words helps them learn. Talking and discussing what you are doing while you are doing it, such as diapering, or preparing a bottle can become natural and spontaneous if done often enough. Conversations can happen throughout the day including times of bathing, playing, diapering, or feeding. Adults can talk with the infant and about what s/he sees or about what is happening. When you are outside, talk about what you see as well as what the baby is looking at. This joint referencing helps to teach the infant about the world by providing the words that go with an object or event. When very young, the adult follows the baby’s gaze, and at about six months, the baby is able to observe an adult’s gaze, look in the same direction and look at the same object. Experiences of joint referencing predict children’s understanding of words (receptive language) and well as their spoken vocabulary (expressive language).

Even singing helps babies with their language and literacy skills- no matter how well you sing. Silly songs can get babies’ attention, while repeating familiar songs can help calm and soothe them. You can even make up songs as it is the sound of your voice that is most important to the baby.

Reading27742524862 492ed3471a z and sharing books begins at birth. Try to read aloud to your baby every day! With the very young infant you may look at only one page of a book- in time, you can look together at two or more. Turning the pages, labeling pictures and describing what is happening on the page all lead to vocabulary and grammar development. Reading to your baby also predicts their early reading and writing skills! Cuddling together to read and share books is a very pleasant experience for both the infant and you! These very early enjoyable experiences can lead to a life-long love of reading. When there are plenty of books available, an infant may even try to look at the pictures in books on her/his own. And, remember your local library is a good source of books for your infant.

When a baby’s life is filled with talk, conversations, and books, the infant has a good start on the road to academic success.

Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., is a senior research scientist and member of the Work, Families and Children Team at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. Her research focuses on child development, early care and education, and school readiness, with a focus on policy implications.

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Addressing DACA Impact on School Climate

diversechildrengroupThe Trump administration has announced the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This decision will affect 800,000 young people in our country. Within six months, they could lose their protected status. This will undoubtedly impact students and their families in a profound way.

At Open Circle, we are deeply concerned about how this will affect the way students engage with school, teachers, and their peers. It’s important to acknowledge that this decision will have ripple effects that will permeate every facet of a school community since schools reflect the fears, concerns, hopes, and aspirations of the neighborhoods they serve.

It is critical during these times of uncertainty that schools remain places where children and families feel welcomed, safe, and cared for. Equipping our children with skills and tools to talk about and express their feelings is essential to emotional wellbeing. Key to this process is providing time in the school day when students are explicitly taught social emotional learning (SEL) skills and have the opportunity to share their emotions and experiences in a non-judgmental, nurturing environment. Encouraging this skill building and providing this communication channel ensures that children are well cared for and able to stay engaged in school.

Focusing on the quality of relationships is another important way to support your school community. It is important to reassure children and families that the positive relationships they have nurtured within their school community remain strong and unwavering.

As educators, we should be aware that feelings of anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and sadness may arise for many members of our school community.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • As much as possible, keep the lines of communication open and free-flowing.
  • Be clear on what your school stands for and reaffirm your mission and commitments to the students and families.
  • Give grace and empathy when necessary.
  • Create time in each day for both students and staff members to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Teach specific coping strategies and give students opportunities to practice.
  • Provide children with the tools they need to manage their feelings and give them permission to express the range of emotions that will no doubt be present.
  • Schedule time daily for meditation, calm breathing or reflection through journaling or sitting quietly. These practices can reduce stress and increase focus which supports learning.
  • Take care of the emotional needs of the adult community. We must first attend to our needs before we can adequately care for the needs of our children.
  • Share facts about current events as you understand them with students.

Sometimes we think that making students aware of what’s going on in the news will make them upset or anxious. Saying nothing may invite rumors and heightened anxiety. Students need to receive and process information with the guidance of caring adults.

Whether or not the rescinding of DACA directly impacts us or people we know, we will all feel the effects of this in our lives. Our children need to know that there are adults who care, and who are willing to support them no matter what. SEL programs such as Open Circle can provide schools with the structure and resources they need to help children successfully navigate challenging circumstances.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester was named Open Circle's new Director in July 2017. Prior to that she led Open Circle’s teacher development programming, which prepares educators to implement and integrate the Open Circle Curriculum. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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New Messages in Boston Race Protests

AHoffmanBlogPost

In 1973, when I was 21, I dropped out of college in New Jersey and moved to Boston. I didn’t have a clear plan or strong reason for the move. A girl I knew, on whom I was developing a huge crush, had relocated here; so had my boyfriend (life was complicated). The bookstores in Harvard Square stayed open until midnight—in contrast to the town I’d grown up in, which had no bookstores at all. It seemed like a cool place to be.

So I was new to the city, and living in my own world of discovering feminism and sharing collective apartments and working at odd jobs and coming out. I was not aware of Judge Arthur Garrity’s ruling in 1974 ordering students to be bused from neighborhood to neighborhood in order to desegregate the Boston Public Schools. I may not even have been aware of the violence that greeted the first black students to attend South Boston High, who were abused and threatened and pelted with rocks. Gradually, I learned. I remember being at a party at which half of the guests suddenly grabbed their coats and rushed out, someone having received a call that a black family in the South End was being attacked and needed defenders. These same progressives and others organized marches against the racist violence, but their outcry didn’t make much of an impression, in a city whose politics were dominated by ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights), the South Boston Marshals, and other antibusing groups.

I didn’t really understand what had happened in Boston until years later, after I did some reading about the city’s neighborhoods; the class, racial, and ethnic tensions that shaped them; and how they were changing because of redlining and gentrification—in particular, The Death of an American Jewish Community: A Tragedy of Good Intentions, by Hillel Levine; Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families, by J. Anthony Lukas; and All Souls: A Family Story From Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald.

The contrast between then and last weekend—when more than 40,000 people (from within the city, its suburbs, and beyond) turned out on a hot, humid August day to protest a so-called Free Speech Rally on Boston Common that threatened to give a platform to racists, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members—is astounding. From my vantage point, my fellow marchers seemed to come from all walks of life: students, union members, elders, yuppies. Blacks, whites, Latino/as, Asians, Native Americans. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. LGBTQ folks and straights. Feminists, anarchists, socialists, Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans. Most of the signs were home-made, and they, like the marchers who carried them, were both serious and joyful: “Black Lives Matter,” “Jewish Lesbian Against White Supremacy,” “The Only Thing We Hate is the Yankees,” and “Boston Ain’t Nazi-Town.” At one time, I wouldn’t have been so sure of that. Yet Mayor Marty Walsh seemed to have no doubt that he was speaking for most of his constituents when he declared, “We reject racism, we reject white supremacy, we reject anti-Semitism, we reject the KKK, we reject neo-Nazis, we reject domestic terrorism and we reject hatred, and we will do every single thing in our power to keep hate out of our city.”

amyh bostonmarchHow did this turnaround happen? I’m glad of it, but I don’t know. Some of the people I talked to theorized about a better-educated population, a two-term black president, more understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people and other nonmainstream folk—and even the experience of the 1970s, from which at least some white people in Boston concluded that the anger, fear, and hatred that they directed toward people of color caused only misery and destruction—not only to others but even to themselves.

Surely some of it has to do with demographic changes. Boston is no longer as white as it was in the 1970s, and its neighborhoods are not quite as segregated (although don’t get me wrong, they are segregated still). People with wildly different backgrounds, cultures, and values have more day-to-day interaction—at work, on their block, in stores, on the T. Crime is down. Art, music, literary, and cultural events are not confined to Symphony Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hatch Shell on the Fourth of July—there are happenings throughout the neighborhoods that draw people out into the open, to enjoy them together.

Yet Boston remains a city of enormous economic inequality, institutional racism, struggling schools, and expensive housing and mass transit. The old fault lines could easily re-open, as people compete for scarce resources. After the march, some—cynics? realists?—said, “Nice turnout—now what?” For August 19 to be meaningful, we have to keep it going. For some of us, the protest was just one of a life-long series of actions, while for others it was a first. For all of us—certainly for me—it is an inspiration to keep marching in a positive direction, by remaining engaged and active, by working for justice and peace.

A writer, editor, and community activist, Amy Hoffman, M.F.A., is the editor-in-chief of Women’s Review of Books, published by the Wellesley Centers for Women and Old City Publishing. Her most recent book is The Off Season, a novel, forthcoming from the University of Wisconsin Press.

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Reflections on Charlottesville

layli charlottesville 2

Why has it been so hard to eliminate racism in the United States, despite concerted and valiant efforts, ever-growing numbers of people of goodwill, lots of good thinking about the issue, and some clear-cut progress and gains over the years? As a researcher and director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, a research institute with a demonstrated commitment to gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing in all its forms, including ending racism, my mind turns more to questions than answers today, in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville this past Saturday, August 12.

Questions I am asking include things like: What are we doing that we think is working but which actually isn’t working? What do we need to do that we aren’t doing that would actually work? Which of the things we are actually doing do work and just need more time or more people involved? And, in what ways do we need to more deeply operationalize things we know to be true but tend to abandon to the realm of platitudes? How can we more effectively move from intellectual knowledge to concrete action to measurable social transformation?

Last week, I spent a week in retreat with members of my religious community, the Baha’í Faith. For two of those days, I led discussions addressing the elimination of racism, which Baha’ís refer to as “The Most Challenging Issue.” We gave thought to the inner (self-focused) and outer (public) actions and practices needed to truly eliminate racism, and we asked some hard questions about our own practices and the practices of others in the social change field. We reflected deeply on passages such as these, penned 1938 by Shoghi Effendi, who was charged with guarding the unity of our Faith as it grew from local to global:

“Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá’í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá’í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies.”

“A tremendous effort is required by both races if their outlook, their manners, and conduct are to reflect, in this darkened age, the spirit and teachings of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. Let them, while each is attempting to contribute its share to the solution of this perplexing problem, call to mind the warnings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and visualize, while there is yet time, the dire consequences that must follow if this challenging and unhappy situation that faces the entire American nation is not definitely remedied.”

Our takeaways from these days of contemplation and discourse left us poignantly aware that inner and outer work must constantly run parallel, allowing us to transform into beings who actually desire and actively create justice, peace, and harmony, from the level of our deepest gut feelings to the level of our highest spiritual aspirations. To think all the “right” thoughts and hold all the “right” values is not enough, because the transformation of society requires so much more.

layli charlottesville 1As a developmental psychologist who works from an ecological systems theory framework, I know that interventions on racism must take place at every level from the most interior to the most distal, in order to be successful and sustainable. Yet, as a lifelong scholar of both African American studies and women’s studies, I also know that we must perpetually refresh our understanding about what kinds of social movement methods work, and we must stay tuned in to when and where they need refinement. Sometimes, our assumptions about what kinds of methods work and why they work (or don’t work) need to be questioned.

As a developmental psychologist, I also can confirm that babies don’t enter the world knowing hate. Hate is learned by imitation, but it is also absorbed passively through language and imagery, and stimulated by deprivation, hardship, ridicule, and trauma. While unchecked power and privilege, often conferred by birth circumstances, also have the power to accelerate hate, these alone are not sufficient to create it. There is a complex calculus to how hate is created – which means there is also a complex calculus to how it can and must be uncreated. We are sophisticated enough now as a society to figure this out and execute on that knowledge.

A big part of my talk at the Baha’í retreat centered on the politics of invitation, the notion of inviting others to a better world, as differentiated from the politics of opposition, which rely on fighting and struggling our way to a better world. If unity is the goal, opposition cannot logically be the means to that end. And we now know that, psychologically, opposition to people and their views only entrenches them further in their views. So, what other methods might we consider if we want to eradicate racism and promote justice, peace, commonweal, and amity?

All of us can take small everyday actions to eradicate racism, and some of us can take sweeping, expansive actions to catalyze the eradication of racism on a broad scale. What’s stopping us? Please share your questions and thoughts about how we can genuinely eliminate racism from our country and the world!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

 

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13 Reasons Why and the Need for Correct Messages About Teen Depression and Suicide

13 Reasons Why Character Poster Clay Jensen

By now, parents and professionals have reacted to the new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Mental health advocates and school administrators have highlighted the risks of depicting suicide as a means of revenge, of dramatizing teen suicide, and of showing school counselors as uncaring and ineffective. I would be remiss if I did not add my voice to others' by expressing my dismay that this program exposes teens to such unhealthy messages about such an important topic, and that teen depression is presented as a malady that can only be addressed through suicide.

Rather than repeating the many critiques of this series, my purpose here is to share correct messages about adolescent depression and suicide that we, as professionals and parents, should know and should be sharing with our children. Of course this is a difficult topic to broach with adolescents, but given that so many teens have watched this series already, we must embrace this opportunity to teach our children, and ourselves, about youth depression and suicide. This conversation is particularly important now, in the midst of Mental Health Awareness Month.

In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, and rates of suicidal thinking and behavior are particularly high among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual youth. While youth depression and youth suicide are distinct concerns, approximately half of all teens that die by suicide have a mood disorder, such as depression, at the time. Adolescent depression is quite common, with approximately 11 percent of all teens experiencing depression during adolescence. Although youth depression is prevalent and impairing, we now have available numerous depression prevention and treatment protocols that work. Thus, most teens who struggle with depression go on to lead healthy and productive lives.

How do we know if a teen might be experiencing depression or considering suicide? Among other symptoms, signs of youth depression include low mood or irritability, lack of interest in activities, a change to sleep or eating patterns, reduced concentration, fatigue, low self-esteem, and thoughts of death or suicide. Of course all teens experience such symptoms now and then. We worry about teens that experience a cluster of these symptoms, and when these symptoms persist over a period of at least two weeks.

tracy thirteenreasons quoteLikewise, we worry about teens that exhibit signs of suicide. Sometimes these signs are subtle, such as giving away prized possessions, withdrawing from friends, or exhibiting significant behavioral changes, such as intense fights with family and friends. Teens thinking about suicide may also provide verbal cues, such as, “I wish I were dead” and “It’s not worth it anymore.” Also, many people who contemplate suicide do so because they believe they are a burden to others, and that they will be doing others a favor if they are no longer here. Thus, if you hear a teen say, “My family would be better off without me,” it is important to take action. Remember that 50-70 percent of people who make a suicide attempt communicate their intent prior to acting, mostly through such actions or verbal cues. Thus, if you recognize any of these signs, it is important to ASK. Although many of us find it scary to ask about suicide, or worry that asking about suicide will give someone the idea to attempt suicide, we know from numerous studies that talking about suicide will not lead to suicidal behavior.

How do you ask a teen if s/he might be thinking about suicide? Ask the question directly. It is okay to ask a teen if s/he has ever felt like it would be better if they were dead, or if, when very upset, they have experienced suicidal thoughts. If a teen acknowledges suicidal thoughts, s/he should be provided reassurance that help is available, and should be brought for an evaluation and treatment immediately. It’s important to remember that most people who talk about suicide do not really want to die. In fact, most suicides are not impulsive acts, and most people who contemplate suicide give many cues of their intentions, making suicide a largely preventable form of death in the United States.

The primary danger of 13 Reasons Why is that it reinforces damaging myths about youth depression and suicide. Now that this series has been released, and knowing that our teens may well have watched it, our best course of action is to counter those damaging myths by sharing important truths about teen depression and suicide.

Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, as well as the director of the Robert S. and Grace W. Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives, which focus on research and evaluation designed to prevent the onset of mental health concerns in children and adolescents.

References:

Avenevoli, S., Swendsen, J., He, J., Burstein, M., & Merikangas, K. R. (2015). Major depression in the national comorbidity survey–adolescent supplement: Prevalence, correlates, and treatment. Journal of The American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 37-44. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2014.10.010
Berkowitz, Larry (2017). Suicide Assessment and Intervention Training for Mental Health Professionals [PowerPoint slides]. NEAS, 2400 Post Road, Warwick, RI.
Burton, C. M., Marshal, M. P., Chisolm, D. J., Sucato, G. S., & Friedman, M. S. (2013). Sexual minority-related victimization as a mediator of mental health disparities in sexual minority youth: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of youth and adolescence, 42(3), 394-402.
Gould, M.S., Marrocco, F.A., Kleinman, M., Thomas, J.G., Mosstkoff, K., Cote, J., & Davies, M. (2005). Evaluating iatrogenic risk of youth suicide screening programs: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 293(13), 1635-43.
Joiner, T. (2009). The interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior: Current empirical status. Psychological Science Agenda, 23(6).
Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., Hawkins, J., Harris, W. A., ... & Whittle, L. (2014). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance--United States, 2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Surveillance Summaries. Volume 63, Number SS-4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nadworny, E. (2016). Middle School Suicides Reach an All-Time High. www.NPR.org
Nock, M.K., Green, J.G., Hwang, I., McLaughlin, K.A., Sampson, N.A., Zaslavsky, A.M., & Kessler, R.C. (2013). Prevalence, correlates, and treatment of lifetime suicide behavior among adolescents: results from the Nation Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(3), 300-10.
QPR Institute. QPR Online Gatekeeper Training for ORGANIZATIONS [Training modules]. Retrieved from https://www.qprinstitute.com/organization-training
Robins, E., Gassner, S., Kayes, J., Wilkinson Jr, R. H., & Murphy, G. E. (1959). The communication of suicidal intent: a study of 134 consecutive cases of successful (completed) suicide. American Journal of Psychiatry, 115(8), 724-733.
The JED Foundation. (2017). 13 Reasons Why: Talking Points [Leaflet]. Retrieved from https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/
World Health Orgranization. (2004, September 8). Suicide huge but preventable public health problem, says WHO [Online forum post]. Retrieved from WHO Media centre website: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2004/pr61/en/

 

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A Week to Appreciate Afterschool Professionals – April 24-28

SocialGraphic EmpoweringIt’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week! Perhaps we should back up - what is an Afterschool Professional? Maybe you call them staff, teachers, or care providers. There are many names for the same thing – someone trained to work with youth during out-of-school time.

This week is a chance to recognize the “professional” in Afterschool Professionals. We know that afterschool matters for kids, and that afterschool professionals impact the quality of that programming. Some fun facts:

  • Participation in afterschool programs consistently increased from 2004 to 2014, rising by nearly 2 million children from 2009 to 2014 alone. In 2014, 10.2 million children (18%) participated in an afterschool program.
  • Regular participation in afterschool programs has been shown to help narrow the achievement gap between high- and low-income students in math, improve academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce school absences.
  • The Afterschool field has defined what it takes to provide quality afterschool programming. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) has adopted a set of Core Knowledge and Competencies, and at least 24 states have their own versions.
  • Afterschool Professionals are well-educated. A recent NAA survey of its members found that 34% of staff surveyed reported having a Masters or Doctorate degree.

And some less fun facts:

  • Less than half of afterschool professionals surveyed have access to health insurance and 39% do not have any benefits (such as insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, retirement savings).
  • The field suffers from high turnover (with some estimates up to 40% annually), with pay cited as the number one reason people leave their job.

So how can you show your appreciation? The actions of this week should be twofold. First, express your individual appreciation for those in your community who work with youth – maybe your own children - afterschool. Give them a card with words of heartfelt thanks, bake them some muffins, say thanks. But don’t stop there. Second, take some time to appreciate the incredible contribution of afterschool professionals in improving youth academic, behavioral, and social emotional outcomes. Given the proposed budget cuts of the current administration, it seems an opportune time to also suggest you contact your representatives and let them know how much you support afterschool professionals (the Afterschool Alliance also has information to guide you).

This week is a chance to both thank Afterschool Professionals for keeping our kids safe and happy, and to think bigger about what it takes to be an afterschool professional and the huge positive impact they have on the lives of youth. So, to all the Afterschool Professionals, thank you!

Betsy Starr, M.Ed. is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

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Female Kicker Makes History

FootballStock

When Arizona high school senior Becca Longo on Wednesday officially signed on to be a kicker for Division II Adams State University Football, it was notable for a key reason: She was getting paid.

Of course, she is not literally getting paid. But she is getting a scholarship to play. There is growing history of female athletes playing football at the college level, but it’s not clear that any others have been recruited and given an athletic scholarship.

Katie Hnida, who played for Colorado and then New Mexico, walked on. And while Shelley Osborne in 2014 was recruited from Jeffersonville High in Indiana to play defensive back at Campbellsville University in Kentucky, they play in the NAIA, which does not award scholarships. (Three years later, however, she is still on the roster as an active member of the team.

Why do scholarship dollars matter?

Symbolically it’s a big deal. Not only for the obvious problem women have getting paid the same money for the same work as men (the wage gap now stands at 82 cents to the dollar men earn). But the scholarship also begins to challenge an historic bias about how males and females view and participate in sports. Culturally, there is an assumption that men play to win and women play for fun and fitness, notions reinforced through the origins and structures of sport opportunities.

It has taken decades for female athletes to be viewed as individuals every bit as driven and intense as their male counterparts. The scholarship helps make that case for one simple reason: When coaches recruit, they don’t waste money. They are picking talent and assembling the elements of their team with a goal of winning.

Credit Adams State coach, former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Timm Rosenbach.  He told media that he just picked a player he thought could compete. “I see her as a football player who earned it,” he said. “She has a strong leg and can be very accurate.” Last season Longo made 30 of 33 point-after kicks and a 30-yard field goal

When Hnida in 2003 became the first female to score an extra point in an NCAA Division I game (she actually scored two, against Texas State), it was seen as a stunning event. More than a dozen years later, Longo’s recruitment is more noteworthy than shocking.

We are – at long last – becoming acclimated to the talent and intensity of female athletes. It is not a freak occurrence to see women excel. It’s sinking in that high-level ability can be developed, trained and practiced. Why shouldn’t a 5’11” 140-pound athlete with a powerful leg and strong mental make-up kick field goals?

Just consider the arching bombs that female soccer players launch down a field toward a net. Aim over uprights and a boundary is breached.

Longo’s signing marks progress in the cultural understanding that women – as well as men – can be dazzling athletes worth real money. (NCAA women’s tournament basketball game UConn vs. Mississippi State, anyone?)>

Yet even as Longo’s name was hurriedly added to the Wikipedia “female American football players” entry, one notes that the list isn’t very long. The reasons for girls and women not to play football – aside from reasons no one should – reflect a stubborn gender bias about what is “appropriate” and what is not, particularly when we are talking about kickers.

Journalist Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women and was a leader of The Women’s Sports Leadership Project. For seven years, she edited the FairGameNews blog, now preserved as an archive.

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Supporting Housing Stability for Victims of Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Sexual Assault

This policy brief originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2016 Research & Action Report from the Wellesley Centers for Women as part of the multi-media series Advancing the Status of Women & Girls, Families & Communities: PolicyRecommendations for the Next U.S. President.


safety imageVictims of Domestic Violence Often Face Housing Problems
The physical, psychological, and economic consequences for victims of domestic violence (DV) and their families have been well documented, and although recent federal legislation provides certain housing protections for some DV victims, many women and their families remain at great risk for homelessness and ongoing violence.

Concerning Data, Trends, and Experiences
Domestic violence (DV) exists in every community, affecting people regardless of age, race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality. Federal legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 and its reauthorization in 2013 acknowledges the problem and provides some housing protections for victims of DV in federally subsidized housing. While such housing protections are an important step forward, there remain critical gaps for many DV victims.

In addition to the physical and psychological effects of DV, many women face considerable economic hardships and challenges securing stable housing for themselves and their families if they try to leave an abusive partner—research indicates a concerning relationship between DV and female homelessness.) Further, dominating behavior by an abuser is part of a pattern of control, and some women trying to leave an abusive relationship may often need to move to substandard housing -- or end up without any housing -- while they often continue to be at risk for violence from their abuser after they leave.

Research has found that among women who were seeking help after separating from an abusive partner, 25 to 50 percent reported housing-related problems. Over one third (38 percent) reported that they became homeless immediately after separating from their partner. An additional 25 percent reported needing to leave their homes during the year after separation.

The same study found that homelessness for DV victims may result from circumstances such as a sudden and urgent need to be safe from an abuser. In such cases, victims may rely on emergency calls to the police for help. However, due to zero tolerance policies or nuisance ordinances across many cities, DV victims who repeatedly call 911 for help may be evicted. Such policies may result in women staying in abusive relationships in order to keep their homes. Women in subsidized housing face additional barriers and are especially vulnerable because there are few low-income housing units available, and the federal programs developed to assist women by paying a portion of their rent (e.g., Section 8) have long waiting lists.

housingstability

VAWA of 2005 established important housing protections for women in certain federal housing programs. The 2013 reauthorization expanded housing protections to protect more victims by 1) expanding the violence categories to include sexual assault in addition to DV, dating violence, and stalking, 2) expanding protections to cover all federally subsidized housing programs, 3) clarifying the notice tenants must receive about their rights under VAWA, and 4) including an emergency transfer policy requirement for landlords, managers, and owners.

This legislation represents considerable progress in recognizing the housing issues that victims of DV face and has put protections in place for victims to be able to stay in their homes or move to another location. However, implementation challenges remain: there is no definition of “actual and imminent threat,” putting public housing residents at risk for eviction; it is not clear where victims can file complaints against housing administrators; and victims living in private housing are not covered by the legislation. These gaps further extend victimization.

Approaches and Recommendations
Recommendations for improving housing stability include:

  • According to VAWA, a public housing agency (PHA), owner, or manager may evict or terminate assistance to a victim if the PHA, owner, or manager can demonstrate actual and imminent threat to other tenants or employees at the property. Like VAWA 2005, VAWA 2013 does not define “actual and imminent threat.” Therefore, it will be critical for advocates to work with the federal agencies responsible for administering the provisions to include a clear definition of this crucial term as well as guidance in their regulations.

  • The housing protections contained in VAWA do not clearly indicate where to file complaints if a PHA refuses to comply. Policymakers and advocates should provide additional guidance on filing procedures and requirements, and these should be provided to tenants along with their notification of rights.

  • In coordination with local law enforcement and DV advocates, there should be outreach and training provided to PHAs and owners on VAWA 2013 that include victim-centered information on the dynamics of DV, sexual assault, and stalking.

  • Confidentiality requirements that protect the disclosure of personal information required in documents that must be presented by a victim seeking housing protections should be bolstered in the interest of protecting the victim’s new location from an abuser.

  • VAWA is designed to protect victims who reside in federally subsidized housing programs. However, legislatures should consider policies and procedures that protect victims in private housing and those who own homes with their abuser. In a 2015 study that I co-authored along with Kelly M. Socia and Malgorzata J. Zuber, we found that an increase in foreclosures in a community leads to increases of DV reports to police. Indeed, DV affects women in all communities, and there should be housing protections available to every victim seeking to leave an abusive partner.

  • There should be coordinated efforts between the federal government and local communities to eliminate the application of nuisance ordinances to victims of DV, stalking, and sexual assault.

April Pattavina, Ph.D. is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women working with a team of collaborators on the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative.

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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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Year-End Reflections: 2016

Reflections2016

2016 was an intense year. The Wall Street Journal’s Year in Review captured the feeling quite well with this headline: “The World Order in Flux.” It has felt that way not only in the geopolitical sphere, but also in the ecological sphere and the psychological sphere. It has been a year of wild ups and downs, surprises both good and bad, and looming unknowns. I don’t really think that this year was an exception, however; rather, I think it is reflective of an accelerating trend. I don’t expect 2017 to be any less eventful or easier on the soul. Rather, I think this year has – and next year also will – require everything we have to steer the world aright. But steer we must! There’s no letting go of the wheel or the reins!

The year was dominated by election politics, the plight of refugees, the horrors of war and the toll of extremism, increasing intolerance around the world, and accelerating climate change. Quieter but equally important stories were about the suffering of the economically strained as well as the destitute, the worsening crisis of addiction and the medical and mental health struggles behind it, and the erosion of women’s rights and freedoms in the U.S. and around the world. Quieter still has been the story of the erosion of the boundaries of truth and reality, especially (but not only) in the media, as evidenced by the way the polls let us down and also the fake news explosion, leading up to the selection by the Oxford Dictionary of “post-truth” as the word of the year…

We are in many respects losing touch with the foundations of a world we thought we knew, but apparently did not. My guess is that this process will continue, exposing the illogic of a flawed logic that has governed world affairs for a very long time – a logic that fails to put gender equality, social justice, and, more plainly, human wellbeing at the center of how we do things. The current scenario will plague us until we recalibrate accordingly.

The other night I was thinking about how many people feel immobilized by impending changes in the U.S. government. I thought to myself, “If I was president, what would I do?” Then I realized that that is a question we all need to ask ourselves. And then, rather than following that thought with “I’m not president, so those things will never happen,” we should follow it with “OK, now how can I work for those things anyway, even though I’m not president?” I was reminded of the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the gay liberation movement, and other powerful social movements around the world, like the decolonial and independence movements of formerly colonized countries, the anti-apartheid movement, various labor movements, peace movements, land rights movements, and other human rights movements. These were all movements of people who worked for their agenda anyway, even though they were not president, not heads of state. They were not just partisan political movements, but they were cross-cutting movements by people of conscience for equality, social justice, and human wellbeing.

The bottom line is this: We can never forget that we ARE a super-power in our own right, if we choose to be. So, in 2017, let’s choose it!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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The Power and Purpose of Post-Election Relationships

adults sitting circle

One of the central themes of the work we do at Open Circle is relationship building. Developing and nurturing positive and meaningful relationships in schools within the adult community, among the student body and between adults and students is the foundation for creating a learning environment in which everyone feels cared for, can be their best self and do their best learning.

In these post-election times, keeping the focus on relationships is even more important. Now more than ever we are charged with intentionally taking time to address the range of emotions and feelings that our children are experiencing. Giving children the tools needed to speak up, to be allies and positive leaders can empower them during a time when many are feeling confused, uncertain and/or powerless.

Social and emotional learning provides a framework in which to engage students in discussion, reflection and action that can lead to clarity, bridge building and calm.

In the midst of caring for our children we must first attend to ourselves. Similar to the flight attendant instructions of “put your oxygen mask on first,” we cannot expect to be effective with helping our children manage their feelings and how to disagree without being disagreeable if we don’t first do those things ourselves.

The complexities and the social dynamics that we have seen during the election and are seeing played out post-election contain intricacies that our children cannot fully grasp. Our children’s processing of current events is a mirror of how we are processing those same events. They know something is up, but they only know how they should feel or react to that “thing” as they observe how we, the adults in their network, are reacting. Children take their cues from us.

Our children’s pain, tears, fears and anger are often mirror reflections of our pain, tears, fears and anger. To gain a deeper understanding of what many of our children are feeling all we have to do is look at what is happening within the adult community. Children do not process their emotions nor do they take firm stances on social and political issues in a vacuum. Children’s ability to process current events is directly related to how the adults are processing those same events. Many of our children have seen social dynamics during this election season that are confusing and confounding for them. It is critical that we, the community of adults caring for children, are intentional about doing our own processing, healing and talking. Sharing our emotions, fears and hopes with each other. These moments of caring for one another as adults will equip us to be emotionally available for our children and will provide clarity for us as we model how to be in genuine caring positive relationships with one another, when we agree and even more importantly when we disagree.

Post Election RelationshipsWith this in mind, let us be intentional about the work we do with each other. Let us not fear having difficult conversations, shedding tears, or being allies for one another. It is only when we have walked the walk that we can we be effective conveyors of talking the talk.

Now more than ever, it is important for us to lean in and not shy away from each other. Modeling for our children the power of the tending instinct.* Embracing each other, literally and figuratively, to create communities, schools, classrooms, offices in which no one feels less than, marginalized or pushed to the side. Teaching our children to care for themselves and each other increases empathy, self-awareness and social awareness, which may lead to responsible decisions when they engage with one another and to building relationship skills that bridge political affiliation, race, religion, class, gender identity, and nationality.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester is a program manager at Open Circle, a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning in elementary schools. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

 

 * Taylor, E. Shelley, 2014, The Tending Instinct: Women, Men and the Biology of Nurturing.

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World AIDS Day: Reflections and Hopes from an African Village

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The Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation, (PCE) my persistent mission and struggle, is building a firm foundation for Uganda's rural young people as well as shaping the attitude and consciousness of the grassroots people. This World AIDS Day, I would like to reflect about the Amor Village community, the village where I was born.

Amor Village is composed of 871 households; with a population of 1,479 people. This is a very poverty-stricken community, composed entirely of farmers who rely on agriculture for their income and rain drops for their food production. Every household has a history of HIV-- either someone has died or is living with HIV. Of these, 77% are young people below 30 years of age. This has left so many orphaned children, struggling to survive and make a living for/by themselves.

Our HIV/AIDS interventions have been very minimal, due to lack of the necessary resources required to respond to the needs of the community. For example, there's a family of four—a father, mother, and two sons--all infected by HIV/AIDS. Such a family needs psychological support, food, and medication as well as education for the two boys. This is just one of the examples of families in need of our support, but within the wider community of the 24 villages we are currently supporting through educational interventions.

That said, we have registered achievements in terms of our health interventions: 812 rural girls received education about the dangers of early sex, teenage pregnancy, and early marriages; 104 rural boys received education about condom use and HIV/AIDS risks. We partnered with the AIDS Support Organization (TASO) which provided HIV counseling and testing for 203 people in the community. In conjunction with Open Circle, a project of the Wellesley Centers for Women, we conducted a Life Skills training for 106 people, including youth, teachers, and parents; communication, problem-solving , and leadership skills were some of the topics of the training. This project was funded by the International Research & Exchanges (IREX).

We have barely scratched the surface of possibilities, and with support we hope to move forward with our preventative health initiative such as facilitating the counseling and testing of the local people, HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, and general education about reproductive health, family planning, and parenting. We will be able to implement programs to meet our health goals after we acquire resources such as a laptop, projector, generator, camcorder, cameras, stationary, funds for the rental of venues, facilitating the consultants and the project implementer.

The PCE Foundation is a Ugandan national rural development and empowerment NGO founded in 2011 to empower rural communities through dynamic but simple programs that directly involve and benefit community members, especially women and children, currently operating in rural communities of the Tororo and Buteleja districts in Eastern Uganda. The Foundation embraces community-driven solutions to community challenges. This fosters the implementation of not only relevant/appropriate need based but also sustainable projects. In line with this principle, the PCE Foundation has identifies community needs that are developed into fully fledged projects, that benefit individuals and families directly affected by HIV/AIDS.

My journey over the last five years, since I founded the PCE Foundation, has transformed my life. Little did I know, after having lost nine siblings to HIV/AIDS, that I would have so many people from across the world sharing their care, resources, and love. I am enriched by this large global family, and my neighbors and villagers are, too.

Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, was Community Solutions Program Fellow through the IREX Board, and a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women in fall 2013. She worked previously with Build Africa Uganda before founding the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation.

 

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VAW: A Call to Action

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Yesterday was the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Womenis the glass half empty of half full? 

It is clear that this day calling for the elimination of violence against women is still necessary—in fact, it is crucial. Despite notable advances, many millions of women still suffer victimization and gender-based violencephysical, sexual, emotional, and psychological. Female genital mutilation, child marriage, marital rape, and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) remain epidemic and have serious psychological, emotional, and economic consequences.

Skepticism about reports of sexual violence is still with us. Few rapes are reported and only a small proportion of these cases lead to arrest and prosecution. Indeed we still live in a “rape culture” where tales of sexual assault are dismissed as “locker room talk” and perpetrators are not held accountable for their behavior. Yes, there have been countless and pronounced steps forward in the past 40 years (which is when I started my work in this area.) United Nations (U.N.) and governmental proclamations against violence against women (VAW) have proliferated and much research on prevention and consequences of GBV has been funded and has resulted in evidence-based practice. We have witnessed reform of laws against sexual and domestic violence, new policy and practice as it pertains to prevention and intervention, and new and much more widespread services for survivors.

Not long ago sexual assault and domestic violence were hidden behind closed doors or kept secret as shameful and somehow the fault of the woman or girl. Today, while such misguided opinions and judgmental attitudes still exist, we have witnessed significant changes in the U.S. and in many countries around the world. Violence against women is a topic that is no longer hidden. Attention is focused on GBV across the globe, in war zones and in the aftermath of conflict or disaster. We can note the successes of the Violence Against Women Act, the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, and the more recent White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Also there are efforts to curb and eliminate domestic sex trafficking and human trafficking in the U.S. and around the globe. Social media also keeps this issue in the forefront and no longer hidden, we are counting dead women and we #sayhername aloud recognizing the intersections of gender, race, and violence.

We must celebrate the achievements and thank those who have worked so hard to make these advances… but we must not lose sight of the fact that there is much work to be done. It is clear today that while the governmental and international organizations have done and can do much to support changes to eliminate violence against women, this work has always needed the work of many hands. And in our future, there is likely continued fluctuation in support of the elimination of all forms of VAW. As always, we need to assure, pledge, and guarantee continued support and funding of this work—support that will come from many donors-- individuals, centers, working groups, and private foundations. Today we must re-double our efforts to encourage support for the elimination of violence against women from everyone—every woman and every man.

#sayhername | @JGBVR_wcw | #orangetheworld | @SayNO_UNiTE | @WCWnews | #givingtuesday… add your recommended links in the Comments section.

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D. is a senior research scientist and the director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Three Activities to Help Students Deepen Their Gratitude

This article originally appeared in Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.


classroomocIt’s one thing to teach kids to say “thank you” when they receive a gift or when someone does a favor for them. But how can we help children understand what gratitude really means, in ways that will make them more likely to feel it deeply, express it authentically, and reap its many benefits?

One way to increase kids’ gratitude is to guide them to not only acknowledge that someone else did something for them, but to also consider why the person did it, what the cost to the person was, and what benefits they have received from it. The idea is that gratitude happens when you realize that another person has intentionally done something that benefits you, especially at a cost to themselves.

This thinking process, which researchers refer to as “benefit appraisal,” highlights the interpersonal nature of gratitude and may help strengthen our relationships. In one study, elementary schoolers who were taught benefit appraisal reported more positive emotions and showed more grateful attitudes and behaviors than other students, both immediately and months later.

gratidue quoteIn partnership with the Greater Good Science Center and the John Templeton Foundation, Open Circle, an evidence-based social-emotional learning program for students in grades K-5, has added a new component based on the science of gratitude—including benefit appraisal. In addition to incorporating gratitude into their professional development workshops for educators, they developed gratitude lessons and practices for their classroom curriculum for grades 4-5.

The pilot group of teachers who have tried the gratitude curriculum have responded very positively, reporting benefits for themselves and their students such as strengthened classroom relationships and community, higher levels of positive emotions, and more generous and compassionate action.

We are grateful to Open Circle for allowing us to share three sample activities for helping students deepen their understanding and practice of gratitude—along with insights from some of the teachers who have used them.

Click here to see the full post in Greater Good and read the three sample activities for helping students deepen their gratitude.

Emily Campbell is the research assistant for the Greater Good Science Center’s education program and a Ph.D. student in education at UC Berkeley.

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Approaching Adulthood: Assisting Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

In 1954, the United Nations established Universal Children’s Day (November 20) to promote togetherness and children’s rights. It is a day that reminds and encourages us to work towards a better future by improving the wellbeing of children all across the globe. In recognition of Universal Children’s Day, Joan Wallace-Benjamin, president and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers, looks at the obstacles facing children and young adults who are at risk of aging out of foster care and highlights programs that can improve their welfare.


joanblogimageTransitional age youth, those who are leaving state systems of care, are one of our most vulnerable populations of children. Each year in the United States, about 23,000 young people age out of foster care, according to Child Trends, because they reach the legal age of adulthood (18-22 years, depending on the state) and are no longer qualified to receive state services. And each year, these youth lack a permanent relationship with a biological or adoptive guardian, forcing them to navigate the challenges of adulthood without a mentor and critical support systems.

In the U.S., nearly 36,000 children are at risk for aging out of the system, as they are at least 9 years of age and have a case plan for long-term care or emancipation. For those who are at risk of aging out of foster care without a permanent solution and forever family, they are at greater risk for homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, early pregnancy, substance abuse, and struggles with physical, mental, and behavioral health.

Often times, these youth are dually enrolled in multiple state systems of care, including child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral and mental health services. In 2015 in Massachusetts, 312 out of 800 youth offenders in the Department of Youth Services had previous involvement with the Department of Children and Families prior to their detention, according to a 2016 Tufts University study. This sequential, often simultaneous, involvement in multiple systems of care place these youth at a crossroads; they lack positive, unconditional supports and mentoring that is offered through adult relationships as well as concrete resources and tools required to thrive independently, including housing, employment, health insurance, education, and basic life skills. Transitional age youth are often removed from conversations pertaining to child welfare and are underserved in the innovation of strategies to best support and strengthen children within these systems.

Approaching AdulthoodThe Home for Little Wanderers believes that these youth deserve every opportunity to thrive and succeed to their full potential as they enter adulthood. By collaborating with the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health, and the Massachusetts Task Force for Youth Aging Out, the Home has developed specific and effective supports to serve this population. Through customized, age-specific services the Home has implemented innovative programs, including the Young Adult Resource Network (YARN) for “wraparound” services, the Roxbury Village to provide transitional housing for homeless youth, Academic Support for College and Life (ASCL), Peer Mentors, Life Skills programs, and Life Coaches. All of these programs share the same goal and ultimate vision for success: to connect young adults with community resources and help them become contributing members in the community while acquiring the skills they need to achieve self-sufficiency.

Alongside this, the Home works tirelessly to collaborate with various agencies through both communication and action to advocate for change and ensure their voices are heard. Through shared partnerships, the Home works to strengthen connections and services for youth who are at risk for transitioning out of care, which not only prepare them for entering adulthood, but also foster connections and relationships with adults and peers that will follow them on their path toward personal and professional success.

For more information on the Home and their work with Transitional Age Youth visit: thehome.org

Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Ph.D. is president and CEO of The Home for Little Wanderers as well as a graduate of Wellesley College, Class of 1975.

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Thoughts on the Safety Pin--To Wear or Not

The International Day of Tolerance (November 16) was established in 1995 by the United Nations to help increase public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. In our current climate of heightened intolerance both in public discourse and acts of violence, we need no reminders--but we do need clarity and strategies to build our strength and effectiveness as activists who choose to respond proactively to intolerance. The following is written by Christine Saxman, a National SEED Project staff member and Chicagoland high school teacher who reflects thoughtfully about the safety pin symbol that is being worn by people in the U.S. and Britain to show solidarity with targeted/marginalized people in our communities, and how every action we take has consequences.


WCWsafetyPinI wrote these thoughts as a white, upper-middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual, secular humanist woman, with the primary goal of connecting more deeply with other white people and being open to all other intersections. I was deeply impacted by and must honor this writer of color--Isobel Debrujah’s “So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin.” There was also much reaction to a white writer, Christopher Creelty’s, “Dear White People Your Safety Pin is Embarrassing.” After I wrote my initial reflection, I was also deeply impacted by ryboylorn’s “On Safety Pins, Pant Suits, and (Faux) Markers of Safety,” the personal testimony of so many people of color who were yet again targeted by the white fragility that could not tolerate the message that their pin is not enough, and by the need for Mia McKenzie’s “How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’” to be re-shared so many times. So I’ve reflected and added to my original piece. I humbly offer it here.

INTENT and IMPACT:
Pay attention to and appreciate all the thoughtful dialogue that prompts deep self-reflection and understanding of one’s purpose/self-reflection, taking ownership of the impact of one’s actions, regardless of intent. Own your impact if you wear the pin or if you do not wear it. But do not dismiss anyone who shares a negative impact with you from their perspective as a targeted group. Listen. Believe. Take further action and focus on repair.

INTER-CONNECTEDNESS:
Appreciate (and question) the history of the pin: from Australia’s #illridewithyou to support Australian Muslims to the history of the pin to combat the anti-immigration sentiment post-Brexit.

Safety PinCALLING IN WITH LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY:
For some white people, this might be one of the first public actions they have taken and it is all they can see to do. As a white person, I have the energy and responsibility to support them in this step. I do not expect people of color or other targeted groups to take this action. And I personally have to be vigilant internally when I monitor and judge the behavior of other white people negatively to make sure I’m not just trying to make myself feel like I am the good white anti-racist, falling prey to competitiveness that props me up and allows racism and other -isms to continue on happily. This is the question I would pose Christopher Creelty, given the chance. How can we hold other white people in loving accountability, moving them to action? How can I do that with humility in the service of inspiring other white people to take deep, abiding action?

LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY ONE STEP FURTHER:
I see another white person wearing a pin who feels like they deserve credit for doing so. How can I use that symbol to start a conversation and move to actions we can take to back up the symbol, to give it some weight? In my own humility, I can possibly learn a new action. Perhaps, I can help someone realize an action they could not envision. Perhaps, we can work in solidarity. We can even continue the conversation to ask how can we move to a more overt symbols--a Black Lives Matter Pin, #NODAPL, #ISUPPORTDREAMERS, #STANDINGFORLGBTQ rights, #NoHumanIsIllegal…. And I commit to lovingly calling to action those whose only action is wearing a pin. I can emphasize that we are in it together.

ACCOUNTABILITY:
As a teacher I have been asked many times to identify as an ally publicly by my students and colleagues and so I have chosen to honor those requests and hold the anger/frustration/disappointment from others who do not believe I have the right to call myself an ally. It is one of those tough accountability decisions that I reflect on regularly and discuss with anyone calling me in or out. I am always a work-in-progress. I welcome all feedback, listen, believe, and act on the accountability that aligns with my commitment, humility, and humanity.

WHITE SUPREMACIST CO-OPTION:
What happens when white supremacists are faking it? I totally support all targeted groups to stay steadfast in their refusal to trust anyone wearing the pin. But as a predominantly privileged person, I go back to my responsibility to start dialogue with others I see wearing the pin. What does it mean to you? What’s your story? And if I doubt their answers and sincerity, I call them in and have another accountability discussion about White Supremacy. I commit fully to that. I had to do it in high school in Pennsylvania. I can do it as a grown woman now.

INTERSECTIONAL SYMBOLISM:
For me, the pin symbolizes standing against all the violence: racism, Islamophobia, anti semitism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. As a victim of sexual assault, I want to see the pin. I will ask for support and action from those wearing it. And I will have the conversation if it is just an empty gesture. But, wow, will I enjoy the conversations that let me know I am not alone. Don’t underestimate that.

BOTH/AND:
I believe we must wear a symbol and question the symbol. I believe we must wear a symbol and take action. I believe we must have this conversation and interrupt racism, Islamophobia, anti semitism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia at the same time. I believe we can be both/and. But we must take action. Our humanity depends on it.

saxmanI love the people in my life who push me to be better. I owe much gratitude for this piece to Mirah Anti, Jorge Zeballos, Pat Savage-Williams, Andrea Johnson, Donald Burroughs, Matthew Biecker, Ashley Tuzicka Ray, and Jamie Utt.

This piece was written by Christine Saxman, a National SEED Project staff member and Chicagoland high school teacher.

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