To anyone standing outside the elaborately-decorated door, the sounds coming from the inside of Abbie and Caitlin’s dorm room would seem to indicate an average Sunday night. The listener would likely hear encouraging words, embarrassed giggling, and full-out laughter resonating from within—all the signs of typical end of the week procrastination. In reality, the eight girls inside, who represent the executive board of the Boston College chapter of Strong Women, Strong Girls, are busy working on one of their most important projects of the year – a photography-based exhibit for O’Neill Library which will showcase the work their organization does on and off campus.
Female empowerment has been a hot topic on campus since last September, when USA Today published an article discussing a BC study which found female seniors left the university reporting lower levels of self-confidence than when they entered. Unsurprisingly, these findings have caused concern on campus, with students and administrators alike wondering about ways to reverse this trend.
While a follow-up study has indicated that this is not uniquely a BC phenomenon, many people have been quick to criticize the university, claiming the administration should increase the number of female empowerment organizations on campus. However, as many women who seek to get involved know, these criticisms ignore that many of these organizations already exist on campus and are fighting to make themselves known. SWSG is one of these groups, and its upcoming exhibit in O’Neill is its mentors’ attempt to broadcast its mission to BC’s community.
SWSG is a nonprofit organization that pairs college women with at-risk girls in grades 3-5 for an hour and a half each week. The mentors also participate in weekly meetings at their campuses and engage in other mentor bonding activities. Thus, while the focus is on the younger girls, SWSG aims to do more than mentor. It seeks to create cycles of mutual empowerment for women and girls, working to form communities of college mentors that help them to become confident role models for girls.
As one of BC’s mentors, Lydia Ducharme, explains, “I think if our goal is to raise the aspirations of our girls, then it’s not realistic to think we can go in and help our girls [without first] helping ourselves. If we’re not confident in who we are, then we can’t mentor for these girls. So, we [prepare] ourselves to do that. It’s an offshoot of what we do.”
One of BC’s chapter directors, Christina Johnsrud, has experienced the organization’s impact on her, saying her parents have noticed a change since she joined.
“They have noticed that I am a lot more outgoing, a lot more confident, a lot more outspoken,” she explains.
She attributes this change to her girls as well as the BC SWSG community, claiming, “I feel like our girls really mentor us and are teaching us so much… The bonds we form with them – us really believing in them and then they start believing in us –it’s just this whole cycle.”
SWSG’s exhibit will run from February 28th – March 28th on the first floor of O’Neill and will feature photos of mentors and girls testifying to their strengths by holding signs responding to the prompt, “I am strong because...”
The mentor designing the project, Abby Blaisdell, hopes BC women will attend. As she sees it, “People either like to highlight women who are very successful or, in the case of the article, women whose self-esteem is low. They never say what bridges the gap. And that makes us… and this exhibit important.”
This story was published as part of a collaboration between Boston College's Magazine Writing class and Your Campus.