Guest Blog – Alile Eldridge, Chapin, reflects on #IndySchoolGirlsofColor event

 AEphoto

 

Thank you to member school, Chapin for hosting a lovely event! Thank you to our panelists & guests for making it possible & powerful-RIISE

I had the opportunity to listen to a podcast interview in which RIISE founder Gina Parker Collins spoke with Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, a noted author and Professor of Education and Africana Studies at in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. The interview preceded the event Girls of Color and the Women They Become: Looking at Success Through an Independent School Lens, which took place at the Chapin School on Saturday, April 12.

The event was designed with mentorship at the forefront, with a particular focus on the unique challenges for girls of color in independent schools. An incredible group of women volunteered their time, by sharing their stories and personal experiences as women of color that attended Independent Schools.

The program included a panel discussion and smaller breakout dialogue sessions. The panelists: Alexandra Day, Alicia Hodge, Miriam Morales and Nicole Walker spoke to the group with an openness and candor, which allowed attendees to respond in kind. Judith Ohikuare, Chapin Alumna, and moderator of the panel discussion asked the panelist questions that touched on several important topics:

 

  • Looking at intersections of ethnicity, class and gender
  • Academic achievement and gender stereotypes
  • Social interactions, code-switching
  • Beauty, body image, style and emotional health
  • Mentoring, life after independent School and higher education

 

Segments from the interview provided me with a framework in which I experienced the event. It also has shaped my post-event reflections that follow.

Q: Gina Parker Collins: “How important is it to mentor girls of color attending independent schools about, not only being a girl of color, but [also] about being a girl and the gender stereotypes that can exist?

A: Dr. Stevenson: “It’s incredibly important [for girls], not only to see someone who looks like [them] in responsible roles, and power roles, [but also in] positions of decision making. It’s also important to have someone who could also teach young children, and particularly girls of color, how to navigate a world that rejects their difference.”

Dr. Stevenson has spent the last 25 years researching racial socialization (among other topics). He’s asked the question: to what degree do families, society and media communicate messages to children about how to cope in healthy ways with contact from people who reject [their] difference of race or racial style? “Part of the issue about being someone of a different background is how you present yourself publicly, how people respond to that in face-to-face interactions and in moments,” he shared.

His research struck a chord with me because many of the panelists spoke about their need to code-switch during their time in independent schools. Code-switching is a term that came from the field of linguistics. By definition, it is the practice of switching from the linguistic system of one language or dialect to that of another. The term has a broader meaning, from my perspective, as I have also heard the term used to describe the experiences that individuals face when navigating between or across cultures.

As Dr. Stevenson noted, “Girls need the ability to be in touch with who they are emotionally, and to express it in healthy ways.” Some students are faced with the daily pressures of navigating relationships with their peers, parents and teachers. For some, the all-consuming efforts to balance expectations from both home and school can feel overwhelming. Mentorship and community support were essential themes of the event. Both emphasize the critical nature of adult support in the lives of girls.

As a woman of color, and Chapin’s Coordinator of Community Life and Diversity, Dr. Stevenson’s interview resonated with me on a profound level. His message underscored the impact that adults of color can have on the day-to-day lives of the girls in our school communities. Students will handle their identity development journeys in unique ways. Adults need to demonstrate a willingness to listen, to encourage and to nurture students, so that they feel supported and safe.

It was refreshing to be in a safe space where the conversation flowed freely. Attendees, who began the day as strangers, coalesced into a supportive community of mothers, daughters, fathers and mentors ready to uplift one another. As the program closed, I looked around the room, which was full of people engaged in conversation that lasted well beyond the end of the official program. Contact information was exchanged and new relationships had formed. Several attendees spoke with me about the transformative nature of the day. I too, was transformed, inspired and reminded of the power that shared stories can bring to a community.

 

Alile C. Eldridge

Coordinator of Community Life and Diversity
The Chapin School

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3 Comments

  1. Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Alile, we really appreciate you summing up the intentions and outcome of that special spring day at Chapin!

  2. Patricia Johnson
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I also attended the April 12 event at The Chapin School. As a parent of a 10th grader at Chapin and the proud mother of Judith, it iwas and is, so inspiring to see the goal of what sending our children, girls and boys to these independent schools can achieve. I must commend The Chapin School for being a champion for promoting and providing forums within the school for children of color and their girls to be seen and heard in leadership areas in the school. When Judith first started attending Chapin, the Parents of Children of Color (POCC) was maybe in it’s third year. In addition to parent representation in our monthly meetings, a high ranking school official also participated. Whereas, I think we all were a little skeptical about this, from my perspective, information was disseminated throughout the school community that transformed the “complexion” of the student body for the few years between the time Judith graduated and when her sister matriculated there. I remeber when Ms Eldrige began working at Chapin. She is doing a phenomenal job through the years . Enough cannot be said about Ms Parker Collins who I had only met once before at a previous event RIISE sponsored. It is a blessing she had “the calling” and I venture to say , the time to create this movemet that I see this is, to support parents and children who take the risk of being in enironments that can be so unfamiliar. As Malcolm X said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Let us all stand, hold hands and support each other in the journey.

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Dear Patricia-thank you for your participation and kind words. You are doing an incredible job of raising up confidently smart #indyschoolgirlsofcolor. We were proud to have Judith lead our event as moderator. Her voice through her journalistic abilities is a strong and inspiring resource for our girls & our communities in and outside of our independent schools. Thank you!

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