In two large classrooms on the Lesley University campus, 20 middle school girls from the Port area of Cambridge scoop Jamaican chicken stew and rice pilaf onto paper plates, talking animatedly as hip hop music pulses in the background. They’re gathering for a weekly session of the Girlhood Project, led by Lesley undergraduate students.
The Girlhood Project brings together adolescent girls, many of whom come from low-income, single parent, and immigrant families, with Lesley students to evolve a conversation about identity, body image, media, and relationships. It’s a place where the girls can be completely themselves, without the psychological armor they may need to get through the school day, survive in their neighborhoods, and be strong for their families.
A place where girls’ voices are heard
On this late afternoon, one group settles in to watch music videos that depict women in sexually provocative poses. Afterward, prompted by questions from the Lesley students, the girls will dissect the videos, looking at the ways women are objectified and also at how some female performers flaunt their sexuality to sell music. Later, the girls will create their own (decidedly less racy) music video.
The other group embarks on a completely different activity. The girls are asked to respond to confrontational statements about race, such as “All white people are racist,” and decide whether or not they agree, and explain why. Hands go up; nearly everyone is eager to speak. Hallie Guare '17, one of the Lesley students, deftly directs traffic and makes sure no one is left out of the discussion. Each girl is acknowledged and each view is respected.