I came into The Girlhood Project as a student entering Dr. Amy Rutstein-Riley’s Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture course in 2011. I then emerged from a student to a Teaching Assistant for 2012 and 2013. I never realized how not only taking a class like this, but becoming a facilitator, would completely transform and mold my outlook and perspective on living in the world around me as a young, black, female.
Labels are a funny thing, to this day if someone is seeking my assistance at work they will say “Where is that young black girl?” Professional titles go out the door, along with skill set and demeanor; our world views become our only lens. That being said, The Girlhood Project broadened my world view, and now I can never go back to my previous innocent, yet ignorant narrow perspective. Thanks Amy for the burden of intellectual insight, which often became emotional insight. Literally, I remember showing up to Amy’s class with tears in my eyes about the smallest incident I would witness on the subway, or the mall, or on campus, in which I felt emotionally disturbed by our response to one another as humans, due to opposing race, class, gender, and ability. The Girlhood Project became my safe haven, a place where I could share my thoughts openly and creatively about the issues we struggle with as young women in our environments. It was truly a sisterhood. I still have many quotes, bios, and all of the program ending scrap books.
In my current role as an Employment Counselor in the urban city of Lynn, MA, I assist many individuals from various walks of life to understand how to prevail in a workforce that suffers from gender inequalities, economic disparities, and racial profiling. I carry with me in my workplace knowledge I acquired from The Girlhood Project, such as to respect others values, and to not assume that because I look the same as someone that I share the same experience as them, but also to not assume that because I am different from someone that we do not share similar experiences. I hope to continue to share my social pedagogy to programs of change, including The Girlhood Project. I will always cherishb every moment I spent, and thank Dr. Rutstein-Riley and Lesley University for allowing such a transcending project to take place.
Teaching Assistant, 2014
I spent two semesters of my undergraduate experience working with the Girlhood Project. As a sophomore the program sparked my interest in curriculum design, showed me the power of positive relationships with other women, and made me a much more critical consumer of media. As a senior I coordinated the peer leader program and wrote my capstone on the importance of peer leadership and authentic mentor relationships in Positive Youth Development. For me, the most impactful element of The Girlhood project is the empowerment each participant experiences. Each person in a session, middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, grad students, even our director Dr. Amy Rutstein-Riley, has the unique chance to be appreciated for what they bring to the group, to be supported and loved simply for sharing who they authentically are and what they have experienced in their lives. This experience is so unique and powerful. I know being a part of the Girlhood team has had a permanent impact on my own self-perception and I hope it continues to do the same for the girls and women involved for many years to come.
Participant, 2007 - 2015
The Girlhood Project had always been a safe haven for me. I have made so many friends from this program. I never had a bad moment during TGP. I always look forward to going to the program. Even now I am a peer leader and I have been a part of the program for over three years. Every time the program came to an end I shed many tears. I never wanted the program to end. I never wanted to leave the people I befriended. TGP made me a different person. I looked at my media differently and reflect on the conversations I had during the program. I always felt as though the people in The Girllhood Project were my family. I will never forget the people, the laughs, the tears, the hugs, and the love. I love TGP!
Teaching Assistant, 2017
This past spring I had the opportunity to participate in something I didn’t know would be so special, called The Girlhood Project. I signed up for a class that I heard was “life-changing” and I was not immediately sold, just because what’s life changing for one person does not necessarily have to be life changing for someone else and so I came to the class mildly apprehensive. Most of what I heard was just that you get to work with middle school girls and have a girls group with them and that’s what really sold me to the class and to this experience. I wasn’t aware that this experience would ultimately help me change my major and change my career goals to be more girl focused. What I did know was that I would be uncomfortable. Probably many times. And I was right, but through that discomfort I grew. I learned to challenge things and I also became more confident in knowing my truth and standing in it. This isn’t an experience that many can say they got from a college course which I think makes The Girlhood Project that much more special.
Associate Dean for Career and Community Service, Lesley University
The Girls' Groups have have had an strong impact on both the college students and the middle school students who participate in this service-learning experience. By serving as mentors, Lesley University students have gained skills in working in teams, facilitating groups, and have enhanced their understanding youth development. Each year's Final Celebration event is a testimonial to the connections that are created between the middle school girls and the Lesley students during the seven week Girls' Groups. Over 150 college students and 150 middle school girls have contributed to the success of this collaborative service-learning course.
Teaching Assistant '12, '13
I think when you’re young and in college and your world is expanding a little bit every day through your coursework and everyday college life experiences, it’s really easy to feel like you have a lot to offer younger girls. What I wasn’t expecting, and what I still think about three years later, is the profound and sustained impact on my life that not only the girls had on me, but the project in all of its parts- from the bond of sisterhood formed with fellow students whom I never would have met in classes otherwise, to the mentoring relationship formed with Dr. Rutstein-Riley.
During my three year involvement with the project, my understanding of my own self and position in society was transformed by the girls, my peers and the project’s faculty. I can remember one day so vividly my sophomore or junior year, when I really was truly starting to understand the impact of my own privileges and oppressions and I was angry, and hurt. I wanted to quit, feeling like I was benefiting from my relationship with the girls, but my excitement that I had something to offer them had burst. This experience of feeling so hopeful and empowered to suddenly being so discouraged was one of the hardest moments of my learning at Lesley. I don’t think my experience was unique in anyway, all students who participate in the project go through their own process of learning and understanding, full of the highest highs of getting a huge hug from a girl to the lowest lows the first time a girl tells you she’s worried about getting shot in her neighborhood because of the color of her skin.
Ultimately, the girlhood project was one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences of my life thus far. The ability to work collaboratively, think critically, and never stop striving to make the world a better place are all professional and life skills that I credit Lesley as having given me. The ability to truly listen to others, love unconditionally, laugh at one’s self, love one’s self, understand others perspective, lift up other women, reflect, celebrate, and hang tough, are all life lessons I credit the Girlhood Project with.
Ann Mechem Ziergiebel
Doctoral Research Assistant, 2014-2015
The Girlhood Project, grounded in principles of feminist pedagogy and feminist group process, explores the co-construction of counter narratives of girlhood. Against the backdrop of critical media literacy and critical reflection, this multimodal exploration supports four distinct lenses on this powerful work, lenses that frame perspectives of four
relational groups: Lesley undergraduate students taking the upper level sociology course - Girlhood, Identity and Girl Culture; research/teaching assistants – former students in the course; middle school girls identified through Tutoring Plus, Cambridge, MA; and peer leaders – former middle school girl participants.
This complex integration of four viewpoints and outlooks – lenses – is truly the magic of The Girlhood Project experience. Growth, inquiry, tension, and transformation ensues. Further, this context provides a fertile environment for case study data collection specific to my doctoral research examining adolescent visual voices. Expertly calibrated for safety, trust, and authentic identity exploration, The Girlhood Project creates a space where all voices are privileged.
Teaching Assistant, 2015, Youth Engagement
During the fall semester of 2013, I was taking another sociology course, when two of the Girlhood
teaching assistants approached me about the class. I was hesitant at first because I was unsure of how a
group of white college students would be able to appropriately interact and relate with a group of girls
of color. I instantly felt obligated to be a part of that space and those conversations. However, I was
extremely nervous because building relationships with other women has always been difficult for me.
My mind was changed immediately once I met the Middle schools girls. Since the program is grounded
in feminist pedagogy and feminist group process, I quickly learned that I was no different from the girls
we were working with. Everyone was more alike than different and furthermore, although race was one
the visible differences between the Lesley University students and the Middle school girls, it quickly
became the back drop of our group and we bonded over things that most young girls struggle with at
that age. The Girlhood Project has the unique ability to bond different groups of people together in ways
that one would never think of. It doesn’t matter if you’re 13, 23, or 43! In this course and in the girls’
groups you will find a place where your voice is respected, your story is valued, and your experience is
like none other! Thank you to the Girlhood Project for reintroducing me to myself.
Teaching Assistant, 2016
The Girlhood Project has nothing short of changed my life. Saved it, even. Before entering this class, I was just a shy, young girl floating around in the world with no known direction or purpose. I had only a vague sense of who I was, and I didn’t have many words to explain myself with. I didn’t fully understand myself, never mind the culture I was a part of. Luckily, this ambiguous state I was in left me ready for change, ready to find some real answers and a more concrete view of the world. This class gave me a sense of understanding that I could not have gotten anywhere else. While working with the most powerful and inspiring group of women and girls I had ever encountered, I transformed. In class, the readings and discussions gave me the vocabulary I needed to explain myself, and to defend what I thought was right. Listening to guest speakers - women of great intelligence and strength - tell their stories, I developed a stronger world view. In girl’s groups, listening to middle school and high school aged girls speak their piece, I let my insecurities melt away and let their words empower me… “we are all strong amazon woman warriors.” I watched these girls dance, and soon I found myself ready to dance right there by their side. Now, I live each day with the lessons from Girlhood in the back of my mind. I wear words like intersectional feminism as badges of honor, and use them to speak my piece. This class gave me the tools I needed not to be shy but a camp counselor, not to be another silent bystander but an activist, not to be just present but also aware, not to be just a woman but a woman warrior, a feminist. I won’t try to argue that this class helped me reach my final, divine form. I am still learning and changing with each new day, moving through life with a sense of strength and direction formed by my experiences at The Girlhood Project.
Teaching Assistant, 2014
Whenever I reflect on my Lesley experience, I am always impressed by the remarkable transformation that myself and so many of my peers underwent during our four years of education. I left Lesley with invaluable experiences and insight that have completely reshaped how I view myself and the world around me. Although I cannot speak for others, I believe that my transformation was a result of the incredibly powerful experiential learning courses that I was enrolled in while at school. One such course was Girlhood, Identity & Girl Culture; a course cunningly developed by Amy Rutstein Riley. The course’s structural collaboration between self reflection, examining and researching the theory of girlhood, in-class discussions, and working with young women in the community during the service learning aspect of the course produced an environment where personal healing and the prosperity of knowledge were met in beautiful harmony. Amy’s Girlhood course was instrumental in shattering my ignorance and developing my voice; providing me with support and encouragement to heal my past traumas; discovering trust, love, and confidence for my self, my ideas, my present being, and what I aspire to become; and embedding a new passion within me inspired to work with girls and women. In summary, Girlhood, Identity & Girl Culture deeply impacted my life and I am forever grateful to Amy and this course for encouraging me and so many other women to trust ourselves and be heard!
Alicia Silver Mucha
Teaching Assistant, '13, '14
I had the honor of experiencing Girlhood identity and Girl Culture for a total of 3 years, one as a student and two as a course assistant. I have witnessed many transformative moments for both the girls attending the program as well as the college students facilitating. A space was co-constructed where an important dialogue flourished. I wish that there were more opportunities in communities across the world for girls to find their space and build their narratives like they do in Girlhood.
To be able to witness the adolescent experience as a 20-something was very powerful, as it showed me just how intensely American culture really weaves itself into everyone, especially those at such a young impressionable age; something I didn't realize when I myself was an adolescent.The relationship between mentor and mentee in Girls Group is symbiotic; these young women have access to a group of older minds with experience and guidance who can work with them to really amplify their ideas, goals, and passions that give them joy and strength. On the other end, we have a group of college level women who are seeing our younger selves in these girls and through activity and discussion are able to provide an open and respectful environment that perhaps we so desperately sought after when we were their age. For this reason I think the experience could be very therapeutic. A group of young adolescent girls finally has access to a space where their voices can be heard, and a group of older girls is finally able to get a second chance of sorts to nurture their younger selves.
Through the Girlhood Project I was introduced to the incredible bond of empowered women. Before this experience, I couldn’t stand girls. I had a hard time in school dealing with girls and sort of gave up on the idea of having a sisterly bond with any females at all. After the very first group we facilitated, however, I fell in love with that sisterly bond. I felt connected to girls and my classmates through our conversations about music, race, relationships, our bodies etc. We all shared the experience of being a female. What was meant to be a teaching and leadership experience quickly turned into an experience of mutual empowerment and mutual growth.
College Student, 2016
I think I can speak for everyone in my group when I say:
before you girls got here, we were so nervous. How would this
all work? Will you like us? What do we do with you?? …
And then you walked into our classroom on that first day
– energetic, smiling, and ready for some chicken – and we felt
something different. Still nervous, of course, and a little shy,
but we also felt comfort. We felt comfort in the space we were
all about to create together.
Over our six incredible weeks that space we created
became magical. That space filled with dance parties and
laughter. That space filled with difficult questions and
discussion. That space filled with the powerful, smart voices of
young women making themselves heard.
Every week, after we frantically planned and organized
and stressed ourselves out over everything, you would walk
into our classroom – our space – and we could breathe a little
better, and feel that comfort.
I want to thank you for that, and for everything.
Asia – thank you for your art, and for stepping out of your
comfort zone and showing me one of the best “whips” I’ve ever
Stephanie – thank you for your humor, your energy, and
your love of lemons.
Amirrah – aka “Michelle Jackson” thank you for your
positivity and for being your vibrant, fabulous self every week.
Brie – thank you for your fearlessness, your conversation
and your flawless selfies.
Katherine – thank you for your laughter, your sass, and
your mad sneaker game.
Kim – thank you for your sweetness, for teaching Ellie
how to dance, and for laughing at my jokes.
Dianna – thank you for your wisdom and killer dance
Kenzie – thank you for your smiles, and for talking to me
on our very first day.
Nathalya – thank you for your brilliance, your giggles, and
for always speaking your mind.
Glenda – thank you for your willingness to show everyone
your star power, even when you didn’t feel like it, your
thoughtfulness, and for teaching me how to do some of those
cool musical.ly dance moves.
We are going to miss you all so much, but hopefully you’ll
come back next year and – those of us who are still here – can
experience this girlhood magic all over again!
I know I said that the overwhelming question we had at
the beginning was “What are we going to do with you?” but
now, as you leave us one last time, I think the overwhelming
question is “What are we going to do without you?”