Picture this: Dana Hall members say, “I am …”

Unique photo cropped“Shy but strong.” “Smooth like a jar of skippy peanut butter.” “Enough.” These are a few of the words written by the Dana Hall community in commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2015. Before leaving for Spring Break, the GirlUp Club organized the making of “I am” cards in which many members of the school proclaimed what makes them unique.

Students and teachers wrote a fact about themselves on a piece of paper and then were photographed with their handmade posters in black and white. These photos, or “I am cards,” were later displayed all around the school.

Ogugua Uchendu ’16 claimed in her poster, “I am a dancer.” Uchendu expands on her poster, saying, “At Dana Hall, you need to do ballet or jazz to be considered a dancer, but hip hop is something I have been doing for many years, and I wanted the Dana community to know that.”

Earlier this year, according to Librarian Maggie Davidov, Middle School students in a GirlUp meeting had a passionate discussion about body image, and how many girls felt that they and their friends were beautiful, but wished the media did not tell them otherwise. Ms. Davidov explains that “everybody had so much to say, and it was so beautiful, and [she] wished everybody in the school could say how beautiful they were.”

The cards were inspired by Duke University’s “You Don’t Say?” campaign, where students explained in black and white posters why they do not use oppressive words. For example, a Duke student said, “I don’t say that’s so gay because sexual preferences should not be mocked or re-appropriated as derogatory terms.”

red wall I am photos croppedMeaghan Robichaud ’17 draws parallels between the GirlUp Clubs and campaigns against gender-based violence. The main message in these campaigns is, “would you do this to you daughter, or sister?,” while not recognizing that violence against women is not only heinous when the victim is a relative. She says she wished some of the Dana Hall cards were more “specific, and showed more [of the girls’] identity.”

The purpose of the cards was to create a sense of empowerment and a chance for girls to take a risk at Dana Hall. “The cards give people a chance to see people you wouldn’t necessarily notice and see how they identify,” Madison Altman ’16.

Ms. Davidov says that the school is always striving to create a feeling of equality. However, there is still stigma around the word “feminism.” Heather Panahi, Social Studies teacher, says people are afraid of the “f-word” because of the leftover backlash from radical feminism. She describes the “I am” cards as baby steps toward removing those negative connotations by “celebrating the women, the males who support women, as well as the leaders, artists, musicians, and athletes, and recogniz[ing] that they are women.”

Spencer Babcock ’17 of the Model UN club, who coordinated the project with Ms. Panahi, says, “it’s nice to see that everyone participated and see what everyone identifies as.” Babcock brings to light that feminism is for men as well, by saying “if [women] are saying something and no one’s listening, then it’s a lost cause.”Sassy cropped #2

After the cards, GirlUp club plans to do a collaborative international activity with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG). During a video chat, the OWLAG girls expressed the idea to create a teaching initiative called “Teach a Girl.” Each member at the OWLAG Girl Up Club has identified a skill they have, and they pledge to go into their communities and find a girl to mentor for seven days. If Dana Hall adopts OWLAG’s “Teach a Girl” initiative, each student might do it individually, or the Upper School will collaborate with the Middle School.

The majority of leaders at Dana Hall are women, but gender inequality is still a very real issue. According to CNN Money, white women still make 78 cents to a white man’s dollar. African American women make 64 cents, and Hispanic women make 54 cents.

Ms. Panahi believes conversations about feminism do not need to end in Girl Up. They can happen in the classroom, at the lunch table, and in student affairs. She goes on to say that the purpose of GirlUp is to “invite members of the community to talk about [gender equality] in a safe, low stress environment.”

Photos taken by Gloria Revanche of the GirlUp Club’s posters.

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