This website is no longer being updated. Visit Dartmouth Now for all news published after June 7, 2010.
On Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 in Collis Commonground at Dartmouth, two hundred Upper Valley middle school boys and girls will spend the day as part of the Boys Speak Out and Sister to Sister summits. Coordinated by a dozen Dartmouth undergraduates and graduate students, and hosted by Dartmouth's Center for Women and Gender, the two conferences strive to provide an outlet for middle schools students to speak out on social issues and challenges they confront at their formative age.
Boys Speak Out, on Jan. 31, is entering its fourth year, while Sister to Sister, on Feb. 2, is currently in its fifth year. Sister to Sister initially began with a particular focus on encouraging girls to pursue careers in mathematics and science, while also providing emotional support for middle school girls faced with concerns not usually covered in the classroom, such as self-esteem, body image, and peer pressure. Driven by the success of Sister to Sister, a similar conference for middle school boys was organized to provide the opportunity to "speak out" on issues sometimes kept concealed or silent to learn that it is healthy to express emotions and problems. The following year, the inaugural Boys Speak Out conference was held, welcoming more than 60 middle school boys from the Upper Valley. It now draws over 100 participants.
"The conferences provide a context in which the attendees can begin to explore the stereotypes and expectations surrounding both masculinity and femininity and approach them with a more critical eye," says Xenia Markowitt, the Director of the Center for Women and Gender.
David Sampayo, a member of the Class of '08 and the coordinator of Boys Speak Out, adds, "I think the comfortable environment of our summits contributes to their success. It is so important that kids feel safe. It allows them to talk about issues that aren't so comfortable."
Alison Reed, a member of the Class of '06 and the coordinator for Sister to Sister, says, "This event is unique and incredibly important; adolescent girls are provided with a safe space to talk about pressures and concerns not often addressed in a classroom setting that may potentially detract from their academic successes. Our hope is that once these girls speak their minds and voice their struggles together, with their peers and with women Dartmouth students, they will come to realize that their experiences are extraordinarily common. This is most empowering."
Since their inceptions, both conferences have grown to involve a number of Dartmouth undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and administrators, as well as local high school students, and resources in Vermont and New Hampshire (such as WISE of the Upper Valley) all interested in providing a safe and supportive environment in which boys and girls can discuss important issues faced during adolescence. In the past, the conferences have dealt with issues such as violence and bullying, depression, sexuality, media literacy, and scholastic equality for girls and women.
According to Markowitt, each year new school districts learn of the program and ask to send students to attend the coming year's summits. This year, more than 200 boys and girls are expected to attend, representing Rivendell Academy, Indian River School, Charlestown Middle School, Hartford Memorial Middle School, Washington Village School, Plainfield School, Woodstock Union Middle School, and Waits River Valley School. Additionally, this year Dartmouth professors Abigail Baird and Jay Davis will be the keynote speakers for Sister to Sister and Boys Speak Out, respectively. Susan Wright, the Executive Director of Dartmouth's Montgomery Endowment and the wife of Dartmouth President James Wright, will be the welcoming speaker for both conferences. Over 80 undergraduate volunteers will be serving as panelists, discussion group leaders, and mentors.
The events utilize local resources from Vermont and New Hampshire extensively: Amanda Cochran from WISE of the Upper Valley, guidance counselors from all aforementioned schools, and many of the current Dartmouth undergraduates who have graduated from local schools. The goal is to work closely with guidance counselors to talk with students about pertinent issues.
The planning committee consists of Nancy Aitcheson '06, Elkin Cabas '06, Maile Carter '06, Mike Guzman '06, Cameron Houser '07, Jennifer Krimm '06, Alisha Levine '07, Alison Reed '06, Amy Rolfvondenbaumen '07, David Sampayo '08, Nick Taranto '06, John Turner TH '07, and Chelsea Voake '06.
Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.