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Speaking their minds

Teen summits now in third year

On Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 in Collis Common Ground, over 150 Upper Valley middle school boys and girls spent the day at Dartmouth as part of the annual Boys Speak Out and Sister to Sister summits. Coordinated by Dartmouth undergraduates, the two conferences provide a forum for middle school students to speak out on social issues and challenges.


Participants in the Jan. 31 Boys Speak Out event. (photo by Charles Rountree '05)

Abigail Baird, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Jay Davis, Instructor in Education, were the keynote speakers for Sister to Sister and Boys Speak Out, respectively. Susan Wright welcomed the groups at both conferences. "You're off to great places, you're off and away," said Wright, quoting from the book, Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Theodor S. Geisel '25 (Dr. Seuss). Over 50 undergraduate volunteers served as panelists, discussion group leaders and mentors. Wright added, "I wish you a great day at a great place."

Sister to Sister is currently in its fourth year, while Boys Speak Out is entering its third. Originated by Heidi Williams '03, 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, Anthony Webb '03 created a similar conference for middle school boys that would give them the opportunity to speak out on issues sometimes kept concealed, emphasizing that it is healthy to express emotions and problems. The following year, the inaugural Boys Speak Out conference was held, drawing over 60 middle school boys from Upper Valley schools.

"It's such a great feeling to see the looks on these kids' faces. When we say they will get to come to Dartmouth and express themselves, free of pressure, they're not only excited but amazingly intrigued," said David Sampayo '08, an organizer of this year's event.

Both conferences have grown to involve a number of other Dartmouth undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and administrators, as well as local high school students, all interested in providing a safe and supportive environment in which boys and girls can discuss the important issues of adolescence. Past conferences have tackled issues such as violence and bullying, depression, sexuality and scholastic equality for girls and women. Additionally, the conferences hope to 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. 

"The Dartmouth community's commitment to the Sister to Sister and Boys Speak Out conferences has been overwhelming. We are all driven by the belief that if we've helped at least one student, then we've done our job," said organizer Alexis Ettinger '05.

With each year, new school districts learn of the program and ask to send students to attend the coming year's summits. This year, middle school girls and boys in schools ranging from Hartford and Woodstock, Vt., to Lyme and Plainfield, N.H., attended the conferences.

In addition to Sampayo and Ettinger, this year's planning committee included Jane Viner '05, Alison Reed '06, Cameron Houser '07 and Lynn Lee '05.

By LYNN LEE '05

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08