A Columbia student-run program is making a difference for high school girls of color and empowering a new generation of women leaders.
WomanHOOD, started in October by Amanda Matos, CC ’13, sends Columbia students to classes at the Bronx Leadership Academy II to help the students there discuss ethnic studies and feminism.
Through the program, students have completed projects like launching a feminist fashion blog, rewriting school policies about harassment, and studying the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants.
These are conversations that “people don’t normally want to have because they’re uncomfortable with it,” Amanda Tien, CC ’14, the group’s publicity chair, said.
Matos said she founded WomanHOOD to combat negative stereotypes of women in the Bronx. In addition to support from the Bronx Leadership Academy II, located in Concourse Village West, the project also receives support from Columbia’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
“They were very interested and enthusiastic about our project and our ideas, and the principal was very willing to work with us,” said Ashley Mendez, CC ’15, one of the group’s first team members. “We were interested in getting going as soon as possible and she was willing to work with us in any possible way.”
Mendez said she was inspired by her own experiences growing up.
“We associated success with whiteness because that’s all we see on TV, in the media and movies and politics,” she recalled. “When I was in high school, a lot of people told me that college wasn’t necessarily something you should pursue: ‘Maybe you should try something else’ or ‘Maybe you shouldn’t aim so high.’”
The group aims to encourage young women to attend college.
“Ideally we hope to influence them, and be a mentor for them even after the program ends,” Matos said. “That way we can help with scholarships, get help with financial aid, get help with applying to school, so that’s something we want to help the students with.”
Moving forward, Matos said she wants to create a network of sustainable leadership among program alumni.
“The students will emerge from our program as leaders and return year after year to a strong alumni network,” she said.
Matos also wants to expand to other high schools in the Bronx and eventually to other cities, where administrators would “tailor the curriculums to fit the needs for those students,” she said.
The program has offered its student leaders some moments of introspection, too. Mendez said that working with current high schoolers has “opened my eyes to a lot of circumstances I didn’t really realize were out there.”
“You can have your own experience and realize there’s a need for the curriculum to be taught,” she said, “but you don’t realize how big it is until you’re actually knee-deep in, and you realize the impact.”