Girls Circle Project Hopes to Empower Young Girls
By Alaina Bartel
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern
Anna Lunsford grew up with her father and brother. She played with boys' toys and didn't have many girl friends, or a strong female figure to look up to.
Now, she is hoping to be that role model for young girls in Columbus as a part of the Girls Circle Project at Ohio State.
Lunsford, a third-year double majoring in psychology and women's, gender and sexuality studies, remembers one story in particular that impacted her. A fifth-grade girl in her circle was watching a video of female fighters on the bus on the way to school, when a girl sitting behind her questioned why she was watching it. She answered, "I might want to be a fighter. I want to be able to do what I want to do, and I don't want people to tell me what I should be doing."
"I gained confidence in the younger generation of girls, and the women they're growing up to be. I saw how aware they were of issues that young girls are facing, and they were already battling them," Lunsford said.
An Ohio State student runs a Girls Circle (photo by Jo McCulty).
The GCP is a year-long service-learning program for women at Ohio State. For the fall semester, the college women are in a Womens Circle, where they talk about issues that women are facing in society, the logistics in running a girls circle, and ultimately, they are able to experience being a part of a circle before leading one.
Then, during the spring semester, they take an actual service-learning course that focuses on leadership, social change, and feminism and are sent in pairs to a participating school in Columbus. At their first Girls Circle meeting, the women explain that the circle is for the girls, and ask what they would like to talk about. Common topics range from peer relations to mind and body issues.
Ohio State is the only university nationwide to have such a program, which was created eight years ago by Vicki Pitstick, program manager for the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) and advisor of the group. She found the idea through the One Circle Foundation, which offers training for those interested in leading a womens or girls circle. At that time, no college students were involved, which inspired her to bring the program to Ohio State.
"I was looking for a way to get girls together and help them realize that they all go through the same things when they are in middle and high school, and sometimes they feel like they are the only one. I think sometimes that's why bullying and girl aggression happens," Pitstick said. "Maybe if girls got together and realized, 'hey we're all going through the same things; we're all having the same issues,' there may not be as much aggression or isolation."
The Ohio State student leaders for the Girls Circle Project from 2014-15.
Debbie Vidic, the guidance counselor at Alton Darby and Hilliard Crossing Elementary Schools, said she sees the positive impact it has on the girls and wishes she had had something like the GCP when she was younger.
"I don't think we had the focus on self-expression that they have now, because things were so different back then. The teacher was the boss, and you did exactly what she said. You didn't think about how you felt about something," Vidic said. "Not that it was bad, because I loved it, but I think it would have been really cool to have had a program like this in fifth grade."
The program has impacted roughly 900 young girls at 19 schools, trained 140 Ohio State women, and created 135 Girls Circles, which are run with girls between 4th-12th grades, ages nine-18. According to the One Circle Foundation website, research has shown that girls who participate in Girls Circles have a decrease in self-harming behavior, a decrease in alcohol use, an increase in attachment to school, and an increase in self-efficacy.
Pitstick said that as long as she is at Ohio State, she would like to keep the program going, not only because it has positively impacted the college women and girls, but because she has also learned a lot about herself and raising her three, teenage daughters along the way.
"I don't just run the Girls Circle Project, I live it," Pitstick said. "I really think doing this has made me a better person, a better professional, and a better mom. Especially now that I see my girls going through things I train women to handle, I feel that I interact with my own girls a lot better and more effectively."
A t-shirt from the Girls Circle Project (photo by Alaina Bartel).
Contact: Vicki Pitstick, firstname.lastname@example.org
Program website: http://girlscircleproject.org.ohio-state.edu