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Your college decision doesn’t define you

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By Stephanie Wang

Decisions are hard, I know. Soup or salad? Cake or ice cream? Cookie or brownie?

Really, even making decisions on something as easy as what to eat can be difficult, much less where you’re going to spend the next four years. For the other high school seniors, uncommitted, terrified about the choice you’ve just had to make, I know it’s scary taking the plunge.

Perhaps you were rejected from your dream school, or, debatably worse, accepted to your dream school but unable to afford it. Perhaps you think you know where you want to go, but you’re worried about this and that, and what if everyone there hates you there and you have no friends and you fail all y–

Relax. It’s all going to be okay.

As someone uncommitted just a few days ago, I can undoubtedly relate, especially when it seems every one of your options is good and holy crap, how does someone just step on a college campus and know that it’s a perfect fit? How can someone possibly stomach a binding Early Decision, knowing where they want to be as early as November? If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “What’s the secret? How do I know where I’m meant to go?”

First and foremost, please remember that college is not the end destination; college is not where you should be peaking. No matter what college you choose, more times than not, your happiness and success at a college is a result of self-determination. A result of you, standing up and resolving, “I will be happy and successful.”

Perhaps, most importantly, remember that college is a personal decision, a decision that can’t be decided by your parents, friends, or for that matter, absolute strangers that think they know your best interest. It’s you that’s going to college – not your Aunt Sally or your mom. It’s you, and you better be invested in your own education.

Go to the school you think you’ll be the successful at; not the school with the highest ranking or the school that everyone wants you to go. For me, personally, that was Vanderbilt University, but I sure know that much of my family and friends, including my mom and dad, wanted me to go to MIT or UChicago instead. I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking the same.

But for me, it boiled down to a couple things: for one, flexibility. It’s at Vanderbilt where I would have the most flexibility and the opportunity to explore as many of my interests as I would like, particularly since there’s no limit to the amount of AP credit I can use. As someone excessively indecisive, Vanderbilt made the most sense for me to attend. Instead of being pigeon-holed in a humanities-centered or a STEM-centered school, I’ll be attending a good school with both humanities and STEM. And, like many other of my peers, it also boiled down to money. Perhaps my biggest concern was regarding where I would fit in socially, but it only makes sense that I can find my group anywhere – in a school with over 6,000 undergraduates, it only makes sense you’ll find your crowd.

To conclude, the answer to “What’s the secret?” is that there simply isn’t one. Forget US News rankings or arbitrary assignments of “prestige.” There isn’t a “wrong choice” or a school that will set you up for failure – it’s what you do at the school that makes the difference.

I argue that there isn’t a school that’s a perfect fit for any student; realistically speaking, there will always be something about the college that you don’t like. Think about your college decision in the scope of trade-offs and opportunity costs: about what school requires you to sacrifice the least and grants you the most opportunities, not just now, but further down the line. Write your thoughts down, considering the pros and cons based on you, not what someone else thinks. Don’t think about how you’re “letting someone down” if you choose this school over another school; keep in mind only your own happiness and future.

I wish all you seniors the best of luck, not just in college, but in life. College isn’t the end destination; it’s the beginning of a new adventure, and I hope it’s one filled with happiness and success. For you juniors beginning to embark on this college journey, I wish you only the best (and also, please remember that a college decision does not define you).

We Deserve #SREnow

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Powered by Girl is a girl-driven activist movement. Many of our team are young women living all over the UK. As a group who have been directly affected by the UK government’s inaction on Sex and Relationships Education, we’re here to speak out. We’re victims of a sexist, derogatory and dangerous culture of sex. As young women, we feel it’s vital that gender-based violence and information about consent is made available to every child and every teenager. That’s why we support the End Violence Against Women and Everyday Sexism Project’s petition for ‪#‎SREnow‬. Here are just some of our reasons:

Healthy relationships develop through understanding – not only about healthcare, but also about mental care. There is too much ignorance surrounding issues of consent and sexual orientation, and the best way to tackle this is by education. This is why we must support the campaign to make SRE statutory in UK schools – so everyone can enjoy happy and safe relationships – Issy, 20

Sex and relationships can be one of the most exciting things about growing up. Unfortunately it can also be one of the most dangerous. Young people need to be educated not just in safe sex, but on safe relationships, in order to equip this most vulnerable group in society to deal with these issues – information for everyone, no matter their sexuality – Amy, 16

At a time when children and young people are bombarded relentlessly by so many confusing and potentially dangerous messages about sex and relationships, comprehensive and in-depth SRE is vital. Biology does not suffice- exploring relationships and sexuality are often key aspects of adolescence and young adulthood- however, as we hear more and more of these experiences being negative ones, tackling the relevant issues through education is of paramount importance. By introducing SRE as compulsory, we can build fantastic foundations for not just adolescence, but for a lifetime of happy and healthy relationships – Cora, 16

It is vital that young people across the UK receive a decent SRE covering all key areas. Merely focusing on STIs, as was my one term of sex ed, is not sufficient. Consent should be central to SRE however schools are not required to teach it. When it comes to consent there are no ‘blurred lines’ and that needs to be clear. A 17 year old should not be learning about consent through discussion online before being taught about it in SRE or PSHE. Statutory SRE should teach responsibility and respect for people of all genders and sexual orientations and provide a safe environment to do so. We need to improve SRE and we need to do it now – Chloe, 18

With every minute that passes, roughly one incident of domestic abuse is reported to the police. That’s 60 incidents per hour; 1440 per day. Over a year, this amounts to around 525600 incidents- and those are the reported ones. It’s believed that far far more cases of domestic abuse go unreported. These are really shocking figures, yet they’re rarely talked about. School sex education lessons- even those titled ‘sex and relationships’- choose to focus on the biology of reproduction and ways of preventing pregnancy and/or infections. Whilst not saying these issues aren’t important, there is far more to ‘sex and relationships’ than this. There is little or no education delivered around consent, or sexuality, or happy and safe relationships. Young men and women are let down by this; they’re lead to believe that there is no choice but to go along with unacceptable behaviour, lead to believe that it’s not okay to be different or to speak up. This leads to so many problems further down the line that could be reduced with some basic education. If nothing else, the message could be delivered that it is okay to talk about these things. We no longer live in an age where we can pretend this isn’t happening, and transfer the problems to someone else. We need to act, to lay down the correct building blocks in the formation of happy, healthy adults, engaging in happy, healthy relationships. Legislation around this would be a hugely important step – Becky, 17

You can get involved by Tweeting using the hashtag #SREnow, and signing the petition here :)

SREnowpetition

Youtube and Sexual Abuse

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By Anna Hill

Recently, I have noticed certain disgusting behaviour of some prominent and successful male Youtubers has come out of the woodwork of the Internet.  The whole situation has been handled badly, and honestly I, along with many others, am very upset about it. As a part of the Youtube community (as both a Fangirl – or a consumer of media – and a content creator), I believe it is our job – those who are part of the website – to continue to talk about this and ensure that it never happens again. The pervasive abuse from “Youtube celebrities” is not being tackled properly, and this is a huge issue because it means that many are completely unaware of the situation, therefore continue to support the abusers’ content.

One of the reasons this is all so scary is because people aren’t speaking up. I’ve seen just one video explicitly naming those that should not be endorsed in any shape or form, instead of watching, and thus supporting their work, read up on the master post of all of the abusers and the victim’s stories: http://unpleasantmyles.tumblr.com/post/79455706244/tom-milsom-hexachordal-heres-the-post-olga although obviously some trigger warnings apply (such as emotional manipulation, rape, sexual abuse)) which is infinitely important, but that was the only video. We must be vigilant and open and ensure everyone is educated to make the right decisions about the content they watch and which they therefore support. (here’s the explicit video by Lindsay or Pottermoosh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pAQDoLeNIk )

It’s also a huge issue because those who are mostly in danger of being preyed upon by older, emotionally manipulative men are the large demographic of 13-17 year old girls that use the website. These are the same girls that we are continually told are “ruining” Youtube due to their fangirlishness when they are actually the ones who are most vulnerable and most in danger.

Frighteningly, one of the main culprits of some hideous behaviour, Ed Blann (Edplant on youtube), tried to come back to Youtube after having a three-month break and then attempted to claim it was all a mistake and people should forgive him. If this sounds like I am being too cruel to him, then let me explain:

  • Abusers need to accept that sometimes they cannot be forgiven.
  • Going back to a platform, which you used to abuse and even rape girls, is not the way to prove how much of a changed man you are.
  • You can’t treat this situation as if the benefit of the victims’ suffering is that you learned something and are a better person. That is not good enough and that’s not a solution.
  • We cannot trust abusers.

In the case of Ed Blann, whose come back video (a song supposedly explaining how much of a changed man he was) was well received by all too many people, he continued to prove that he does not deserve the ears or eyes of all the wonderful women who watch him by deleting actual comments from the main woman who he abused about her feelings towards his return (see here: http://that-teen-witch.tumblr.com/post/88175226722/lions-and-snails-i-commented-on-eds-video ).

Ann, or TheGeekyBlonde, is a fantastic Youtuber and has made a great video about the situation and how we can deal with it and move forward. She outlines some of the ways we can help combat and move on from this experience:

  1. Amputate – This means we have to cut abusers out of EVERYTHING, we cannot allow them to turn up to events/be on Youtube/etc. etc. No endorsement and no publicity
  2. Vaccinate – TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT. Write blog posts/ have discussions, let the community know and make sure the community knows that behaviour won’t be tolerated. Stand with victims.
  3. Elevate – Value the work of women and teenagers rather than phasing out or neglecting their work! Big up women, and women on Youtube. Listen to them, believe them, support them.
  4. Exfoliate – This is about responding to irl/online creepiness: do NOT do nothing: stop them, talk to them, confront them. If you are too scared to talk to those that are being abusive or dodgy try to help the victim, ask them if they need help, compliment their shoes. Just try to give them a way out of talking to them or engaging with them.

Ann’s Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uc5eNNG60o

Consent videos are all very well but the viewers don’t need consent videos, the prominent Youtubers who suck do! There have been about four videos defining consent (which is important and useful, don’t get me wrong) but it is not enough – we need real change. A recent example of a consent video falling short is Jack and Dean’s (or omfgitsjackanddean) consent song which ultimately does nothing to rectify the situation, although many celebrate them as being really great people, even when they describe the sexual abuse as a “hullabaloo” and refuse to say that the song was a response to the behaviour of Youtubers.

If you’re aware of Youtube then you’ll be aware of the Vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green. Their position as de facto leaders of the Youtube community (through their creation of events like Vidcon) means their lack of a real stance and inadequate to no discussion of the situation is reprehensible.  Such behaviour, or lack of any real analysis or response makes them somewhat complicit in the actions of the youtubers that are abusers. (John Green even went as far as welcoming Ed Blann back to twitter after the allegations came out! http://i-burn-i-pine-i-perish.tumblr.com/post/89193450074/eddplant-returned-to-twitter-back-in-february-and-john). The lack of support that John and Hank Green gave to survivors means that not only do a large portion of viewers know absolutely nothing about this, but that they have let down a large percentage of the community – their failure to speak up has meant that this community no longer seems to listen to or care about the very people that allow it and, by association, them to have so much power.

If you are not protecting women and girls from this kind of treatment then you are allowing it to happen. No public discourse, no actual change.

 

Beauty is in the Eye of the…Media?

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By Guest Blogger Aimee Polimeno

 

lupita-lightened

People Magazine’s Epic Photoshop Fail of Lupita Nyong’o

It’s no secret that our media-driven culture values an extremely narrow and stereotypical version of beauty, usually represented by a Size 2, photoshopped model. Most people know that judging and media photoshopping any girl larger than a size 4 has a detrimental impact on girls’ body image, and so it’s an issue fought by activists on many fronts. However, what many of us tend to overlook is that our culturally biased ideal of beauty does not encompass only body size, but also race.

The lack of models of various races and ethnicities in media, not to even mention the tendency to photoshop lighter skin tones on those few models and artists who do make the covers of magazines, is one thing. The association in movies and TV between violence and skin color is another. We teach children that when race is visible at all, light is right and everything else is…well, wrong. Consider seemingly harmless animated films like The Lion King, where our main man Mufasa and his family are a lighter fur color, while the evil and calculating Scar is a darker shade. Think about all those dark-skinned evil queens in Disney films.

Multiple studies have been done in psychology and sociology dealing with this early priming of children to favor light over dark, and the results are heartbreaking. A recent study conducted with young children in Mexico featuring a white doll and a black doll found the same results as a famous U.S. study conducted in the 1930’s by Kenneth and Mamie Clark. “Which doll is good?” the children were asked. “Which doll is bad?” “Which doll is ugly?” Almost all of the children associate positive words like “good” and “pretty” with the white doll and words like “bad” and “ugly” with the darker skinned doll. When asked why they like the white doll better, the children aren’t entirely sure; they just know that it’s the better doll. And here’s the heart-breaking part: when asked which doll looks most like them, the children struggle, knowing they have darker skin too, knowing that choosing the darker skin doll forces them to associate themselves with being bad and ugly.

These children are not born with a preference for lighter skin and the lighter dolls; this value has been forced on them unknowingly by the images they see and the stories they are told. This damaging set of values is deeply rooted in our culture and media and, as a result, we as consumers support and perpetuate the problem. There are entire shelves in drugstores dedicated to skin-lightening creams and hair relaxants, but these would not exist without significant demand. It’s difficult to be a critical consumer when we’re constantly barraged by images and ads telling us how we should look and what it means to be beautiful. But the fight has to begin with each one of us.

SS-Shirley

Shirley sings “I Love My Hair!”

There are some positive signs of change. In 2010, Sesame Street featured Shirley, an African-American puppet girl singing about all the reasons “I Love My Hair.” With over 5 million views to date, it’s clear how important (and rare) it is for young African-American girls to see a character representing them who believes her untreated hair is fun and gorgeous on its own.

Shirley and her message of self-love and acceptance became a sensation and an inspiration for young Black girls. If one puppet can make such an impact, why can’t we as a collective group follow Shirley’s lead? It starts with challenging what we are sold in the media and then looking in the mirror and within ourselves to realize that we are beautiful. I am beautiful, and you are beautiful. Together we can push back against the cookie-cutter image portrayed in our media so young girls of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities can open a magazine and see a beautiful women who look like them. Like Shirley, love your hair, but also love your eyes, your curves, and your mind, and let the world hear it.

STEM Programs for Girls

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by Kara Chyung

In honour of Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and Navy rear admiral whose 107th birthday would have been on Monday, I thought this week would be an appropriate time to raise the issue of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers.

Math has always been my favorite subject. I used to think my interest in math stemmed (see what I did there?!) from a desire for concrete answer, but I’ve realised that what I enjoy most is the process of solving the puzzle. As I go through high school and begin to think about college, I find myself strongly considering a career in mathematics or technology.

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine about the challenges women seeking a career in the sciences face. While often there are not rules strictly prohibiting women from pursuing STEM careers, the numbers show that the feeling of exclusivity in an all-boys class and a lack of encouragement from professors have deterred women from taking their studies in STEM fields beyond the undergraduate level. The circumstances have improved since the time that the author was in college, but there still is a lack of girls aspiring to these careers.

The article also mentions that girls are not introduced to STEM fields at a young age, so even if they develop any interest in science and math later on, it is often too late. Fortunately, there are many programs to get girls interested in STEM fields and promoting STEM education. Read about the organisations listed below.

Remember, a woman can do anything that a man can do, including programming computers or solving calculus problems! :)

Check out these links to find out more about STEM education for girls!

Girls Who Code: A nonprofit organisation that promotes girls’ education in computer science. Girls Who Code offers an intensive 8-week long Summer Immersion program  that exposes girls to careers in technology.

The National Girls Collaborative Project: An organisation that helps bring girls together across the United States on STEM projects. The National Girls Collaborative Project currently has 28 Collaboratives serving 38 states.

Girlstart: A community-based organisation based in Austin, Texas, that seeks to spark girls’ interest in STEM through year-round education and programs.

Girls Scouts’ Imagine Engineering: Imagine Engineering seeks to educate girls about engineering careers and helps link girls and their families to STEM opportunities and organisations.

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