Sunday, November 2, 2014

Women's Leadership Project Co-Sponsors "Bridging the STEM Divide" Conference

On Saturday Sept. 13, the Division of Animation and Digital Arts (DADA) participated in the Bridging the STEM Divide conference at the Stauffer Science Lecture Hall. Over 100 local high school students attended the event, which was focused on exposing students of color to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) both as academic disciplines and also as career paths.
This daylong conference started off with a keynote address from Dr. Clifford Johnson of the USC Physics department. Johnson, who has collaborated Animation program since 2011, said improved science literacy benefited everyone. “It is important for a stronger and more democratic society as scientific decisions that affect us all should be participated in by all,” he said.
Physicist Dr. Clifford Johnson

Two workshop sessions followed the keynote, with each split into three areas: Women of Color, First Generation College Students, and STEM careers. The workshops were aimed at demystifying the STEM fields, and bridging the gap that creates massive disparities in representation for people of color in the professions they support.

King Drew Med Magnet STEM students

Research suggests a major contributor to that disparity is public attitudes and culture. “People have a perception that STEM is not for people of color, that somehow there is maybe a lack of ability or interest in it, or both. It even makes people of color think that this is the case. It creates an environment that is hard for people of color to work in,” Johnson said. “Doing well in a subject is hard enough, doing it while people around you (maybe even your friends at school or family) think that it is not for you is even harder.”
l-r: Linda Watts, Devin Waller, CA Sci Ctr., and Sikivu Hutchinson

The Bridging the STEM Divide conference, which was initially conceived by Sikivu Hutchinson of the Women's Leadership Project and the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, and Ramon Chairez of the Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI), is part of a series of similar immersion programs at USC, UCLA and UC Berkeley. The conference was also co-organized and sponsored by Rosalind Conerly of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, Mar Elepano of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Cynthia Joseph of the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations, and the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative.
Women of Color in STEM panel

“All of the panelists spoke of being underestimated and discriminated against in their college departments as well as in the workplace,” Hutchinson said. “Many of the panelists spoke of their experiences being the sole person of color in their professional fields/workplaces and stressed the importance of finding mentors to steer their journeys in college and careers. The Women of Color in STEM panel focused on media representations of STEM as a white male dominated field and how it discourages girls of color from pursuing STEM.”
Dr. Stacey Finley, Biomedical Engineering

Fighting the stereotypes facing Black and Latino youth—young women in particular—was a major focal point of the conference. The event not only provided opportunities for networking and scholarships for the students, but it also provided uplifting dialogue on workplace discrimination and how it should be challenged. Scholarly advice was coupled with emotional stories of personal experience, giving space for the students, faculty, and organizers to empower each other and bring in an end to the divide that disadvantages students of color.
Johnson said: “STEM is part of our culture - we should all contribute and enjoy it, regardless of background.”
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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Profiles of the Young Women of Gardena High School's WLP

Pictured: Sikivu Hutchinson, Lena Tina Fongang, Tiare Hill, Caithlyn Torres, Betsy Casas, Yvonne Arechiga, Marenda Kyle, Jennifer Gomez, Lizeth Soria, Betty Rosenda Green. Missing: Danielle Woodcock.

The ladies of Gardena High School's Women's Leadership Project 2013-2014:

Lena Tina Fongang
This upcoming fall semester, Lena plans to attend El Camino College where she will take up nursing courses. Lena has the goal of transferring to UCLA or UCSB to complete her Bachelor's degree in nursing and eventually plans to attend medical school to become a physician. Another future plan of Lena's is to start a non-profit organization whose mission is to support children in under-served communities in the area of education.
Aside from her professional goals, Lena wants to travel to all of the 24 countries she has on her list of places to visit such as Costa Rica, Greece, Italy and Jamaica.
Reflecting on her WLP experience, Lena says that WLP has helped her to feel better about herself as well as learn to critically think about society and the different issues that affect young female students of color. She says that is is through the meetings where stereotypes related to race and gender were discussed that she was able to understand different issues more deeply.

Tiare Hill
After Gardena High School, Tiare plans to transfer into a four year university where she will major in journalism and will become a television news anchor reporting on the issues that the larger society needs to know about. She is passionate about issues related to the justice system and the discrimination that the African American community faces. Tiare wants to bring about positive change related to these issues through her work as a news anchor. Aside from her academics, Tiare loves to sing, play volleyball and be with her friends.
Having been introduced to WLP by Jennifer Gomez, Tiare has been able to enjoy the rich and important discussions on issues faced by women, particularly women of color, as well as the fun bonding activities that WLP has, such as the camping experience at the beginning of the school year.

Caithlyn Torres
Always displaying her entrepreneurial and creative spirit, Caithlyn has plans of becoming an entrepreneur and starting up her own business with future business partners after she graduates. She also will be working towards becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner and will have this practice while simultaneously maintaining her future business.
Caithlyn enjoys playing volleyball and art and she firmly believes the importance of going after something she wants. The fact that she has more than one career goal shows that she believes she can be the type of person she wants to be and she does not need to fit into a box.

Betsy Casas
Before attending UCLA in the fall, Betsy plans to enjoy her summer by traveling to Mexico to visit her father and her dog. Aside from being inspired by her supportive parents, Betsy is motivated by many things, such as her own personal dreams, her surroundings as well as her failures. She says that in her current state of life she is greatly interested in exploring her world and the world outside. With the support of WLP, Betsy has been able to understand her world more deeply as well as discuss and comprehend various subjects she had never talked about before. Also through WLP, she has learned to question many unfair situations that have happened to her as well as in her environment.

Yvonne Arechiga
After graduation, Yvonne will attend Long Beach City College before transferring into a four year university. She plans to major in Business Administration and sees her father as one of her biggest influences. His journey of moving to the United States at a young age and doing years of hard work to finally becoming his own boss has greatly inspired her and her choice of majoring in the business field. Yvonne states that achieving her dreams motivates and reminds her to not give up and that if she wants to accomplish a goal, she understands the importance of facing obstacles.

Marenda Kyle
Please see her bio below.

Jennifer Gomez
Jennifer is proud to attend Cal State Dominguez Hills this upcoming fall. Although she is not completely sure as to what she will major in, she wants to explore the areas of music engineering, tour management, event planning as well as the work of a probation officer. Jennifer also understands how a formal education can help her to earn a financial wage where she can live comfortably and can indulge in spending if she chooses. Like several of her WLP peers, she enjoys playing volleyball and being involved with campus activities, such as Leadership.
She states that her experience with WLP has had a big impact during the two years she was involved. WLP has helped her to find her voice and to be less timid when it comes to sharing her mind as well as learning how to be more independent.

Danielle Woodcock 
Danielle will be a senior at Gardena High School this upcoming fall and plans to attend a four year institution afterwards. She wants to obtain her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and will move on to working on her PhD. Being aware of her privileges, Danielle says that she is passionate about social justice and equality for all as well as educating her community about issues that are not given the amount of attention that is needed, such as violence against women. Issues that affect marginalized groups and different struggles that the human race faces are what inspires her the most, which is why she has participated in many of WLP's events, such as Denim Day and Women's History Month.
Danielle says that WLP has helped her to become more socially aware as well as more confident with speaking out when people who have privilege are apathetic and do not help to create positive social change.

Marenda Kyle: Future Educator, WLP Service Award

Women’s Leadership Project service award winner Marenda Kyle has always expressed a passion for education and women’s rights. Last year, she moved to Los Angeles from Bethesda, Maryland. Although she has only been in the program for a year, she participated in nearly every student campus outreach, workshop and field trip. During WLP’s women’s history month assembly she presented on the life of one of her role models; civil rights activist Diane Nash, an important yet little known founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who was jailed for civil disobedience.

Marenda will attend CSUN in the fall and was recently awarded a $1000 scholarship for achievement by Delta Sigma Theta. She wants to focus on Early Childhood Development and pursue a Master’s in Education. She has had extensive experience volunteering at early childhood learning centers and teaching preschool students. Despite having had a few strong adult mentors at Gardena, her overall impression is that many adults in public schools have negative/low expectations for youth of color which lead them to underachieve. As an educator she hopes to play a role in redressing these issues. She believes that “giving back to the community” is of the utmost importance in helping other women of color succeed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

From Foster Care to College: Clay Wesley, Inspirational Youth Leader

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Anyone who meets Clay Wesley can’t help but be impressed by her intellectual fierceness, wry wit and deep sense of compassion. I first met Clay when I was teaching a Life Skills workshop on racism and identity at Gardena High School in 2007. She was outspoken about social justice issues and shone as an inquisitive mind and forceful debater. When she began participating in the Women’s Leadership Project she dove right into our school-community outreach on sexual assault and sexual harassment, HIV/AIDS prevention, intimate partner violence and college preparation. During the 2008 election cycle she was a strong voice at our student debates on Proposition 4 (which would have required parental notification for abortion) and Proposition 8. Clay’s support of choice and reproductive rights was inspirational to other young African American women who have been bombarded with shaming religious messages that abortion is sinful and immoral. Responding to the loss of friends and family as a result of gang, drug, intimate partner and anti-LGBT-related violence in their communities, Clay also helped organize a Day of Remembrance with her peers. For Clay, WLP was formative because, “Many of us have no one in our lives discussing sexism, domestic abuse or going to college.”

Clay lost both of her parents in middle school and had to become self-sufficient at an early age. She supported herself through high school and community college with part-time jobs while being in the foster care system. Like many foster youth she’s been in multiple placements and homes, struggling to find transitional housing after she aged out of the system at eighteen. In addition to her involvement with WLP, Clay was a youth advocate for California Youth Connection (CYC), a foster care advocacy and support network. Through her work with CYC, she travelled to Sacramento to lobby legislators to support Assembly Bill 12, which was designed to provide resources for youth who age out of foster care. Currently she juggles positions at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Southern California Foster family agency and the Foster club.

This month, she will get her AA degree from Southwest Community College and plans to transfer to a four year university in the spring. With a 70% African American population, only 29% of Southwest’s students transfer in six years. Clay believes that the environment at Southwest, specifically the scarcity of supportive academic and social resource providers, is disenabling for many students. Black students disproportionately come from schools where they have minimal to no college preparation. As a result, most have to wade through remedial classes before taking their core college requirements. Clay credits strong mentors with giving her the leg up to make it through the process—yet it’s a hurdle that is often more difficult for foster youth to overcome than going to a four year institution. According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than 3 percent of foster care youth will graduate from college. The stats are even graver for African American youth, who are over-represented in the foster care population. Nationwide, black foster youth are more likely to become homeless and/or incarcerated due partly to racist profiling, sentencing and incarceration policies which exacerbate the lack of community resources for foster and homeless youth.

Over the past several years, Clay has worked as an intern with WLP, mentoring homeless youth at Covenant House California, conducting HIV/AIDS outreach at Washington Prep High and sharing her experiences as a foster care youth navigating college with students throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her love for debating, public speaking and helping others has her leaning toward sociology, political science or communications majors. As an inspiring leader and role model in her own right, she has her eye on positions with emphases on public policy, law and education. Though making this journey without her parents has been painful she feels doubly motivated by their vision for her: “Before my father died I promised him that I would graduate with my college degree. He was very big on education and I always wanted to make him proud.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Day at UCLA- People of Color Tour and meeting with MECHA

This past May 8, 2014, students from Gardena High School, including those participating in the Women's Leadership Project and the Young Male Scholars groups, visited UCLA's campus to learn more about the school, the campus climate for students of Color and to gain more information.

Briana Little, who is a fourth year student and very active on campus with the Afrikan Student Union (ASU) and with current campus elections, gave a People of Color tour that spoke of the rich history of activism from students of Color on campus. During the tour, she also asked her peers and friends to come speak to the group, further giving more insight to the diversity of experiences from undergraduate and graduate students on campus. Many spoke of the challenges they faced in their lives as well as the reality of student life for many students of Color.

Sebastian Flores, a transfer student from Riverside Community College and an active member of MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), met up with the group to introduce the organization, its history and relevance. Sebastian and his MECHA colleague, Isai Madrid who is also a transfer student, spoke about their experiences, challenges and lessons learned as transfer students. Towards the end of the discussion, a Q&A session opened up allowing the students to ask whatever questions they had.

Overall, the not-so-typical visit to UCLA was not only fun but informative, with all of the speakers being warm, approachable and honest. It left many of the students's minds open to the possibility of attending UCLA in the near future as well as offering helpful advice and resources to assist in navigating their journeys to academic success.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Denim Day Workshops- Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Prevention Education

Still today, in 2014, sexual harassment and sexual assault occur at alarming rates. With this reality and in conjunction with Denim Day (, the young women of WLP at Gardena facilitated six necessary and important discussions regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment. The differences between these two issues were laid out as well as discussions revolving around gender, gendered expectations of men and women and rape myths occurred. Also discussed were what young men can do to help stop this epidemic that affects too many women as well as many boys and men.

WLP conducted eight facilitations in all at Gardena High School, as well as Washington Preparatory High School and Duke Ellington Continuation High School, which produced fruitful discussions with the young women and men of these schools.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Women's History Month Presentations at Gardena High School

Although women of color have always played active roles in various fields such as politics, culture, medicine, literature, activism, etc. in this country and around the world, our contributions are not highlighted in mainstream media and textbooks as frequently as compared to (white) men. It is because of this constant erasure that leads to a lack of knowledge surrounding the works of many women of color that has led the young women at Gardena High School's Women's Leadership Project (WLP) to not only educate their peers on many unsung heroines and historical women, but to also celebrate their lives and works.

This past March 28th, various classes joined the young women of WLP in learning about the lives and contributions of inspiring women like Audre Lorde, Diane Nash, Paula Crisostomo and Malala Yousafzai. The lively presentations included facts on the lives and contributions of these women as well as a lively discussion on the myths and stereotypes surrounding the capabilities and interests of women in general. Overall, the presentations were an interactive success due to the leadership of the young women of Gardena High School's Women's Leadership Project.