A Response to the University of Alabama Greek System

This is a well-known excerpt of a speech you’ve probably heard before:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream…I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

Does it sound familiar?  Martin Luther King Jr. said these famous words fifty years ago during the “March on Washington”.  Alabama was the birthplace of much of the African American Civil Rights Movement a half-century ago, but today it is also home to a Greek System at the University of Alabama that allegedly discriminates on the basis of race during recruitment.

There are about 30,000 students at University of Alabama, and nearly one in three girls go Greek.  As of 2011, the school was 12.4% Black and 82.5% White.  Despite these demographics, many highly qualified Black girls have been passed up on Bid Day for seemingly unclear reasons.  These incidents have gone relatively unnoticed until recently, when a few active members spoke out against the recruitment decisions being made in their sorority.  One Alpha Gamma Delta active member took notice when her chapter was rejecting a perfect candidate for her sorority:

 “It was just like a big elephant in the room,” Gotz said. “So I raised my hand.”

Gotz took issue with a well-qualified Black candidate being dismissed, but the bulk of the sorority either didn’t notice or didn’t care as alumnae crossed another girl off the list of potential new members based on what seemed to be nothing more than prejudice.  When Gotz started asking questions, the alumnae were quick to justify their dismissal, claiming that the girl did not have proper recommendation letters.

After Gotz spoke up, however, others began to stand behind her.  Several active members began challenging the decisions of the alumnae.  When questioned, the alumnae replied that they were simply following the policies of Alpha Gamma Delta’s National Headquarters.  When the reporter got in touch with National Headquarters, however, their official statement claimed that, “Alpha Gamma Delta has policies that govern its recruitment process. These include policies about the roles undergraduates and alumnae play in the recruitment process. In addition, Alpha Gamma Delta policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in all of its activities including recruitment.”  There seems to be some miscommunication.

When I first read the report in the Crimson White, Alabama’s student-run newspaper, my first reaction was annoyance.  Every active member blamed the actions on the alumnae, acting as if their passivity wasn’t part of the problem.   I’m proud of the girls that are questioning what is being done, but it is 2013.  These girls, speaking their opinions and critically thinking about the institution that they themselves are a part of, should not be the exception.  In my opinion, these sorority girls should take a lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Civil disobedience, a tenet of his, says that it is one’s moral obligation to disobey unjust laws.  Sororities aren’t governments, and Greek rules are not laws, but if a girl has to bend the knee to alumni to suit the out-dated, prejudice needs of the alumni, then I think the same thing applies.  Girls, stand up for fellow girls; speak out, question your elders, and if it’s necessary, deactivate your sorority.  There is no reason to tolerate this.


Read the full Crimson White article here:

“Common Data Set 2012-13″ (PDF). The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, University of Alabama. Retrieved July 14, 2013.

“Fall 2010 Enrollment at a Glance”. The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, University of Alabama. Retrieved May 29, 2011.

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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Results from the DAVILA (Dating Violence among Latino Adolescents) Study

The Dating Violence among Latino Adolescents (DAVILA) study examined various types of dating violence such as physical, sexual, psychological, and stalking.  The study sought to show the prevalence of dating violence in Latino adolescent relationships and to understand the ways victims seek help, whether formally or informally.  The study also assessed the impact of dating violence victimization on other forms of victimization.

The sample included 1,525 Latino adolescents from across the country.  Nearly one in five said to have experienced a form of dating violence victimization in the past year (19.5%).  The most common form of dating violence was psychological (14.8%).  Boys were six times more likely to experience physical dating violence than girls.  Adolescents that experienced dating violence were most likely to seek help from an informal source (60.7%), while only 15.6% sought out help from a formal source (such as school personnel).  Of the 60.7% of victims that sought help from an informal source, 42.9% sought help specifically from friends.

When the results are broken down by gender, the numbers suggest that it is more common for male adolescents to be victimized, but it is less likely that they will reach out for help.  Only 5.1% of the Latino males sought formal help, while 35.5% of the Latino females did.

The study’s results also show that those adolescents more connected to their Latino roots were less likely to fall victim to dating violence:

For dating violence in general and physical dating violence victimization specifically, Latino orientation was associated with a decreased odds of experiencing victimization, although it is unclear what underlying mechanisms might explain this phenomenon. Perhaps traditional Latino qualities like family cohesiveness might help prevent victimization, whereas acculturation and running contrary to traditional norms might illicit a backlash that manifests itself in the form of violence. A sense of familial support appears to be crucial in seeking formal help and indicates that having a strong family support system may help ease barriers to getting formal help.

The sample was largely second-generation residents (60.2%), meaning that their parents had immigrated to the US before they were born.  This excerpt suggests that strong family supports and a deep connection to one’s heritage could help adolescents avoid violence altogether, or at the very least, seek help when the adolescent encounters violence in dating.

The study’s results echo the call for building strong communities and supporting one another through all levels of dating violence, but it also puts in question standard gender roles.  The study shows how boys experience a substantial amount of physical victimization such as slapping, pushing, having possessions broken, and partners forcing sex onto them.  This shows how gender norms surrounding adolescent dating violence are inaccurate.  If these inaccurate gender roles can be replaced with real knowledge, boys will hopefully seek out help more willingly, whether it be from formal or informal sources.  The study also suggests adolescent programs that are gender-specific and culturally relevant that discuss not only physical violence, but also psychological violence in dating.

Read the full report here:

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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Young Girls’ Reading List

In the spirit of book suggestions, I wanted to create a list of books that help support young girls’ social-emotional development.  It is of course my hope to change the minds of men and women who believe that one gender is inferior to another, but I also believe that it is essential to foster a strong social-emotional intelligence in young girls in order to respond to the bigotries that she may face.

Emotional intelligence helps us in understanding ourselves, our behaviors, and our feelings in relation to others.  Having a strong emotional intelligence goes hand in hand with having a healthy amount of self-esteem.  Like any intelligence, emotional intelligence needs to be cultivated; if nurtured properly, a person will positively interact with others in a sincere and confident way.  Although all girls face some level of gender discrimination, the hope is that with an intact self-worth she may be able to discount the negative attitude or behavior.

The following are books that I have used with young girls (K-5).  Together, they emphasize internal beauty, empathy, confidence, individuality, diversity, kindness, and inclusion.  I welcome suggestions for other children’s books that may be helpful in fostering social-emotional development in girls.


  1. My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry
  2. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
  3. Happy to be Nappy by Bell Hooks
  4. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  5. The Color of Us by Karen Katz
  6. Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple
  7. Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch
  8. Skin Again by Bell Hooks
  9. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  10. Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry by Bebe Campbell
  11. Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
  12. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
  13. Unlovable by Dan Yaccarino
  14. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  15. I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Janelle Monae on Sexism

The talented and beautiful singer/songwriter, composer, dancer, model, spokesperson, and record producer, Janelle Monae, talks about sexism in the music industry:

“I won’t allow myself to be oppressed. I won’t allow myself to be a slave, or be controlled by anyone’s belief system. I think that It’s important to set up a better future, a better world, for the next generation, especially for young women. We are the matriarchs, the great communicators, we have great intuition, we are a people of peace, and we are to be respected.”

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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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A Black Girl Reader

In June 2013, a group of women gathered to discuss the issues that affect Black girls in Chicagoland.  The event was titled “Black Girls Under Fire.” We talked about the various ways young Black women and girls are adversely impacted by institutional and personal violence. From this meeting, we have developed a Black Women’s Grassroots Think Tank. We will have more information about this project in the future. In the meantime, we would like to offer a list of readings about young Black women & girls that we have compiled. This, of course, is not a comprehensive list! In addition, we would welcome your suggestions of other texts that we should include on the list.

Black Girls Reader
(August 2013)

Brown, Jamila Aisha. “If Trayvon Martin had been a woman ….” The Guardian. July 12, 2013.

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. Peter Lang Pub Incorporated, 2008.

Carroll, Rebecca. Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. Three Rivers Press, 1997.

Cooper, Brittney. “Dark-skinned and plus-sized: The real Rachel Jeantel story.” The Salon. June 28, 2013. <;.

Cooper, Brittney. “Does anyone care about black women?” The Salon. August 15, 2013. <;.

Costigan, Catherine L., Cauce, Ana Mari, and Etchison, Kenyatta. “Changes in African-American Mother-Daughter Relationships During Adolescence: Conflict, Autonomy, and Warmth.  in Urban Girls Revisited: Building Strengths. Edited by Leadbeater-Ross, Bonnie J & Way, Niobe. New York University Press, 2007.

Dohrn, Bernardine. “All Ellas: Girls Locked Up.” Feminist Studies 30.2 (2004): 302-24.

Gaunt, Kyra D. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop.  New York University Press, 2006.

French, Bryana H., and Helen A. Neville. “Black Teenage Girls’ Experiences with Sexual Coercion.” Black Women, Gender + Families 2.2 (2008): 77-98.

Hannon, Lance, Robert DeFina, and Sarah Bruch. “The Relationship between Skin Tone and School Suspension for African Americans.” Work in progress ed., 2013.

Hirsch, Barton J., et al. “Inner-City Youth Development Organizations: Strengthening Programs for Adolescent Girls.” The Journal of Early Adolescence 20.2 (2000): 210-30.

Jones, Nikki. “It’s about being a survivor…”: African American Girls, Gender, and the Context of Inner-City Violence. in Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence. Edited by Chesney-Lind, Meda & Jones, Nikki. State University of New York Press, 2010.

Jones, Nikki. Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence. Rutgers University Press, 2010.

Miller, Jody. Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence. New York University Press, 2008.

Morris, Monique W. “Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding our Discussion to Inclusion.” Washington, DC: African American Policy Forum, 2012.

Ness, Cindy D. Why Girls Fight: Female Youth Violence in the Inner City. New York University Press, 2010.

Phillips, Lynn M. Speak for Yourself: What Girls Say about What Girls Need. Chicago. 2002.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women. New York University Press, 2007.

Smith, Jada Pinkett, and Donyelle Kennedy-McCullough. Girls Hold Up this World. New York: Cartwheel, 2004.

Stevens, J. W. Smart and Sassy: The Strengths of Inner-City Black Girls. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Tyler, Rosaland. “Helping Black Girls Grow Up Safely.” New Journal and Guide. 2013.<>

Wabuke, Hope. “But What About The Children?” The Feminist Wire. July 19, 2013.

Ward, Janie V. “Raising Resisters: The Role of Truth Telling in the Psychological Development of African American Girls.” in Construction Sites: Excavating Race, Class, and Gender among Urban Youth. Edited by Weis, Lois & Fine, Michelle. Teachers College Press, 2000.

Ward, Janie V. “Uncovering Truth, Recovering Lives: Lessons of Resistance in the Socialization of Black Girls.” in Urban Girls Revisited: Building Strengths. Edited by Leadbeater-Ross, Bonnie J & Way, Niobe. New York University Press, 2007.

Weeks, Debbie. “Where My Girls At? Black Girls and the Construction of the Sexual.” in All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity. Edited by Harris, Anita. Routledge, 2004.

White, Renee T. “In the Name of Love and Survival: Interpretations of Sexual Violence among Young Black American Women. in Spoils of War: Women of Color, Cultures, and Revolutions. Edited by Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean & White, Renee T.  Rowan & Littlefield Inc, 1997.

Williams, Tania. “[ENOUGH] ‘I’ve Witnessed a Lot’.” Ebony. April 22, 2013 <;.

Winn, Maisha T. Girl Time: Literacy, Justice, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Teaching for Social Justice. New York: Teachers College Press, 2011.

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Posted by on August 17, 2013 in Resources


Improving the Communities We’re In.

In July, I was lucky enough to attend the Second Annual Early Childhood Trauma Symposium at Northwestern University.  The symposium focused on ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), community-building, and public policy.  There were several impressive speakers, including Dr. Bruce Perry, the author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook.  I have to admit that while I found every single word of Dr. Bruce Perry’s enlightening and thought-provoking, I have expelled most energy reflecting on a small, seemingly insignificant encounter I had with a mother living in Chicago.

After some of the heavy material was presented to the audience, we were split up into small group discussions to digest all that we had learned.  The room I was directed to was facilitated by Eddie Bocanegra, a violence interrupter who was featured in the documentary, The Interrupters.  Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean, a criminologist, sociologist, and film maker, also sat in on the conversation as a featured “expert”.  I was impressed by the two men and ready to hear what they had to say about addressing trauma in targeted at-risk populations.

The discussion involved lots of teachers, social workers, and psychiatrists giving their two-cents about how to foster social-emotional development in children, especially those living in under-served communities.  There was talk of art and dance therapy, training staff to be trauma-informed, and involving parents in children’s education. Much of these things were suggested on the premise that it worked for Fenger High School, a Roseland school that used to be notorious for the amount of arrests within school grounds and the large number of drop-outs.  The discussion took an unexpected turn when a young mother chimed in about her experience.

The woman shared with the group that she had two young children whom she raised herself. No older than thirty, she let out a laugh as she said that she knew she was a perfect mom.   She discussed how they lived in a community similar to Roseland, not specifying which one.  She confided that she felt the need to shelter her children, hiding all the drug deals, prostitution, and gang activity that surrounded her neighborhood.  The woman wanted the best for her children, but she was worried that one day her good parenting wouldn’t be enough for them.  She wanted advice from the group.

Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean responded.  His voice boomed as he took control over the group:  “Parents can affect the child in three ways.  First, they can be the best parents they can be.  Second, they can choose the best mother/father for their child.  And third, they can choose a community that is most conducive to the values in which they wish to raise their child.” For a while, I caught myself nodding along, but when I heard that third part, my brow furrowed.

This woman was being told that she should move out of her community, the community that she knew as her own.  The woman didn’t say much in response, and the discussion evolved in to other topics surrounding violence in communities. Still, I couldn’t help but think; was I the only person who had a serious problem with Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean’s message?  Did the room full of thirty-something professionals working in these communities really believe that a person should move her family in order to evade community violence? 

I walked over to introduce myself to the woman once the discussion was over.  I told her that I work with parents in North Lawndale and that I found a children’s book extremely helpful in conveying an important message about communities.  The book, titled No Bad News, is about a young boy who always goes to the barber shop with his mother.  One day, his mother tells him that he can go the short distance without her.  As the boy walks to the barber shop alone, he sees several displeasing things: men drinking, garbage in the streets, and graffiti covering buildings.  By the time the boy arrives at the barber shop, he is visually upset.  The barber listens to the young boy vent, but afterwards he speaks of all the beautiful things in the community that the boy overlooked.  On the boy’s walk home, he finds gratitude and positivity in his neighborhood; no longer is the neighborhood riddled with ‘bad news’.  The woman smiled as she wrote down the title. 

This book reveals something about communities that Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean failed to consider; all communities have problems and all communities have strengths.  To create real, positive change in communities, we cannot blame families for living in certain communities, nor can we tell mothers to abandon the life they know.  Rather, we need to galvanize and influence others by example.  We need to care for one another and show the power of love.  If the immediate community is not able to provide the support that a family needs in order to thrive, then it is up to the larger community to come in and fill that need.  No mother should feel that she must shelter her family to keep her children safe, nor should any woman feel that she has to move away from her home in order to achieve a better life.  Both of these responses result in an isolated family, and isolation is not conducive to creating a strong and loving community.

The Northwestern symposium, No Bad News, and Dr. Bruce Perry all share a common message: build strong communities.  Relationships are key to overcoming the barriers within our communities.  Without first creating strong support systems, we will never be able to tackle the seemingly bigger issues that plague our city.  Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean wasn’t incorrect, but his reply was coldly pragmatic.  If we want to help communities, the first step is to listen and show we care. 


Cole, Kenneth.  No Bad News. Albert Whitman & Company. 2001

James, Steve, Alex Kotlowitz, Justine Nagan, Gordon Quinn, Teddy Leifer, Paul Taylor, Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra, Aaron Wickenden, and Joshua Abrams. The Interrupters. Arlington, VA: PBS Distribution, 2012.

Perry, Bruce. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing. New York, NY, US: Basic Books. 2006.


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Posted by on August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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The Taskforce is Seeking a Dedicated Volunteer…

The Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women is seeking a dedicated volunteer who can devote 8 to 15 hours a week to help us with our mission. Hours are flexible and will be set by the volunteer. Additionally, the volunteer can work from home or anywhere else.

We are looking for a volunteer who has an interest and experience addressing gender issues. We are looking for someone who has an anti-oppressive lens and can work with a diverse population. Our ideal volunteer has excellent communication skills (especially written). We hope to have someone in place by mid-August.

The volunteer will have the following communications and administrative responsibilities:

1. Regularly check our email account and respond to inquiries.
2. Manage our listserve.
3. Maintain our blog (by writing posts and sharing relevant information)
4. Offer administrative support to the ‘Black Girls Under Fire’ initiative

If interested in this opportunity, please send a cover letter and resume to — Attention: Mariame Kaba

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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


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