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Girls Circle to empower women of Columbus

Members of the Girls Circle Project donned capes with motivational quotes written on them as part of a Women's Circle curriculum activity. Credit: Courtesy of Molly Duerre

Members of the Girls Circle Project donned capes with motivational quotes written on them as part of a Women’s Circle curriculum activity. Credit: Courtesy of Molly Duerre

Prioritizing the voices of girls and women: that is the motto of The Girls Circle Project at Ohio State.

Founded in 2008, the Girls Circle Project at OSU is a yearlong program that trains college women to run Girls Circle at Columbus-area middle schools. The group focuses on creating a safe space for girls to discuss life issues, such as peer pressure, relationships and bullying.

Girls Circle meets for one to two hours a week at each school, said Sarah Smith, a third-year in social work and recruitment chair of the program. Each session is run by two women and usually begins with an opening ritual, such as lighting a candle, which brings everyone into the space together. The girls then do activities centered on that day’s topic, which transitions them into the discussion.

While the college women play a large role in what the discussion topic will be, they encourage the girls to help decide as well. Although curriculum is set before meetings, the co-leaders must also be prepared to think on their feet.

“In my most recent circle, the girls all came in upset,” Smith said. “We had curriculum planned, but two of the girls were being bullied on Instagram, so we ended up discussing that the whole session.”

This aggression among girls is one of the reasons that Vicki Pitstick, associate director of OSU’s Second-year Transformational Experience Program, created and coordinates the Girls Circle Project at OSU.

“I thought that it would be nice if girls understood that they are all going through the same things,” Pitstick said. “If they come together and talk through the issues as opposed to being catty, there would probably be a lot less bullying and trouble with relationships.”

Pitstick said she wanted a program at OSU that would teach girls and women the importance of community, which led to her founding Girls Circle. The group is under the One Circle Foundation, which was founded by Giovanna Taormina and Beth Hossfeld in the mid-1990s. After receiving grants from the Women’s Place of OSU, Pitstick said she and five colleagues began recruiting students in the autumn of 2008.

Students apply during Spring Semester, and if they are selected after the interview process, they enter a Women’s Circle in the autumn. Participating in Women’s Circle, Pitstick said, teaches them the structure of Girls Circle.

The women also take a workshop conducted by Pitstick in which they learn strength-based language, which emphasizes the girls’ strengths as opposed to their weaknesses; relational-cultural theory, which teaches that women grow the most through community; and how to be a good facilitator.

In the spring, the women take Peer Power: Theory and Practice of Peer Outreach, a service learning course taught by Pitstick that studies feminist theory, leadership theory and the importance of working in the community. The women also lead Circle projects at their designated schools.

The Girls Circle Project partners with schools in Grandview, Upper Arlington, Hilliard, Columbus City Schools and charter schools.

Pitstick said one of her favorite parts of the project is the intergenerational aspect. She said the bonding between the college women and the girls is important.

“We are allowing girls to see that they can have a voice,” Pitstick said. “For them to feel empowered in these circles, to know they can do whatever it is they want to do in this world; I think it’s very important to get that message out to the younger generations.”

Smith said her life has become centered on Girls Circle because she believes in the program so much.

“I hope Girls Circle can continue to create a space where women feel empowered to speak their truths, learn more about themselves and build deep connections with one another,” Smith said.

The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between The Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

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