Teneeyah Hale and Tomara Dorsey stand in front of Northland High school, where they mentor young black girls. Credit: Courtesy of Courtesy of Teneeyah Hale

Teneeyah Hale didn’t know anyone who went to Ohio State when she was in high school. Now in her third year at the university, she and Tomara Dorsey are providing direction and a campus connection to ambitious young women at the Columbus city school she came from.

Hale, a third-year in public affairs, and Dorsey, a fourth-year in sociology and public affairs, created a long-term peer mentoring program, called Sista Sista, to help guide black high school girls through personal, professional and emotional situations. The program, which launched Oct. 10, currently operates at Northland High School.

Hale and Dorsey said they noticed there wasn’t a peer mentoring program at Ohio State for black high school girls.

Hale said their goal is to help young black girls define what it means to be a black woman and feel empowered to fight for equitable resources for the next generation.

“One night in March, me and Tomara were sitting in the lobby talking about things we wanted to do, and she told me she wanted to start a mentor program,” Hale said. “I told her I wanted to start one at my high school to show kids they can go to a school like OSU. We combined our ideas and created this one program that satisfied what we wanted to happen.”

Dorsey and Hale said they came up with the name for the program after seeing a clip from  “Sister, Sister,” a sitcom that ran from 1994-1999. It emphasized the bond between two twin sisters, who were also young black women, and their childhood was something Dorsey and Hale could relate to, Hale said.

Dorsey and Hale said they worked on the program structure and syllabus over the summer.

“We had to dig deep and really think about what we wanted to do because we didn’t want to reincarnate things they already know,” Hale said. “We want them to learn new things and leave room for the girls to tell us what they want us to provide.”

Dorsey said she and Hale meet with 20-25 girls — freshmen through juniors — twice a month during the students’ lunch period. She said they discuss topics including self-love, self-identity, academic workshops, higher education, ways to improve their community and ACT preparation.

Dorsey, who works in the Ohio State Department of Social Change, said her connection to the department opened doors to receiving funding for the program. She said they proposed the idea to her supervisor at the time, but had a setback due to a change in directors.

Hale said the new director, Charity Martin-King, a graduate of a Columbus city school, was excited about Sista Sista and approved the program.

“Not only was my supervisor supportive of this plan, but of Teneeyah,” Dorsey said. “She was excited to hire Teneeyah on, and seeing that someone is investing into us to run something we know we have the power to do is great.”

Hale attended Northland and said she proposed the program to her former English teacher and principal. Hale said the teachers chose girls they felt would benefit most from the program.

“We talked to teachers and girls and had them pick girls that need the extra push — girls doing good but could benefit from having someone to talk to, girls who miss school a lot, girls on honor roll — not just girls that seem like they need help but may need this program.”

Dorsey and Hale said the program will help the girls get to Ohio State through college application help and an upcoming college tour hosted by the mentors.

“We provide them with a connection to OSU. Some of the girls are juniors and looking into schools,” Hale said. “When I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone that went to OSU, and I couldn’t ask questions about campus life. Now, with us being there, we’re able to answer questions that the website may not have and connect them with different people in departments they’re looking into.”

Dorsey said they will be accepting 10-15 volunteer mentors in November through an application, interview process and background check.

Dorsey said they will be working on expanding the program to Memphis, Tennessee, where she will be working for Teach For America after she graduates.

“It would be great to see OSU maintain the program and make it bigger. OSU should give back to black students because OSU is not where it should be as far as diversity,” Dorsey said. “I do think Sista Sista can be branded to become bigger to black females on campus by black staff members becoming mentors through an actual program.”