Latin's Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sat down with LAW leaders and faculty members, Jennifer Nabers and Elissabeth Legendre, for an interview about how they are connecting middle school female students with upper school female mentors through LAW.
Is the middle school LAW group a totally separate entity or does it serve as a primer for the Upper School Affinity Group? If they are different, how do they differ?
A few years ago, the heads of LAW wanted to reach out to middle school girls to build a bridge between middle and upper school girls. The heads recognized that the girls would have benefitted from having this mentoring and might have felt more comfortable with the transition to the upper school having had an introduction. One goal of LAW is to create a space where US girls can connect with the MS girls in the hope of providing a resource to the middle schoolers if and when questions arise. Jen and I help US students plan and execute, but we don't usually participate in the meetings. During the meetings, only the US heads of LAW are present; separate meetings for upper school girls who want to participate in LAW are held so that we can make sure the topics are addressed in age appropriate ways.
How long have you both been involved with LAW in the Middle School?
Jen has been involved with LAW in the middle school for the past four years, while Elissabeth has lent her support for two years, but her involvement with US LAW has been off and on for the past four years.
Were you involved with a similar affinity group during your middle school years? If yes, how to did it impact you? If not, how might it have impacted the person you have become today? Nothing like LAW existed for either Jen or me, but we wish that it had. We compare it to having an older sister to ask questions that are too embarrassing to ask an adult. We can only speculate that some of the situations we went through alone might have been made easier with a mentor.
What is the overall mission of the group? Do you tend to discuss topical issues or try to provide students with a historical context for some of the issues that crop up today or both?
The mission of MS LAW is to provide a safe space for the MS girls to ask questions and learn more about what it means to be a girl at Latin. An added benefit is the mentor relationship that develops between the middle and upper schoolers. Jen and I meet with and help the US girls prepare to lead discussions about topics that we know are important every year (like the transition to the US, periods, bar/bat mitzvahs), but some meetings are set aside for the MS girls to ask the US girls questions. Some topics that are often asked about are friendships, relationships, parental pressures, questions about the US, balancing academic and extracurriculars and what it's like to be a girl at Latin.
How do you address intersectionality in feminism within such a homogeneous group?
We moderators speak explicitly with the US leaders about including multiple voices and experiences. For example, when we have bar/bat mitzvah conversations, we discuss class (not everyone can afford a new dress for each one). As much as we can, we encourage US girls to think intersectionally and to be prepared to address questions in that way. We also stay in the room during meetings to make sure that these topics are addressed during the meeting.
What is the biggest misperception about LAW in middle school?
That MS girls aren't thinking about topics of feminism or being affected by the ways that women's voices (of all ages) are silenced in our communities.
Is there anything else you would like to use this platform as an opportunity to share about LAW and its important work?
Despite our very intentional hard work as a faculty to make sure that girls feel welcomed in classes and our community, it is clear that the fault-lines in our society are already apparent to MS girls and profoundly felt by them.