December 2, 2005 — Aishatu and Aminatu Yusuf say attending college was a natural progression of their learning. “Our mom was a non-traditional college student. I went to school with her and sat in the corner,” says Aminatu, a junior majoring in health promotion and education. “My mom was always telling us the history of African Americans in this country; that we didn’t always have the opportunity to get an education; and that attending college is an opportunity to take.
But the sisters, who work on campus and are involved in a variety of U student organizations, realize that not all young students have a parent who is so encouraging. That is why Aishatu, a junior in political science, and Aminatu are serving as mentors in a new University of Utah program called “Go Girlz.”
Sponsored by the U’s Women’s Resource Center, the project aims to inspire adolescent girls from diverse and underrepresented populations to reach for higher education. The project targets seventh- through twelfth-graders, but has included younger fifth- and sixth-grade girls who want to be involved as well. The program hopes to attract students who might otherwise “fall through the cracks” of the educational system, notes Kimberly Hall, “Go Girlz” program coordinator at the Women’s Resource Center.
Currently, “Go Girlz” serves young women from the Sugarhouse, Lied and Capitol West units of the Boys and Girls Club, Glendale and Bryant Middle School. “Go Girlz” also works in conjunction with YouthCity, Salt Lake City’s afterschool and summer youth program.
Twice a month “Go Girlz” participants visit the University, where they meet mentors like the Yusuf sisters. Together they explore the academic and cultural aspects of college life. They have visited or are planning to visit the U’s residential living, Primary Children’s Medical Center, the Marriott Library, a genetics lab, the theater and dance departments. Some of the girls have already participated in seminars on self-esteem and group responsibilities, which will be repeated regularly.
Hall says, “Our ultimate goal is to graduate a ‘Go Girlz’ fifth grader from the University of Utah. The program and the visits to campus expose these girls to various University departments and opens their minds to what college involves.”
Morgan, a 12-year-old participant, enjoyed the October tour of campus and the ice cream that went with it. “We saw one guy’s dorm and how it works,” she remembers. “He told us about his activities, what he is studying and that he’s not good at math. And that lunch is all-you-can-eat.”
In September, Morgan’s friend, Alexis, 11, attended a “Go Girlz” meeting where she learned “how to speak computer language.” Both were on hand last week, in the U’s Marriott Library, when “Go Girlz” participants learned how to build a Web site from U gender studies staff member kt farley and student volunteers Matt Cottrell and Jamie Miller.
Aminatu says that some “Go Girlz” participants may never have been on campus. “But they can look at us and say, ‘She’s someone like me, and she’s in college,'” she notes.
Piloted last March, “Go Girlz” averages attendance of between 10 and 18 girls each session. Project administrators hope to increase the number of participants and build a core group of girls by next fall. The program is currently funded by Student Affairs at the University of Utah and is in the process of applying for grants.
Founded in 1971, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) at the University of Utah supports and facilitates women’s choices, changes and empowerment through advocacy, workshops, group and individual counseling. The center offers a broad range of programming, including the weekly “Food for Thought” series, the Seeds of Violence Awareness Week and a pro bono initiative through the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. The WRC has the only feminist multicultural training program in the country, providing counseling, support groups and oversight of the Violence Against Women initiative on campus and advising for the student-driven Peers Educating to End Rape (PEER). For more information on Women’s Resource Center programs, call 801-581-8030 or visit http://www.sa.utah.edu/women/.