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Female students reach out to local middle school girls, aim to empower

%E2%80%9CWe+focus+on+empowerment%2C%E2%80%9D+Jenna+Borowski%2C+executive+director+of+the+Marquette+WYSE+branch+and+senior+in+the+College+of+Communication%2C+said.+%E2%80%9CWe+try+not+to+tell+the+girls+what+to+do%2C+but+rather+give+them+a+variety+of+options.+They+can+choose+what+works+best+for+them.%E2%80%9D
“We focus on empowerment,” Jenna Borowski, executive director of the Marquette WYSE branch and senior in the College of Communication, said. “We try not to tell the girls what to do, but rather give them a variety of options. They can choose what works best for them.”

“We focus on empowerment,” Jenna Borowski, executive director of the Marquette WYSE branch and senior in the College of Communication, said. “We try not to tell the girls what to do, but rather give them a variety of options. They can choose what works best for them.”

Photo by Jenny Whidden

Photo by Jenny Whidden

“We focus on empowerment,” Jenna Borowski, executive director of the Marquette WYSE branch and senior in the College of Communication, said. “We try not to tell the girls what to do, but rather give them a variety of options. They can choose what works best for them.”

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Twenty-three female Marquette students meet every Friday afternoon to drive to a Milwaukee middle school. The students carpool on their way to spend an hour mentoring middle school girls.

The students work through Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, an organization that mentors young women through their middle school years and empowers them to choose their own future. Marquette represents one of twelve WYSE branches in the nation.

For Margaret Heck, a junior in the College of Communication and director of external communication for WYSE, it is the best part of her week.

“It’s very refreshing to go each Friday and end my week in this middle school. It makes me happy to be there,” Heck said.

Sessions take place in the library of the Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education, a kindergarten through twelfth grade school located about seven miles north of Marquette.

“We focus on empowerment,” Jenna Borowski, executive director of the Marquette WYSE branch and senior in the College of Communication, said. “We try not to tell the girls what to do, but rather give them a variety of options. They can choose what works best for them.”

Mentors take topics set by the national organization and present them each week. They design activities and unique ways of talking about them. Topics include race, body positivity and gender stereotypes.

“We talk about sexuality, about pregnancy, about puberty. We get girls talking about that kind of stuff because in middle school it’s very taboo,” Borowski said. “It’s nice to have an older woman in your life who’s not your mom and who you can talk to.”

Borowski emphasized that mentorship is full circle, and it often goes both ways.

“Last year, we got our first mentee that is now a mentor,” Borowski said. “(WYSE) is about seeing that full circle and knowing that not only am I making an impact on their lives, but they’re making a much larger impact on my own life. The idea that empowered women empower women is so true throughout our whole organization.”

For Federica Quattrone, a junior in the College of Business and director of finance for WYSE, the relationships that the mentors build with their mentees are powerful for both parties.

“There’s a realization that we get to hang out with these amazing girls that give so much to us. It’s crazy because you think that we’re going there and volunteering our time, but the relationships we get to build with them are really powerful to us as well,” Quattrone said.

Quattrone added that the results of the weekly lessons are often surprising for mentors. Each year, there is a session about race. Mentees are asked to write what they think about a specific race on posters that are spread throughout the room.

“We went to this school and we had these primarily African-American and Asian girls write on the black and Asian posters things like ‘ugly,’ ‘stupid,’ and ‘fat.’ They would go to the white poster and put ‘pretty’ and ‘smart.’ Going in and seeing that is so eye-opening for us,” Quattrone said.

In addition to their weekly sessions, WYSE mentors take the mentees on field trips, host guest speakers and hold a banquet at the end of the year.

WYSE also puts on an annual “No Bake Sale.” On Tuesday, Nov. 7, the mentors will be selling hot chocolate under the Raynor Bridge. The suggested donations will demonstrate the gender pay gap, with men being asked to pay one dollar, white women 80 cents, black women 63 cents and so on.

“The good thing about this specific fundraiser is that unlike Sobelman’s, which is primarily for the funds, this one is more to highlight the gender wage gap and to advertise WYSE,” Quattrone said. “That’s how we get such a great batch of mentors every year. The program would be nothing without the amazing mentors.”

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