Rooting Out Gender Inequality with Middle School Boys

 

Sometimes the path to leadership involves a bit of following after. For years, female students at Bowdoin have run a weekly mentoring group for girls at Bath Middle School called FFLY, short for “Fostering Female Leadership in Youth.” This fall, with help from FFLY, Bowdoin male students launched an equivalent group for middle school boys called CCLIMB, which stands for “Creating Compassionate Leadership in Maine Boys.”

After spending so much time at the school, a few FFLY mentors saw a need for a male counterpart to their group. Kate Berkley ’18, one of FFLY’s leaders, led CCLIMB’s initial brainstorming and planning sessions, as well as recruited CCLIMB leaders Ben Ray ’20 and Jesse Chung ’18, to lead the new group.

FFLY and Bowdoin, and now CCLIMB

Kate Berkley ’18

Since 2012, female students from Bowdoin have run a mentoring group for girls at Bath Middle School, using a curriculum designed by Bowdoin students. FFLY, short for Fostering Female Leadership in Youth, brings together college students and middle school girls weekly to discuss topics about growing up. One of the FFLY leaders, senior Kate Berkley, said that working with the group for four years had not only cemented her identity as a feminist, but has inspired her to consider a career in education or school administration. And it has honed her sense of service. “This work has made me think much more broadly about service, and what it means to enter a community and how to respond to the needs of community, how that shapes what you do,” she said. 
”They’ve cultivated a culture in the school that the girls participate in and talk about it, and it makes sense to include boys,” Ray said.

Not being a middle school-aged boy herself, Berkley pulled together a coalition of men, including Ray, Chung, and some Bowdoin staff, to plot out a lesson plan. She asked the group questions such as, “Who did you look up to and why? Where did you feel safe/most comfortable and why? What was important to you?”

They ended up with a unique curriculum tailored to the day-to-day lives of young boys. “We know that not everything we learn about in our gender studies classes will translate to a middle school classroom,” Ray said with a smile. “But we try our best to make the concepts bite-sized and really concrete for them.” They do this by giving tangible examples, using age-appropriate language, and covering topics like peer pressure, the onslaught of confusing online messages, and cyber bullying.

When the group launched last fall, Berkley said she was thrilled that so many boys at Bath Middle School signed up. By that point, since the planning stage was complete, she had also stepped aside while continuing to lead FFLY.

Then, not long after CCLIMB launched, the #MeToo movement broke out. The Bowdoin mentors adapted their curriculum to respond to media stories about men such as Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. “We felt a big impetus to be having these conversations,” Chung said. “Because it seemed more at the cultural forefront than ever to be addressing these issues that for so long had been bubbling under the surface.”

 

These #MeToo discussions don’t stray far from common themes in many CCLIMB discussions. “We talk about concepts of masculinity, and emotional vulnerability,” Ray said. An education and history major, and a gender and women’s studies minor, Ray said he jumped at the chance to help launch the inaugural CCLIMB group. “I believe gender is not talked about enough at schools, and ignoring it is actively causing problems in our society. So the chance to directly address that was huge for me.”

CCLIMB mentor Atticus Carnell ’18, who studies political theory and ethics at Bowdoin, said that education for young boys should not be overlooked when addressing issues of gender parity. “Solving problems such as gender inequality is going to involve programs [like CCLIMB] for boys as much as programs for girls,” he added.

Though Ray and Chung are the official leaders, Ray said the 10 Bowdoin students who volunteer as CCLIMB mentors work collaboratively to plan the weekly lessons. Besides Ray, Chung, and Carnell, the other participants are George Benz ’20, Ryan Telingator ’21, Luke Carberry ’18, Javier Najera ’19, James O’Shea ’20, Adam Silberberg ’20, Jono Harrison ’19, and Hunter White ’18.

Ray, who is interested in becoming a school teacher one day, said he believes that education plays a critical part in excising inequalities from society. “If we want to change how people see the world, and how people engage in their community as citizens, I believe that starts in schools,” he said. “It starts in the classroom.”

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