Link Up holds conference for middle school girls

by Hannah Hye Min Chung | 5/26/15 7:48pm

One hundred and twenty-two female middle school students from six Upper Valley schools visited the College yesterday to participate in an annual Sister-to-Sister conference hosted by Link Up, a student organization dedicated to fostering connections between Dartmouth community members.

Titled “Standing Up and Speaking Out,” this year’s conference focused on individual voices, Link Up co-president Liz Gold ’17 said. She said that the conference’s organizers wanted to remind the middle school participants that their opinions and thoughts are valued, and that they should not feel intimidated by sharing them.

Gold said that it is common for girls to lose their confidence as they move from elementary school to middle school.

“We want to really focus on having these girls maintain the confidence that they had in the past,” she said.

Link Up co-president Sarah Han ’17 said that to more effectively convey the message to participants, new activities were added to this year’s conference. The participants, with the help of the 20 female facilitators, created interactive skits to demonstrate correct and incorrect ways of responding in situations such as bullying.

During a new activity added this year, the middle school participants were encouraged to get to know one another better by finding people with characteristics listed on their bingo cards, Gold said.

Also for the first time this year, the participants received Link Up T-shirts signed by participants and facilitators, Han said.

“That was a really rewarding experience for us because at the end of the day, we saw some of the girls who had been really quiet at the beginning of the day, kind of just sitting on their own, going up to their facilitator, asking for them to sign their shirts,” she said.

The conference began with a speech by WISE of the Upper Valley’s program director Kate Rohdenburg, which addressed issues, such as body image, faced by many middle school girl.

The conference continued with activities including a “Mean Girls” (2004) movie activity, a crossing-the-line activity, a panel discussion with four female undergraduate students and time spent writing self-addressed letters that the participants will be receiving next year.

Gold said that her favorite part of the conference was Rohdenburg’s opening speech, because she thought the talk raised concerns to which the participants could connect.

It is important for young girls to have a chance to learn how to stand up for themselves and voice their opinions at such formative years, and more and more students began displaying that confidence as the conference continued, she said.

Han said that the crossing-the-line activity allowed her to empathize with the participants, as some of the questions asked during the activity reminded her of the concerns and feelings she experienced in middle school.

Link Up board member Melissa Biggs ’18 said that when preparing for the conference, Link Up members thought back to what they would have wanted to hear from older students when they were in middle school.

From the moment that facilitators and organizers welcomed the students in flair, she said the participants expressed enjoyment and excitement.

“It just seems like it’s an experience they will remember for quite a time,” she said.

Maddie Koehler ’17, one of the facilitators, said that she decided to volunteer because she thought meeting and talking to younger students about the issues they might face would be a great opportunity for her to “empower young women.”

“I thought it was really great that we fostered an atmosphere where these girls feel comfortable telling strangers about issues that they face,” she said.

This year’s conference was funded by the President’s Office, the Center for Gender and Student Engagement, a Rockefeller Center mini-grant and the Dartmouth Investment in Philanthropy Program.

“These organizations have made it possible for all the schools to come completely free of charge, which is one of the big selling points for the schools,” she said.

Correction Appended (May 29, 2015):

The original version of this story did not include that DIPP also funded the conference.