Hundreds of students gathered in the courtyard of LM to kick off a day filled with opportunities to meet new people, and learn self-advocacy skills and strategies to address gender bias, sexism and harassment. The Girls’ Empowerment Conference was organized by Students Advocating for Gender Equality (SAGE) and was held on April 22. Notably, this was the first year that the conference was open to people of all genders.

To begin the conference, students got comfortable with their peers through team building activities hosted by Outward Bound. After these ice breakers, they attended a lecture by Stephanie Humphrey, a tech-life expert, media personality, and public speaker, who presented her inspiring career story. Humphrey explained how she was eventually able to combine her two passions, technology and acting, to become a tech-life expert. Conference attendee, Margarita Vinogradov ’18 exclaimed, “Stephanie Humphrey’s presentation was very inspiring and she was an amazing speaker! I learned a lot about women in STEM and the challenges they face.”

Participants then had the opportunity to attend three workshops of their choice. Eighth and ninth grade students watched the film Miss Representation and participated in discussion facilitated by Mary Ellen Balchunis, a 2016 congressional candidate and political science professor. In addition to this discussion, Mary Ellen Balchunis led her own workshop later in the day entitled, “Get Elected! Inspiring the Next Generation of Young Women Political Leaders.” Balchunis proposed steps to prepare students to become political leaders in their community. For example, she encouraged them to volunteer to work on a political campaign, assist with voter registration, help at the polls, and even more.

Another workshop available to students was “Making Bank: Negotiate Your Way to Self- Confidence”: a workshop teaching negotiation skills to women. Assisted by Wharton MBA students, the audience practiced real-life situations, including requesting a pay raise and asking for a promotion. The participants were taught life skills to help them in the present and prepare them for the future. Additionally, MBA students from the “Common Cents” club at Wharton led the information session.

Also, Techgirlz, a non-profit organization that teaches girls about different types of technologies and career options, held a workshop on creating your own website. Tech field professionals instructed the eighth and ninth grade participants on how to create their own website using WordPress. The workshop “Good Girls and Bad Girls: Pushing Back Against Stereotypes,” discussed how society labels girls and creates unrealistic expectations. Activities were led by college students from the Girls Justice League, a rights organization devoted to taking action for social, political, and economic justice for girls and young women. The workshop revealed how racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism are reinforced by our government and educational and legal systems. It encouraged students not to allow stereotypes to define them, but instead to implement change in society through youth-led activism.

Another workshop held by PAVE, Penn Anti-Violence Educators, informed the audience about the importance of consent and preventing harmful situations as well as providing strategies on how to be active bystanders and informing how inaction normalizes violence. “The Penn students provided great resources to contact if I or someone else is in trouble and how to safely intervene in detrimental situations,” Margarita Vinogradov ’18 recalled. Offered also was “Filters are the New Photoshop: How #BodyGoals Hurt our Self Esteem” which demonstrated how social media like Instagram and Snapchat manipulate our self-image. The presentation helped students boost their self-esteem by teaching them not to compare themselves to the edited models they see on social media, but instead embracing their own bodies.

The final workshops offered that day were active ones such as “Basic Self-Defense and Assertive Body Language” to protect themselves and “Yoga 101.” Julia Rosen ’18 stated, “This was my first time learning self-defense and it was a great experience! It makes me feel safer knowing I can defend myself.” Students also learned to be conscious of their surroundings and to identify signs of potential danger. Additionally, the students attending the conference learned how to use mindfulness to be fully present in the moment and not be distracted by their thoughts and environment. Lily Kemler ’19 noted that, “We did activities I would not associate with mindfulness, like telling facts.” Mindfulness techniques were practiced by the student participants as a wonderful way to de-stress and improve the quality of daily life.