Trojans Mentor Teens With Rites of Sisterhood
“What is college life like? Is it fun?” asked Mykala Davis, a freshman at Foshay High School, during her first session with Rites of Sisterhood, a USC mentoring organization that pairs undergraduate women with teenage girls from neighboring areas.
The program began in 1997 with the goal of empowering and guiding young women of color through adolescence. Each year, Rites of Sisterhood mentors recruit new mentees at local high schools with the message that all are welcome to join. Often, mentees will bring friends to sessions as the school year progresses.
“There was a need to bring girls from around the neighborhood onto USC’s campus, to show them that college was attainable,” said Michaela Simpson, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention and co-president of Rites of Sisterhood. “An aspect of that is letting the girls see women who look like them going to college.”
Every Saturday, mentors and mentees gather at EVK Restaurant and Grill for a breakfast, chat and briefing of the day’s activities. The group then moves to Waite Phillips Hall or a mentor’s apartment for a teaching session. Sessions cover a range of topics, including etiquette, healthy relationships, poetry and college admissions.
At a recent session in co-president Danielle Moon’s Cardinal Gardens apartment, the mentors began by pinning up a handmade poster of the organization’s rules, which encourage open-mindedness, participation, fun and positivity. The group then read aloud a short biography of the late U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm and discussed what stood out about her life — the challenges, ambitions and accomplishments she had as a woman of color.
“Chisholm had many different aspects to her identity, but she saw herself as a candidate for people everywhere,” said Moon, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
Following the discussion, the women worked on creating self-portraits from watercolors, chunks of clay and magazine clippings. When a mentee saw a magazine picture she considered degrading to women, the mentors initiated a talk about the image. As the day wore on, the group continued to have discussions about issues of self-awareness, self-esteem and identity.
Although education and development are the priorities of the organization, the women also enjoy each other’s company in a sociable atmosphere.
“We have a good time,” Simpson said. “The mentees do look up to us, and we have to set an example, but we laugh a lot, too.”
Christina Hoskin, a senior from San Marino High School and fourth-year mentee, agreed: “The program is really well-rounded. It’s not just academics, it’s fun.” Her favorite aspect of the program is “the bonding.”
Moon also values these special bonds and the growth that both mentors and mentees experience as a result.
“My favorite thing is seeing where they started at the beginning, and at the end of the year seeing where they are,” she said. “And seeing where you are — you’re changed, too. I’m always completely amazed by that.”