The Young Feminist Club is marking its return to Westerville North High School this year by taking on a project that aims to engage and empower their younger peers across the community.
Through the group’s “Dear Me” initiative, WNHS students are writing letters to their younger selves, offering the advice and encouragement they would have given themselves about their body image and self-worth. Once completed, club members want to share their messages with those of the same age as their younger selves — elementary students.
“It’s helping tie together not only the people in our school but people in the community and being able to accept that we’re not all perfect and we don’t always feel confident and we’re all going through the same thing,” sophomore and club member Trinity Cochran said.
Spanish teacher Beth Henman, who re-launched the club last fall, proposed the project after reading a Facebook post from a mother who shared her concerns about how her elementary-age daughter started exhibiting signs of body-image shame.
“I started thinking that our group may be able to use its voice to combat that,” she said. “The idea is that we are students and teachers in the Westerville community rather than people from outside. We could give some words that may help our own Westerville youth, encouraging them from right here at WNHS.”
The club has been working on the Dear Me project since November. A nutritionist from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, as well as a representative from the district’s Mental Health & Wellness team, worked with students to craft their letters and consider the messages they wanted to share with their younger audience.
Club members composed their letters as well as gathered ones from staff and students across the building. The group is planning to create a video of students reading excerpts from letters to share across the community, especially elementary school students.
“‘Dear Me’ is not only a salutation but ‘Dear Me’ is also saying, ‘I’m dear and I’m precious,’” Henman said.
The project is at the heart of Henman’s goal for the club: to empower and engage students. And members have answered the call.
Sophomore Katarina Kojis thought the club sounded interesting and wanted to have a part in helping get it started.
“I want to do everything I can to try to work on equality in our society,” she said.
For Cochran, part of that comes from addressing preconceived perceptions about the club.
“I feel like with the word ‘feminist,’ there is a negative connotation,” she said. “I wanted to debunk that in our school because feminism doesn’t mean that we want more, we just want equality.”
“It’s good for people to realize to be a feminist you don’t have to be a woman,” she said. “You just have to be supportive of them. And I feel like we all have a woman we love and support and so that means standing up for them.”
The two have sought to involve male students in the club and at Monday’s meeting, several joined the group for the first time.
They listened to members talk about “highs” and “lows” since their last meeting, where they celebrated successes and shared stories where people made comments to them that prescribed to gender stereotypes. They learned more about the plans for the Dear Me project and how he could participate.
“It’s something that a lot of people need to know,” said one male student. “It’s good that all kinds of people are getting involved.”