Reaching Out to Young African-American Women

“Lifting as we climb” is the motto of the Daughters of the Collective, a student organization where undergraduate and graduate students work with middle school African-American women in grades 6-8. 

Founded within the College of Arts & Letters, this mentoring organization is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

group of students posing for a picture together outside

“We follow the mantra ‘lifting as we climb’ because it’s not about one individual person, it’s about helping the community,” said Denise Troutman, Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Culture, who is the advisor for the organization.

“We’re interested in developing the skills of MSU undergraduate and graduate students. But more importantly, it’s about reaching back to the African-American community and helping young black girls understand more about African-American culture, understand more about themselves, and to think about their careers in terms of what they want to do in the future.” 

It’s not about one individual person, it’s about helping the community.

Troutman founded the organization 10 years ago with two other people – then graduate student, Mary Phillips, and than undergraduate student, Genieva Thomas.

“We knew we wanted to do something for black girls, and so we started the organization,” Troutman said. “We’ve traditionally worked with schools in Detroit. That’s where we began in 2006, working with Malcolm X Academy.”

The organization now works with Dixon Academy in Detroit and as of fall 2015 started working with two Lansing schools – Sexton High School and Pattengill Middle School.

students working together

“I am thrilled that we have been able to work with the Lansing Schools. MSU’s land-grant mission means a lot to me and so I always pushed the idea that we have to do something locally,” Troutman said. “It’s not about receiving for DOC, it’s about giving and this is one way we can give to the College, the University, and the community.”

Daughters of the Collective consists of 25 undergraduate mentors and two graduate students. The graduates mentor the undergraduate students, while the undergraduates mentor the middle school students in which there are between 15 and 20 per year.

Each year a different theme is selected, with this year’s theme being “Building as We Climb,” and five to six sessions are held per semester, with each session tapping into the overall theme. During a session, the middle school students are bussed to MSU’s campus for a day of presentations, hands-on activities, one-on-one mentoring, and campus activities.

We also want them to see that Michigan State University as a place that they can pursue.

While the mentors are gaining leadership skills, the middle school students gain life skills.

“They are just thrilled to have this experience and to be in this setting. They love the program and love being here,” Troutman said. “And the mentors see themselves as big sisters to these young girls. That middle school age, it’s one that’s not easy for a lot of people and so they have a big sister. We also want them to see that Michigan State University as a place that they can pursue.”

At the end of the academic year, a DOC weekend is held where 15 of the middle school girls are selected to participate and come to campus for a two-day, overnight experience.

Students of any major are welcome to apply to become Daughters of the Collective mentors.

The organization deals with different issues that build off the skills of the undergraduates within the group.

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, Troutman said she would like to see the organization grow.

“I want us to bring on other faculty members, and by bringing on other faculty members, this could expand easily,” Troutman said. “I also want to collaborate with different programs on campus and bring in other schools.”

For more information on the organization, see the Daughters of the Collective website.