Inspiring Youth to Overcome Obstacles


Girls from Youth Alive with their certificates of completion from "The Art of Negotiation" workshops, which were co-facilitated by Doris Behanzin, pictured second from the left.

Shortly after arriving at her new home in Pittsfield from Africa's Ivory Coast at the age of 15, Doris Behanzin '13 became involved with an organization called Youth Alive. An active volunteer for a variety of community service projects throughout her time at MCLA, it's no surprise she returned to help others at a place that inspired her.

For the past three semesters, Behanzin has served as an intern and a volunteer for Youth Alive and one of its programs, Rites of Passage and Empowerment (ROPE).

Recently, along with Dr. OjaeMichal Beale of the MCLA's Women's Center, Behanzin co-facilitated two workshops on "The Art of Negotiation" at Youth Alive, where she worked with a group of girls who attend high school in Pittsfield.

The project was part of a series of efforts by MCLA that were directed toward the topic of pay equity for women, which was funded by the American Association of University Women's (AAUW) Campus Action Project (CAP).

According to Behanzin, "The AAUW project on pay equity is important not only to me, but also to the youth, because it helped me and the girls to learn the concept of negotiation, and how to use it in our daily lives. This will also prepare them for the future when they are looking for jobs."

Armed with resources borrowed from Carnegie Mellon University's Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society (PROGRESS), "We wanted to introduce them to this idea of negotiation as a win-win process," Beale explained. "We dispelled the idea that negotiation is about you give me this and I give you that. The ideal negotiation is where both parties are satisfied, but it doesn't mean that there isn't some compromise."

The workshops could not have come at a better time.

"There was quite a bit of talk about the fear of approaching teachers, and that certain teachers wouldn't be open and receptive to having a conversation of any kind," said Beale. "We had such rich discussion and ... many of them gave very concrete ways that they planned to use negotiation."

Behanzin and Beale were surprised to learn that all of the girls believed that wage gaps no longer existed.

"They thought wage discrimination was out the door and women are being valued totally in the workplace. They were shocked. We had this really good discussion, giving concrete examples of how gender plays into that, and also how gender, for women in particular, plays a role in other aspects of life, such as purchasing a car."

Youth Alive was started in 1995 by Shirley Edgerton, a member of MCLA's Board of Trustees.

Edgerton, Behanzin explained, "has inspired so many young girls in Pittsfield to stay in school, and overcome the obstacles of what it means to be young black women. I wanted the girls to learn from my experiences. I also wanted to learn from them, and from Shirley Edgerton, who has been a role model to all of us."