Communities of Scholars

Identity and girlhood connections.

April 21, 2014

Celebrations of student scholarship always make me smile.  Whether known as Academic Festival, Undergraduate Research Day, or “Community of Scholars” as we call ours at Lesley University, the eclectic and celebratory sharing of knowledge, discovery, and co-creation across boundaries is often dynamic, visible, visceral, and fun.

Institutions craft their identities in all different ways -- sometimes by devoting decades to hiring superstars in a key department, and other times through branding campaigns and focus groups.   Or sometimes, it’s through days like “Community of Scholars” which can showcase core values and crystalize collective identity more strongly than a prestigious hire or a new logo.  The theme for this year’s Community of Scholars Day was “Work in Progress,”  selected by our Dean of Faculty, Lisa Fiore, and a team of colleagues to signal appreciation for all stages of scholarship.  “Work in progress” as a theme also values and celebrates the process of inquiry and elevates the messy, frustrating stage of uncertainty where great learning happens.  

I‘m tickled by what this year’s program signals about the community of scholars at Lesley.  It’s full of projects that cross the boundaries of arts, education, and counseling fields, and advance creative thinking.   Topics leap from the neurobiology of mindfulness, to coding in elementary schools, and to student-led entrepreneurship in an online arts business venture.  It’s a program that captures the essence of the institution – artful, learner-centric, culturally attuned, and proud of the critical pedagogies that foster co-creation and social change.

Community of Scholars was scheduled coincidentally on the same day as a Massachusetts ACE Women’s Network event and executive board meeting.   That event included a diverse cross-section of women in higher education across a wide range of institutions and at many different points in our careers.   We puzzled through topics like finding voice in budget discussions and working at multiple levels to align resources with priorities.  The board meeting that followed had a collective energy of folks working to strengthen and rebuild infrastructure in the all-volunteer higher ed women’s group.  Flying in late to Community of Scholars, my split time that day had me dashing from one group of inspiring women nurturing works in progress to another.  

At Community of Scholars, I was fortunate to attend a panel presentation of alumni from Professor Amy Rutstein Riley’s sociology course entitled: “Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture.” The graduates eloquently described the lasting impact of their participation in the grant-funded service learning course where they had collaboratively unpacked issues of body image, media literacy, and identity development using feminist theory.   They then applied these insights to co-design and facilitate a seven-week “Girls, Media and YOU!” after-school group of urban middle-school girls in Cambridge.  The course profoundly affected each of them, and they shared their life-after-college current roles with justifiable pride:  “… just got a job as a counselor at a youth service center”  “working at a Chinatown resource group helping build a pathway to college for first generation immigrant teens”…etc.  

The twenty-somethings elaborated on their own identity construction through the process, the exhilaration they felt as they co-constructed with the girls in their groups, and shared the ways that they continue to use these principles in their positions today.  The girlhood project had clearly impacted both the career trajectories and the identity formation of these talented young women.   Their insights included these thoughtful observations that generalize to higher ed leadership remarkably well:

“I learned to trust the group process  -- to be open to where the girls wanted to take it.  “

“I had to learn how to step up but step back”

“I found my voice though helping others find theirs”

“I learned how to use feminist pedagogy to guide group discussions”

Sitting with the warm audience for this girlhood panel, I thought of my morning with the MA ACE Women’s Network and considered the institutional identity elevated in the Community of Scholars program.  I thought of the staggering number of works in progress in higher education, and reflected on the ways that the principles of the girlhood project could impact and advance identity construction at all levels:  individual, institutional, and industry identity.   

I thought appreciatively of the different communities of scholars, girlhood and otherwise, with whom I am fortunate to regularly engage in developing these identities,  And I realized that once again, I found myself at a showcase of student scholarship, processing what I’d learned from our students, and smiling.


Lisa Ijiri, is a higher education administrator,  a PhD mama of 3 (ages 10, 17, and 24), and a Fulbright scholar with disciplinary expertise in Learning Disabilities and Psychology.  She is the Associate Provost for Academic Program and Resource Planning at Lesley University, where she leads a number of efforts including global initiatives, grants and sponsored projects, new program resource planning, accreditation, and the renowned Threshold program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. She is a member of the MA ACE Women's Network Executive Board and author of a chapter on reframing work-life balance in the Resource Handbook for Academic Deans - Third Edition (2014).


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