Spotlight, March 2012
Every spring semester for the past three years, Linda Hoke-Sinex of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences has taught “Psychology of Adolescent Girls.” It is a class she long had an interest in teaching.
“I’m interested in the psychology of women, especially adolescent women. At that age, there tend to be a lot of developmental challenges, a lot of it dealing with body image, objectification, and even relational aggression. I wanted to apply that interest in a way that would help adolescent girls directly, while also helping my students better understand these challenges in a psychological context. Service-learning seemed like a perfect model, balanced to benefit both the students and these adolescent girls.”
“Psychology of Adolescent Girls,” began as a service-learning topics course in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, but for the first time, the course now has its own course number. Hoke-Sinex says the classroom portion of the course is basically a research-based seminar. For two class periods in a week, students discuss the academic literature on the psychology of women and girls. The course covers a range of topics, including dating and relationships, adolescent eating and anxiety disorders, and media representation of women and girls.
The course is small, usually with fifteen to twenty students, which helps enable the service-learning component of the course. Once a week, the students go onsite. Hoke-Sinex’s course is partnered with three local middle schools and is hoping to soon partner with a fourth. Her students spend one or two hours as mentors for groups of middle school girls at those schools.
“They’re not therapists, of course.” Hoke-Sinex describes the role of her students basically as role models and mentors. About five students are assigned to each middle school, working with the girls on particular issues. For example, they might take a teen magazine and deconstruct the images presented in this material, discussing the ways in which such imagery manipulates social ideals of feminine beauty. This forum generally takes a casual form as a sort of “lunch bunch,” where her service-learning students spend a casual lunch hour with adolescent girl students at the middle schools.
I asked Hoke-Sinex about the kinds of students who choose to take her class. “You know, the class is open to anyone, but for the past two years my service-learning students have been almost exclusively women.” She admits that, for the work that they do, it is often complicated to have students who identify as men mentoring adolescent girls. A lot of psychological research demonstrates that girls at that stage often do feel less comfortable being open and expressing themselves with a man around.
“Still, some of the girls we work with have specifically asked if a college-age man could join their mentor team. There’s definitely a place for everyone in this class."
Hoke-Sinex sees her course have a transformative effect on her service-learning students. “For the most part it’s a really positive experience and we have a lot of fun, but there are some tough times. My students get really attached to the girls, and sometimes the girls are going through serious problems in their lives. It can be hard for my students to work through these with their girls, but those are the moments where that relationship between my students and their mentees is most crucial.”
Hoke-Sinex emphasizes the connections she’s developed with community partners as a key to the success of her course—Batchelor Middle School, Jackson Creek Middle School, and The Harmony School. “You have to work hard to help those connections grow and become strong. They need to be nurtured. You have to be flexible and positive, because community partners are busy. But they care just as much. They, too, are trying to support these girls, as they go through one of the most challenging times in their lives.”
Linda Hoke-Sinex is a lecturer in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from Indiana University and studies influences of socially constructed gender roles on the psychology of girls and women.