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The Campaign for Sisterhood
Why alumni Lauren Parsekian and Molly Stroud launched the nonprofit Kind Campaign to address female adolescent violence and bullying.
Kindness can be an underrated virtue for today's young women, who endure more pressure than ever to get ahead of the pack. The strains often lead to what Seaver College alumni Lauren Parsekian (’09) and Molly Stroud (’09) call "girl-against-girl" crime: manipulation, violence, threats, rumor-spreading, and outright bullying.
Lauren Parsekian and Molly Stroud
In a bid to combat the breakdown of sisterhood, the two friends launched the nonprofit Kind Campaign, which began over a year ago as a single documentary. "A lot of the female community is so broken, and we wanted to start a dialogue about the issue," explains Parsekian, who was reminded again and again of the vital role that strong bonds and friendships play in shaping a female adolescent's confidence and identity.
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"I interviewed a girl in Washington who gave me her whole, traumatic life story, and throughout the entire conversation she didn't break once, or cry," she remembers. "But towards the end, she recalled one girlfriend who, at her lowest point, had turned on her. That was when she lost it; she was most upset about losing a friend. It was such a powerful reminder of how important friendship is."
In September of last year, they embarked on a month long campaign trail across America, filming their documentary as they debuted the Kind Campaign through speaking engagements, media interviews, and school assemblies. While filming they realized that the issue deserved a wider scope, and launched the adjoining Kind Campaign movement. This second component includes a thriving web site and a program for schools.
"One thing we were curious about, both having lived and studied in Malibu, was if California is the worst state for this problem," says Stroud. "But in every state, girls have similar experiences of girl-against-girl crime, though about different things."
As an example, Stroud says that in California, girls tend to fight over clothes and boys, while in Nebraska they fight over knowledge of farming and horses. They only found one exception on their journey. "We spoke to some girls in an Amish community. It seemed that they were the only girls we met that didn't recognize what we were talking about."
At times, there were also uncomfortable reminders of their own experiences; both had been victims of bullying or "unkindness" at different points, but Parsekian recalls a reunion with Amanda, a high school peer from her hometown of Laguna Beach, who had always been picked on in school.
"I knew it would be a heavy interview," Parsekian confesses. "She still deals with this now, with girls just being mean to her. As she explained her experiences, it hit me hard because I remember seeing things happen to her and I always felt bad for her. I'd be nice to her—but only when no one else was watching. I realized the importance of not being a bystander."
Though she had started the project from the position of a victim, meeting up with Amanda four years after high school ended helped Parsekian to get a new perspective. "I realized I was just as much a part of her experience because I didn't do anything to help her, and in assemblies after that interview I've told that story. You should stand up for someone. It's obviously a lot easier said than done, but it's so important."
The campaign trail also, unfortunately, brought to light more extreme bullying suffered by girls who are targeted for nothing more than being slightly different. One African American girl in Texas, now a plus-size model in her mid-20's, shared her memories of elementary school including one recess when she was asked to play a game with a group of girls in her class. The "game" involved the group tying her up and whipping her with a pearl necklace.
"Just hearing that story about very, very young girls coming together to pretend to play with her and then whipping her instead was so extreme and shocking—this was not just an example of girls being catty," says Parsekian.
The campaign is now off the road and the girls are editing the documentary, which will be screened at future campaign events. Through word of mouth and a buzzing Web site, the Kind Campaign has resonated with girls, teachers, and parents across the country, as well as the media. Though the project is still in its infancy, the girls have already been interviewed on the Dr. Phil show and in the New York Times.
They both say if they can reach girls on a personal level, they will have satisfied their aim. One way they are achieving this is through their Kind Apology idea, which encourages those who have engaged in hurtful behavior to apologize—outright, or anonymously. They have implemented the idea on their web site, and also initiated apology sessions during school group exercises. The responses, they have found, display the life-changing power of girl-against-girl-crime awareness.
Parsekian recalls one senior high school class in Chicago, where they were surprised to find the majority of apologies directed at one student in particular. "We learned later that she had been considering leaving that school, but after the exercise was actually glad that she hadn't."
By Sarah Fisher
This story is an extended version of an article that appeared in the recent Pepperdine Annual Report.