Who I Am:

My name is Lila Hitzig, I went to an all-girls school in New York City for 13 years before college and I am a computer science and education coordinate major. Being in a sisterhood community for so long helped me grow into who I am today. Thanks to my education, I was lucky enough to never even think that I couldn’t do something because of my gender. We were empowered every single day by our teachers and our peers who helped us grow into the critical thinkers we are today. I acknowledge that not every young girl in New York City, or elsewhere in the U.S. for that matter, has the opportunity to attend an all-girls school. That is why I wanted to dedicate my final education project to identifying grassroots organizations, specifically working toward bringing girls of all ages the tools they need to feel that they can achieve anything, and that they aren’t at a disadvantage because of their gender.

Personal picture from my 13 years at The Spence School

Where My Story Starts and Why I Care:

“Really, Lila? Have you never seen a simple extrude cut using filet on the sides…? It’s a good thing you’re pretty.” Six words in That Guy’s sentence were foreign to me.

In that moment, I noticed I was the only woman in the room at my summer engineering course at The Cooper Union. After years of single-sex education, I had never experienced such blatant sexism in the classroom. Was he really talking about me? As I made eye contact with That Guy, he snickered with his friends.

For the first time I felt trapped by the corrosive attitudes, entrenched in our schools and reinforced by That Guy, that make women shy away from reaching their potential. Intellectually, working with Professor Dell in a college laboratory and learning how to build my own desalination device in high school was an incredible experience. But an equally meaningful aspect of my intellectual discovery there was the newfound appreciation of my single sex education.

My “Saving the World” engineering program brought me out of my feminist utopia—I experienced institutionalized sexism on a micro scale for the first time. I have never been more intellectually engaged than when I felt my intellect was threatened. Experiencing this sexism, I understand why there aren’t more women in engineering—because That guy is actually A Lot of Guys who make A Lot of Women feel like they can’t pursue science. As I continue to develop my interest in science and engineering, I want to propel my feminist fantasy into reality.

Grassroots Community Organizing and Education:

Through my research for this website, I’ve realized how vastly different grassroots organizations can be even though they are categorized as having the same goal. Some grassroots organizations can focus on the specific needs of women of color, fostering that community as a place where women of color can express how they feel. These organizations are created by women who feel they need the community for themselves or created by women who feel younger girls need the community and a safe space. I found that other grassroots organizations wanted to specifically focus on bringing girls into a pre-professional field, so they feel they can have a leg up on their male counterparts. These types of organizations strive to bring role models to girls who, when asked for example, can only name male scientists. Other organizations I found focused on fostering leadership and social justice skills among young girls, helping them find their voice.

At the beginning of my research, I mainly expected all of the organizations to be structured in a very similar way: bring girls together, let them feel empowered in this environment, help them continue that confidence outside of the organization. However, I realized that even though New York City is one city itself, there are many different neighborhoods, each with different girls who have individual needs. Through my research, I’ve learned how necessary it is to have many different types of grassroots organizations all over a city, and especially a country.

In completing this website, I’ve learned that there is still work to be done in our schools to end inequity between girls and boys. These grassroots organizations I’ve studied are doing a great job at the community level of closing this gap and empowering girls to think beyond the stereotype, but it is clear that this problem needs to be tackled in schools as well. I also learned that these organizations, which I’d categorize as falling under Ella Baker’s model, are wonderful at fostering a community for every single person, empowering them all and not making one the sole leader.