Young Women's Health Leadership Summit Brings High School Students to UCSF

By Shipra Shukla

Keonna "Kiki" Robinson, a panelist at the Young Women's Health Leadership Summit, which was sponsored by the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women's Health and the SFUSD, recounts her challenges as an African-American daughter of a single parent, and her success as a recipient of a full-tuition soccer scholarship to the University of San Francisco.

“This conference is about discovering who I am and how I am different from the person next to me,” said Harriet Hu, a junior at San Francisco’s George Washington High School and a member of the Youth Steering Committee of the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health (CoE) at UCSF. Hu’s words opened the daylong Young Women's Health Leadership Summit, which brought together nearly 250 high school students, along with UCSF and community leaders, to UCSF Mission Bay on March 25. “Finding that special something in you is what allows you to find your way in this world,” said Nancy Milliken, MD, Vice Dean of the School of Medicine and director of the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women's Health. “All of us are here today to support that journey.” The Young Women's Health Leadership Summit is an example of how UCSF is following through on its strategic plan, which calls for serving the community and strengthening partnerships between the campus and the community. By convening workshops and discussions that address how young women can develop their potential, the summit has the long-term potential to eliminate health disparities and empower them to succeed in life.

Empowering Young Women

CoE collaborated with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to convene the summit under the theme of “Strive, Struggle and Succeed.” “We have a word in Spanish, ganas; it means the ‘will’ or the ‘desire,’” said Carlos Garcia, superintendent of SFUSD. “That’s what it’s about. You can’t strive unless you have ganas. And if it’s worth doing, it will be a struggle. Part of life is to struggle and success will be more appreciated after the struggle. We’re here today to show these girls that they are not alone on that journey to success.”

Carlos A. Garcia, Superintendent of Schools, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), delivers an inspirational welcome address at the Young Women's Health Leadership Summit at the UCSF Mission Bay Community Center on March 25.

Garcia told the crowd that addressing the K-12 education gap is the greatest challenge facing education today. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, the chance that children of poor or middle-class families will climb up the income ladder has not changed significantly over the last three decades. Garcia noted that partnerships like the ones with UCSF, including the Science & Health Education Partnership, are key to addressing disparity issues. “UCSF is stepping it up for all of us and this partnership is just the beginning,” he said. “A year and a half ago, we thought about the amazing things we could do if we partnered with UCSF. And now it’s happening; it’s a win-win for everybody. I’m especially excited that this conference is focused on women because I think young women need to feel that there is a sisterhood and be exposed to role models.”

Overcoming Hardship

The summit featured a panel of successful young women in their 20s and 30s who offered insight into how they overcame their own struggles growing up. Shalonda Ingram, a producer and social entrepreneur, revealed her challenges in starting a business. She described her ventures Nursha Project and Born Brown, both organizations that are committed to promoting social change. She also spoke about the Frameline film she co-produced, titled Definition: Aya de Leon, which deals with issues of African Americans and GLBT. Each of the panelists touched on the importance of having a strong sense of self to overcome cycles of violence and poverty. The concept of identity and one’s relationship to oneself and others was further explored through a discussion of intimate partner violence, framed by Miriam Martinez, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics.

Shalonda Ingram, moderator at the summit, tells hundreds of high school girls how she overcame a difficult upbringing to become a successful business owner and activist.

“It’s important for us to let people know that violence is not acceptable on any level,” said Martinez. “Many of the young women who experience intimate partner violence have also witnessed intimate partner violence between their caregivers at home. They often think of violence as part of love. The girls need to know that love doesn’t hurt.” One way in which UCSF is addressing the issue of intimate partner violence is through a partnership between CoE, the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and UCSF-affiliated San Francisco General Hospital. Living in a Nonviolent Community (LINC) is a comprehensive, community-oriented program that aims to reduce the incidence of intimate partner violence and its impact on children, youths and their families. Martinez’s current research involves working through LINC with the SFUSD to create trauma-sensitive school environments within the school district. The project will develop, implement and evaluate a multilevel, school-based prevention and intervention approach. “LINC is applying a multifaceted approach in which we will be working with teachers, staff and families,” said Martinez. “We’ll be providing trainings for teachers that include explaining how trauma impacts learning. Often a student is acting up in class, and the behavior is labeled as oppositional or bad. Many times, the behavior is really a result of trauma.” Throughout the summit, CoE leaders provided support and guidance by creating an atmosphere that allowed the young women to share and shine. The leaders sat at the back of the room while the CoE Youth Steering Committee took center stage up front. In fact, the entire day remained focused on young women and their futures. UCSF leaders reminded the young women that the University is committed to increasing access to the educational pipeline by those who are interested in careers in the health sciences. “We are about to break ground on a new hospital, and it is my hope that some of you will join us in making the world a better place through health care and scientific discovery,” said Milliken. Photos by Susan Merrell

Related Links:

UCSF Pursues Stronger Partnership with San Francisco Unified School District
UCSF Today, Nov. 5, 2007

National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health

Young Women's Health Leadership Summit