Policy Connection 2013 Student Blogger Contest

Blog Contest Winners

From left to right: Marta Rosa, Senior Executive Director of Government & External Affairs and Strategic Partnerships; Chief Diversity Officer; Stephanie Ambroziewicz, 3rd prize winner; Haley Weinreich, 1st prize winner; Jackie Jenkins-Scott, President of Wheelock College; Katherine Schleyer, 3rd prize winner.

1st Prize Entry:
It's Time for Feminism by Haley Weinreich

I've done a lot of things this year. I've started my junior year at Wheelock College, I (finally) moved out of my parent's house, and I begrudgingly learned how to pay my own bills. But, by far, the most important thing I've done this year was discover feminism. Feminism is a scary word to a lot of people, and it should be. Feminism means refusing to accept the way things operate in our society. It means that things are going to change.

Feminism means equal pay for women. It means self-governance over our own bodies. It means leadership opportunities, shattering the glass ceiling, being able to comfortably walk alone at night, and it means that your gender doesn't determine the way you're treated in this society.

I was prompted to write about a pressing social problem, one that community leaders or activists can address, and the steps they might take to resolve it. Picking the unpopular hot button issue of feminism probably won't help my chances of getting this published, but this is the most pressing social issue in my life, as I experience oppression based solely on my gender every single day. I am tired of being told I should be more focused on finding a husband than pursuing a career in politics. I am tired of being told that ‘I'm smart- for a girl.' I am tired of the way I dress determining the way people treat me. Most of all, I am tired of knowing that I'm not alone in this exhaustion. These experiences are unfortunately not unique to me. Instead they are the collective experiences of the sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, and daughters that have the audacity of being born female.

Change will not come easily or quickly. A simple shift in policy will not do the trick, nor will personally identifying as a feminist. We need a multigenerational societal solution for a multigenerational societal problem. Lawmakers can do a better job of introducing and passing bills pertaining to equal rights for women. Businesses can do a better job of hiring women for the positions they are qualified to assume. Schools can do a better job of instilling equality among their male and female students. We can all do better.

It's time for a change. We live in a flawed society-one dictated by media and politics instead of knowledge and compassion. I want to live in a world where I have a say in the way things are run, and one where my gender doesn't decide if I achieve my dreams. I was 18 years old before I saw the first female Senator of Massachusetts elected, and frankly that was 18 years too long. It's time for women in powerful positions to not be an anomaly. It's time for little girls who dream of being President or working on Capitol Hill or running a company to have living proof that it is not only possible, but that it's achievable. It's time for men and women to realize this problem is not a ‘woman's issue,' it's an economic issue, a family issue, a human rights issue, and a public safety issue. It's time for us to organize and refuse to accept the society we live in is a lost cause. I came to Wheelock College for one very specific reason-to inspire a world of good. It's time for all of us to take on that challenge, to better ourselves, our families, our communities, our states, our country, and our world.

It's time for Feminism.

HaleyAbout the author:
My name is Haley Weinreich, and I'm graduating in 2015 with a double major in Political Science & Global Studies as well as American Studies. I plan on pursuing graduate degree in Political Science, and hope to one day represent the people of Massachusetts in Washington DC. I'm interested in politically advocating for marginalized demographics, and increasing political participation among my fellow students and citizens.

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2nd Prize Entry:
Unaccompanied Homeless Youth in Massachusetts: What Does This Mean? by Katherine Schleyer

It happens to be a snowy day in March and I sit in the comfort of my warm (relatively) house in the suburbs of Boston. I am a middle-aged graduate student at Wheelock College studying contemporary issues of children and families. One of our assignments is to research and report on a personal topic of interest. Professionally, I am the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women. I could write extensively on the importance of afterschool for children and youth, but today I must write on another topic.

A few years ago my daughter, while in college in Connecticut, invited me to a community gathering she helped organize on human trafficking. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness of the topic and to encourage attendees to take action to help support young women who are lured or forced into a captive life of servitude or sexual exploitation. The impetus nationwide is to provide supports for the women to decriminalize their actions and to find, prosecute, and penalize the "johns" and pimps. At the time Massachusetts was one of three states without human trafficking legislation.

Today, Massachusetts has legislation in place against human trafficking but it is time to enact new legislation to protect a particularly vulnerable group of young adults who can fall prey to those who would enslave them into a life of sexual exploitation. These youth are called "unaccompanied homeless youth" and are defined as 1) under the age of 25 and 2) not in the physical custody or care of a parent or legal guardian and 3) lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing. My intent is to draw attention to the importance of passing legislation to support unaccompanied homeless youth to them help avoid mental trauma, dropping out of school, living on the street, or becoming victims of human tracking. The multiple risks faced by homeless youth trying to survive on their own demand solutions that encompass stable housing, access to mental health services, job and skill development, etc. Therefore, legislation or state funding through line item budgeting is needed to enable these wraparound services.

First we must find these young people. An anecdotal phrase that describes one survival mode is "couch surfing." This term refers to youth that move from house to house seeking temporary refuge with help from relatives, friends or strangers. Others live on the street trying to survive by work (hard to get) or petty crime, selling drugs, trading sex for food or money or get caught up in the ravages of prostitution and illegal activities. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) estimates that there are approximately 6,000 high school students unaccompanied and homeless. This figure does not include those who have already dropped out of school or older youth aged out of the school system.

A classmate of mine "adopted" a homeless high school senior when her son brought him home one day saying that he had nowhere to live. He stayed for the remainder of the school year and enlisted in the U.S. Army upon graduation. This boy is fortunate- care came to him, but it is estimated by the Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth that 50 high school students were homeless in the same town as this boy that year. It is unlikely many of those adolescents were as lucky.

I am grateful for my warm house and my family. I am so far removed from the experience of homelessness that it is hard for me to picture the day-to-day suffering of those affected. I donate money and I volunteer at a downtown shelter, but that is easy and I always go home to my own bed. Some reports describe the effects of street life as mirroring post-traumatic stress syndrome. We can look to nonprofits and churches to assist but it is time to act legislatively. We have the means to offer help and support through our public institutions and through our policing response. The human trafficking legislation passed in Massachusetts to protect vulnerable children, such as homeless youth, from sexual exploitation is proof of that fact. Giving first responders the ability to safeguard youth rather than arrest them, similar to the human trafficking legislation, is essential. Massachusetts has taken steps in this direction but it must go further with legislation and/or budgeting specifically directed towards unaccompanied homeless youth. I urge you to support the work of the Massachusetts Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission in addressing this issue. Visit the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless for more information and steps you can take.

Reference:
Homelessness in Massachusetts Public Schools. from http://www.mahomeless.org/images/2011_data_8-12.pdf

KatherineAbout the author:
Katherine Schleyer is an Educational Studies Graduate Student (degree expected Dec. 2013). As the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, I work to support the professional development of afterschool staff. My primary focus is on the use of assessment tools to improve program quality and to help youth reach positive outcomes.

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3rd Prize Entry:
ATTENTION! Childhood Depression: A Hidden Disorder Impacting Our Nation's Youth by Stephanie Ambroziewicz

When it comes to depression, adults are not the only ones who are affected. Childhood depression impacts 24% of America's children and adolescents, and is increasingly underdiagnosed and undertreated, leaving many to suffer. Depression is a "hidden illness," which accounts for why so many children are not receiving proper diagnosis and treatment. More specifically, the symptoms that accompany depression in youth are not the familiar symptoms American's associate with adult depression. For adolescents, their symptoms are a great deal similar to those of adults and are also easier to detect. For children, however, the symptoms can be more subtle and easily attributed to other factors. With this in mind, awareness must be raised around the early warning signs of childhood depression so adults can provide better care.

This issue is personal. There is a child in my life who I had concerns about for some time now. It was not until I sought out a professional's opinion that I realized my concerns were well founded, and that the signs of depression were actually being manifested as behavioral issues. From this experience, I understand the seriousness of this condition and how it is so easy to misread the signs in childhood. Without my own awareness, however, this child could still be suffering.

Broader public attention is especially needed because the problem is not explicit, but instead manifests itself very much like "normal" childhood behavior, as shown in the example from my own experience above. Some common components of childhood depression include: temper tantrums, runaway episodes, academic failure, boredom, and fatigue. Since these behaviors may be common amongst growing children, the thought of it being a more serious issue is not one typically entertained. Stigma attached to mental illness and the primary methods of treatment, such as medication, also prevents families from accepting that these symptoms could be related to a more serious condition. Let's be honest, no parent really likes the idea of medicating their child. These factors contribute to the low numbers of children who receive treatment even though it is likely that the need for help is much higher.

Recently, with the Newtown tragedy that struck our nation's youth and families, mental health has been an area of much discussion. It is my hope that with the rising action around mental health screenings, childhood depression and the children it affects will finally be noticed and cared for properly. 24% of young people have suffered from at least one clinically significant depressive episode by the time they reach 18 years old. I am increasingly concerned about this and you should be too. Awareness around childhood depression is not about parents, professionals and policy makers. It is about these children, as well as the many more that go undiagnosed and untreated, and the healthy lives they deserve to lead.

inspire a world of good

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