Teen Girls Revision East Rogers Park

Teen Girls Revision East Rogers Park

I. Project Overviewtop

Teen Girls Re-Vision East Rogers Park involved a collaboration between the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community (BRI) at DePaul University and members and alumnae of two teen girls’ programs at Family Matters, a community organization in the East Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. The project was an opportunity to plan with these young women and give voice to their experiences and views, as well as find ways to connect them with the service learning and research work of DePaul University college students. The BRI joined forces with these teens to create oral history narratives around themes relevant to their lives including family, intimate relationships, community conflict, affordable housing, and growing up in East Rogers Park. The Teen Girls Revision East Rogers Park project culminated in the publication of a monograph – with English and Spanish editions – developed from the teen girls’ narratives, as well as two live performances in which the teen girls dramatized their narratives. The leadership experience offered by the BRI project also inspired the students to engage in youth-led political action, where they had the opportunity to meet with United States Representative Jan Schakowsky of the 9th District to discuss community issues and concerns.

Key Goals:

  • Further empower this group of urban teens from low-income families who were members of a thriving community-based leadership program
  • Break the pattern of silence about people of color in East Rogers Park as these girls re-visioned their community
  • Give voice to these young women, their experiences and their views
  • Document their stories of resilience and resistance
  • Connect these teens with students at DePaul University, increasing college students’ awareness of a central principle of feminist and community-based research: that the complexity of diversity issues and interlocking oppressions of sexism, racism and classism can profoundly impact the lives of real young women in our own urban community

II. Background, Methodology & Primary Findingstop


The teen girls from Family Matters were originally prompted to forge their collaboration with us after they completed a community action project that led to some unintended negative consequences. When the teens looked for community background information, they were stunned by the absence of any public collection of photographs or written history about people of color in East Rogers Park. Additionally, they were offended by descriptions of their neighborhood that were posted on various web sites and dismayed by negative portrayals of the particular area called “North of Howard,” which is where Family Matters is located.  They resisted perspectives that characterized their local streets as full of danger emanating from drugs, crime, prostitution, or from poor immigrants and people of color. They saw these views as stereotyped and incomplete, excluding diverse individuals they saw as neighbors, relatives, friends, role models and mentors. The teen’s exposure to largely negative public portrayals about their community left them feeling disempowered, invisible and voiceless.

The director of the teen girls’ program approached the BRI and asked if there was a way to help the teens express their own perspectives about the community. She said she hoped that by collaborating with the BRI and the university students, the girls might continue their powerful learning and sharing with others. Thus, as faculty members in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at DePaul University, we came to plan with these young women ways to give voice to their experiences and views. We also sought ways to connect the teens with students in two undergraduate courses. We hoped that through this process, our students would increase their awareness of a central objective of feminist participatory action research: that the complexity of diversity issues and interlocking oppressions of sexism, racism, and classism can profoundly impact the lives of real young women in their own urban community.


We chose the telling of the teen’s stories as the form of our research, a methodology that is grounded in feminist belief that life narratives are central to the existence of social life. The narrative process involved the active participation of the teens as they constructed ways of describing and accounting for themselves to their listeners and readers; indeed, we invited the teens to assume leadership roles with us throughout the project and sought to work with the teens as they gave voice to their views, framing their words in writing that many others would read. Grounded in this feminist research approach, we were committed to conducting research for and with these teen girls, as opposed to conducting research on them. This type of project focused on topics vital to the teens’ lives, giving voice to their experiences and providing possible directions toward community change.

This project included one-on-one interviews with eight teens, ranging in age from 12 to 17. All girls were current members or alumnae of a thriving community-based leadership program at Family Matters.

We decided on a pro-active model in framing the teens’ voices and views. We valued:

  • An “asset-based” model that emphasizes the girls’ strengths and resiliencies, rather than the more pervasive “deficit model” in which girls’ experiences are often viewed as deficient in comparison to their more “privileged” peers;
  • A particular focus on these young females, realizing that what they said and what the research project produced did not in any way imply generalized findings applicable to other groups of teens. The opportunity for these teens to give voice to their views and for others to hear them was significant in and of itself;
  • The exploration of the social, cultural and historical contexts that surrounded these teen’s experiences. We recognized the varied challenges facing the teens as they encountered personal examples of political and economic inequities and societal or cultural power imbalances. We hold that these issues could significantly impact the teens’ growth, even if they did not yet understand or recognize such social forces, just as that growth is influenced by their own maturational development;
  • The significance of emphasizing empowerment through active participation in learning from and educating others.

Primary Findings

In studying the teen’s words, several themes emerged: their concern for street safety, the need for adequate prevention of bullying, harassing, and assaults at their school, their concerns about the shrinking pool of affordable housing units in their neighborhood, support for the complex relationships they encounter with their families and with peers, and for their hopes and plans for the future. Here are the most prominent themes that were embedded in the girls’ narratives:

Views of Rogers Park: Inside & Out

We saw paradoxical perspectives emerge as the teens talked about their community – their own perspectives and how they thought others might view the neighborhood too. Their narratives were often layered with ambivalence, complexities and contradictions: the teens recognized their dangers in the neighborhood, yet they also voiced a strong sense of pride as well – this is my community. This inner conflict may well be related to their adolescent developmental need to feel safe and protected in their own environment, despite its real threats. This may also be a natural defensive posture as a response to verbal attacks from peers outside their neighborhood.

Street Safety & Sexual Harassment

We saw that the teen girls viewed sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, on the street as normal, everyday interactions. Unlike the teens’ reactions which were mostly limited to frustration and annoyance, we are deeply concerned that these behaviors are incredibly problematic and dangerous.

Since public sexual harassment by adult males is such a highly visible part of the landscape of daily life in the teen’s neighborhood, we recommend that the community take immediate action. It is essential that adults respond to the teens’ concerns and work more closely with area police, so that they all can support these teens’ safety along with their healthy growth and development.

Affordable Housing

Many of the teens’ families, friends and neighbors have been displaced, sometimes more than once, while they search unsuccessfully to find a new way to stay in their rapidly changing community. As the face of the neighborhood changes along with the faces in it, it is the low-income individuals and families that are extremely limited in their ability to maintain the stable community they had created.

Yet we also see that this transitional moment can create an opportunity for intentional change. These families are not alone in their struggle. Indeed, the strong history of Rogers Park is once again surfacing and community organizations are mobilizing in resistance to changes that are threatening the economically and ethnically diverse community.


When something goes wrong in young teens’ lives, it seems likely that many adults tend to blame the teens themselves. Yet what we saw throughout this project was that these teen girls are smart, committed and hard working. We also saw that there is a real risk of their losing that focus in the absence of institutional support.

If we expect teens to sustain the positive initiative that we saw in their early adolescence, external supports need to be in place. Adults need to hear what the teens have to say, to validate their perspectives. Schools, community organizations and broader neighborhood efforts play crucial roles in supporting their teens as they attempt to turn risks and challenges into strengths and resiliencies.


Female friendships were complex and troubling to many of the teen girls. Yet the young teens and adult alumnae all clearly cherished strong bonds between themselves and close female friends. We recognize a need for further exploration about what same-sex friendship entails.

The teens spoke positively about their friendships with males. Yet we also saw they were reverting to traditional female socialization patterns when choosing boyfriends. These traditional, submissive patterns are particularly concerning in light of the teen girls’ descriptions of experiences and expressed views about dating older men.

We were troubled about their interest in older men as potential partners, as well as their lack of information about related emotional and legal issues. We realized this is a vulnerability that has not been adequately addressed by adults working with young teen girls. We must communicate these important messages in a way that respects their adolescent developmental task at hand: asserting their independence and craving the feelings of being grown-up.


We live in a culture in which the nuclear family model continues to be upheld as the “best” kind of family. This privileging of one family type has a negative impact on all other family types in that it makes them look deficient and even deviant. Our work with these teens debunks the myth of the pathological single parent family headed by a woman that is so perpetuated in our culture and in our social science research. Although families were by no means perfect, the girls’ descriptions were characterized by love, support and commitment. The teens also described their mothers’ involvement in their lives, which we saw as attempting to prepare their daughters for success in a world that they know will present many challenges. Moreover, we were impressed with the active presence of positive male figures evening the absence of live-in biological fathers.


In any given week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after school belong to the activities at Family Matters. When they were not there, the girls said they could be found staying late at school for enrichment sessions, or attending tutoring programs, on soccer fields and basketball courts, in the library, at home doing homework, or at part-time babysitting jobs. At an age when many girls find female friendships hard to come by and to sustain, Family Matters has encouraged teens to bond and to lead. Indeed, as alumnae reflected on the positive messages that they took away from growing up in East Rogers Park, they all identifiedFamily Matters as what influenced them most. We recognized the remarkably positive role Family Matters has played in the lives of these teens and young women.


Much of the existing research highlights multiple risks, problems, and deficits associated with growing up as an adolescent female in an urban community of low-income families. Throughout our research project, we found that challenges did indeed exist in the teen girl’s lives, however, what we found even more compelling after getting to know these young women is their resilience, their many insights, and their commitment to ensuring a successful future for themselves and their families. Resiliencies resonated throughout the teen girls “narratives,” adaptive capacities to translate risk into opportunity that came through clearly.

III. Course Based Research Modeltop


Each project sponsored by the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community (BRI) in some way spurs the development of a curriculum that seeks to educate students in varied research processes. We strive to take students from content to methods and from academics to the world of community engagement and grass-roots organizing.

Our overall research agenda is to promote multidisciplinary collaborative study in the areas of gender, oppression, and resilience, providing opportunities for mutually reinforcing synergies between research, teaching, and community engagement.  BRI projects are aimed at working with community members to bring about social change through research that addresses social policy, advocacy, and community development. Toward these ends each research project, including Teen Girls Revision East Rogers Park, is directed by a full-time faculty member who collaborates with student scholars to guide their partnership with members of community organizations and institutions. Additionally, we have developed a course-based research model that develops curricula to educate students in varied research processes, provides opportunities to participate in ongoing research projects, and integrates those experiences with contextual course content.

Community-Based Service Learning Curriculum

In the initiation phase of our course, we explored the topic of privilege and the many ways that it presents in society as well as within our own classrooms. We examined prevalent biases and stereotypes about teen girls, their experiences, families, schools, and neighborhoods. Then we explored our own expectations, attitudes, fears, and hopes about engaging these teen girls and this project. In small group exercises, we analyzed our multiple identities and myriad ways in which we all differ from others. We then read and discussed ways to overcome some of the barriers separating individuals and cultural, economic, and racial/ethnic groups. We also considered methods of building bridges across those divides, seeking commonalities, and the merits of attempting such an undertaking.

As the final step in the initiation phase, each student was given an assignment to write a three- to five-page paper titled “Who Am I?” The papers were to be written as a hypothetical introduction to the group of teen girls in our research project, indicating ways in which our students might self-identify their place or position in terms of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. They also examined unique traits, characteristics, preferences and experiences that would accurately portray themselves as unique individuals. We hoped that writing a paper such as this one would provide students with the opportunity to consider the biases and assumptions that they may bring to the research project.

During the project, our students also worked in small groups to critique the interview protocol; they read transcript excerpts and articulated emerging themes, exploring particular risks the teens may be exposed to. They were only a few years older than the teen participants, ranging in age from 18 to 22 years old, and this likeness helped us as we considered vital issues of creating rapport. Indeed, their suggestions about approachable words and phrases allowed us to relate more easily to the teens.

At the end of the school year, we hired two of the teen girls as interns for the summer to serve as research advisors on the project. They planned with us the publication of the research report and public events at the completion of the project the following spring, met with the university publications staff to choose layout, color and text designs, and learned simple ways to convert narratives into dramatic presentations from another faculty member who specializes in dramaturgy. The teen girls attended a social justice legacy exhibit celebrating the lives of a group of Chicago women leaders; they took rolls of photos, collected poetry written by their peers, and wrote some of their own. Lastly, they toured DePaul’s Richards Library archives and saw where their materials would be permanently stored (near artifacts related to Napoleon and Charles Dickens). The following year, the teen girls, their families, and friends joined DePaul faculty, students and members of their neighborhood and the DePaul community at a press conference on the research report. The teens also presented a dramatic performance to celebrate the publication.

IV. Leadership Teamtop

DePaul University
  • Beth Catlett, Ph.D. Co-Founder of BRI and Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies Department

Dr. Beth Catlett is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at DePaul University. Professor Catlett received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and her doctorate in Family Relations and Human Development from the Ohio State University. Her areas of scholarly interest include community development, community-based participatory action research, diversity in families, violence in intimate relationships, qualitative research methodologies, and the social construction of masculinities. Dr. Catlett specializes in community-based research involving gendered violence, adolescent relationships, and social movements to create community change. Her research has been published in several journals including Family Science Review, Men and Masculinities, Violence and Victims, Family Relations, the American Journal of Community Psychology, and the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. She was most recently published in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.

  • Irene Beck, Ed.D. Co-Founder of BRI and Executive Director, William and Irene Beck Foundation. Former Adjunct Faculty Member, DePaul University

Irene received her B.A. in History from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame IN, her M.A. from Fairfield University in Educational Administration and Supervision, and her doctorate in Human Development from the University of Rochester. Irene also earned a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University. As an adjunct faculty member at DePaul, her teaching focused on gender issues in youth, connections with school-based sexual harassment programs, and course-based action research. As Executive Director of the William and Irene Beck Foundation, Dr. Beck directs grants in support of programs that work against discrimination, particularly related to racism, sexism and poverty. She is also a Co-Founder of the Gender Equity Fund of the American Association of University Women, Illinois. Her current areas of interest focus on oral histories of women working against domestic violence and archival research.

  • Brian Maj, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Kathryn De Graff, Richardson Library, Director of Special Collections and Archives
  • Dr. Lenora Inez Brown, former Head of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism

A special thanks to Dr. Brown, who worked with the East Rogers Park teens to translate their narratives into a dramatic performance

Family Matters
  • Tawanna Brown, Director of Teen Girls programs at Family Matters
NE & Associates
  • Efrain Perez, Jr., Translator

V. Sponsors and Community Partnerstop

William and Irene Beck Foundation

The William and Irene Beck Foundation is a long time sponsor of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community and provides generous financial support for community based research and special projects, graduate assistantships, the faculty fellowship program, and other underwriting. The Foundation was a generous supporter of the Teen Girls Revision East Rogers Park project.


The William and Irene Beck Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation that provides grants, contributions, and in-kind services to other not-for-profit organizations with 501(C)3 status. It is a family foundation committed to helping programs that work against discrimination, particularly related to racism and sexism. Its primary foci are directed toward those with financial needs by providing program support and educational opportunities for low-income youth, children, as well as opportunities for job-related training for adults.

The foundation is intended to act as a catalyst for change, and supports innovative ideas, plans, and projects; it takes a pro-active part in the prevention of further problems. Its board and family members participate in as well as contribute to programs involving education, youth, and the disadvantaged. The foundation seeks to ally itself with activities and organizations which reach out to those who most need help.

The Vincentian Endowment Fund

The Vincentian Endowment Fund was established in 1992 by a gift from the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers who sponsor the University. The VEF generously provided funding for the Teen Girls Re-Vision East Rogers Park project.


The endowment seeks to assist the university in its developing understanding of how, as an institution of higher education informed by the vision of Vincent de Paul, it is to be Catholic as it enters its second century. This assistance will be achieved through funding appropriate grant projects that directly enhance the identity of DePaul University as a Catholic, Vincentian and urban university with special attention to the Catholic and Vincentian aspects of this identity.

Family Matters

Since opening in 1987, Family Matters has worked to achieve its goal: to facilitate a way for families in the North of Howard neighborhood in East Rogers Park to experience their world as a place of possibilities and opportunities. Programs that provide learning opportunities for neighborhood children include: Family Connections (ages 5 – 12); Sisters in Unity (younger teen girls); Sisters of Struggle (older teen girls); Brothers of New Direction (younger teen boys); and Brothers on the Move (older teen boys). These also aim to enhance the youth’s leadership abilities and support them in expanding their world.

The children and families who participate in Family Matters programs support its core values, the “Principles of Leadership”:

  • Embracing peaceful conflict resolution
  • Owning choices and consequences
  • Harnessing the power of positive thinking and language

Family Matters opens its doors beyond programs as well. It seeks to connect families with the community, strengthening efforts that encourage them to be agents of positive social change within their families, their lives and their neighborhood. The Gale Community Leadership in Action (GCLA) was formed to provide local residents with a forum to address issues that impact the North of Howard community. These have included strengthening the school, creating safe spaces, enhancing neighborhood recreational facilities, and ensuring affordable neighborhood housing.

VI. Publications and Researchtop