How Girls Inc. Helped Taylor
Learn to Lead

“I thought women who are leaders had to be like Malala and Michelle Obama...

Girls Inc. showed me other kinds of women that are not as well-known, who use different methods and lead on other issues.”


Joining the group

In 2015, Taylor O'Connor joined a Girls Inc. Leadership and Community Action group at Kingston City High School. It's one of 15 Girls Inc. programs in Ulster and Dutchess County, and it empowers girls from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to lead; not just by being outspoken but also by providing support or research on issues affecting their community. Every week, the group of a dozen girls met to discuss issues like the gender pay gap and unhealthy relationships, but the one that really resonated this year was the often sexist enforcement of the dress code at the high school. 

Untangling the dress code

“Different people are being treated differently,” Taylor says. “There’s no unity, and we feel some of the enforcement can be extremely embarrassing for students. Boys are told to fix their clothes, but girls get taken out of the classroom to go and cover up their body because they’re a “distraction to the boys," so they often miss out on their education.”

 To address the problem, the group is conducting a survey of students and drafting a letter that they will send to the Kingston School District’s Board of Education, in a solution orientated well-researched manner

“We don’t just want to create awareness, we want to actually do something and come with solution,” says Taylor. “We’re not just kids creating a ruckus.”

Speaking out 

Taylor was also one of six recipients of a Girls Inc. Leadership Scholarship Award that is supported annually by a donation by advisory board member Natalie Merchant.

Taylor wrote about leadership, self awareness, persuasiveness, vulnerability, and her battle with the hair-pulling disorder Trichotillomania.

“Girls Inc. really opened up me up to communicate,” she says. “I wrote the essay, but I didn’t realize I'd have to speak at the scholarship ceremony. I thought it was just going to be a small crowd of people, but I was walking up to the building and saw the school principal there, and then 70 or 80 people in the audience. I was so not ready. I had never given a speech in front of that many people before. I had to conquer my fears, so I went up there and spoke about it.

Raising awareness

Taylor took a public speaking course last semester, and now, she's applying her newfound communication skills and confidence to educate local stakeholders about trichotillomania and other body-focused repetitive behaviors in our community.

“Trichotillomania goes misdiagnosed so much," Taylor says. "I want to show people that there are different ways to handle it; if a teacher sees someone pulling their hair out during a test, you shouldn’t just walk over and tell them to stop."

She plans on studying psychology at Pace University, and someday, serve as a mental health counselor for adolescents.

“I want to be a person that they can talk to about their issues, because that's what I needed when I was in middle school,” she says. “Students can have such a hard time, so I want to be that person that they can vent to and get advice from."

Taylor said that the program has helped her grow into a leader.

"I would definitely recommend joining Girls Inc. or having it in your school," she says. "Girls need empowerment. Just having this group in your school gives us solidarity and camaraderie, and important for girls to learn how to make change."