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First-Year Student Selects Oprah's School for Class Gift

Posted: January 12, 2011
Chelsea Garbe, a freshman at Buffalo State, inspires hope and confidence through her own generosity and commitment.

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said. This desire is fundamental to her plan to become a high school English teacher; she hopes to teach students whose first language is Spanish. However, she is also helping people now, thanks to an essay she wrote that persuaded her fellow students in Foundations of Inquiry (BSC 101) to donate a class gift of $150 to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, which supports a South African school for girls who “show outstanding promise, despite their social circumstances.”

The class gift was the brainchild of instructor Jennifer Hunt, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of the women’s studies interdisciplinary unit. “In each BSC 101 class, students learn about liberal arts education, critical thinking, and conducting library research,” explained Hunt. “However, the instructor can anchor the course around any topic.” Hunt’s research interests include the effects of gender, race, and culture on daily life, so she focused the BSC 101 class she taught on those topics. (About 30 BSC 101 courses were offered during the fall 2010 semester; all first-year students must take it.)

“I asked each student to contribute five dollars toward a charitable donation,” said Hunt. Although the contribution was voluntary, most students chipped in. At the end of the semester, each student presented his or her essay identifying a need.

The topics Hunt taught resonated with Garbe, who had observed preferential treatment toward male students in some high-school classes. As Garbe worked her way through the required reading, she learned about the plight of school-age girls in Africa. “They are seen as inferior to boys,” said Garbe. “They aren’t given the chance to learn.”

Garbe’s essay, “A Voice for the Silenced,” made a convincing case for the lack of educational opportunities for girls in Africa. She described a culture in which men are expected to be income-earners while women stay at home raising children. As a result, many people believe that women don’t need an education. “Men often laugh at females for their dreams and aspirations,” Garbe wrote.

After the students presented their essays, they voted for the one that best identified a need and proposed a solution. Garbe’s essay got the most votes; runners-up were Bethany Person, who focused on male victims of clerical sex abuse; Moira Madden, who wrote about the effects of the media, including pro-anorexia websites, on women's body image and eating behaviors; and Katie Mosier, who focused on lack of knowledge about, and support, for transgender individuals.

Garbe chose Winfrey’s Leadership Academy Foundation for the designated charity for two main reasons: it offers a girls-only environment—something Garbe supports—and it is already established. “The money will be used for something that’s already working,” she explained.

Garbe said that listening to everyone’s essays was important because people learned about many different problems. “When you realize the problems some people face,” she said, “how can you not be concerned?”

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