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At Summer Camps, Austin Girls Gain Empowering Skills


It's summertime, so most Austin students are out of school and many are in summer camps. Some are using this time to empower young girls through various programs, including a few camps trying to encourage girls to explore careers in typically male-dominated areas.

At the Latinitas camp in Austin, about a dozen girls hear from local director Sharon Arteaga talking about her work at Cine Chica Camp. The girls are learning to write, shoot and edit their own movies and discuss stereotypes of Latinas in the media.

“We wanted to create a forum where girls could express themselves and Latina true voices would be heard but we would be creating a legacy of those media makers,” said Laura Donnelly-Gonzalez, the founder of Latinitas.

A study by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute found that just 29 percent of filmmakers in Hollywood are women. Cynthia Malonaldo, 11, says the Austin camp has made her realize that while there are woman on the screen, there aren’t as many behind the camera:

“If we make a difference about how girls are behind the scene then that would be awesome,” Cynthia said. “I’ve seen male directors like Tim Burton, a bunch of directors that are men, and I’m not against men or anything, but I’ve hardly seen any girls.”

Shes says she wants to become a director.

Donnelly-Gonzalez says another part of the camp is to talk about the image of women, specifically Latinas, on the screen.

“Were not accurately portrayed,” she said. “She’s feisty, over-sexualized or she’s absent or playing some servant position.”

Brianna Walker, a camp leader and journalism major at UT, got involved with Latinitas when she was in middle school. She says the program increased her confidence and helped her accept her multiracial identity.

“I’ve always been told that I didn’t really know who I was, that I was trying to act a race that I wasn’t,” Walker said. “So it was really hard for me growing up because I didn’t know what I should identify as.”

Latinias isn’t the only camp focusing on empowering girls. Another program, Girlstart, runs camps throughout the summer. Their camps focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Girlstart’s executive director, Tamara Hudgins, says many girls lose interest in science between fourth and eighth grades.

“We know that approximately half of bachelors degrees are earned by women, but when we speak about STEM, we’re talking about 20 percent,” Hudgins said.

She says summer camps allow students not to be constricted to what they learn in the classroom.

“Because it is intensive and immersive and encourages girls to take risks, this can be a life-changing experience,” she said. “We’ve heard girls say they never thought they could do these types of things. We’re able to do labs or experiments that high school students and college students can do.”

Less than a quarter of STEM workers are women. Girlstart is hoping to change that.

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