Summer Institute


Summer Institute

Sadie Nash Leadership Project
4 West 43rd Street
Suite 502
New York, NY 10036
Phone: 212.391-8664
Fax: 212.391.8663

Focus: Creative Writing/Literature, History, Performing Arts, Visual Arts

Annual Number Participating: 150

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $160,000.00

Partners: Rutgers-Newark; The New School

Funders: Andor Capital Management Foundation; NoVo Foundation; The Pinkerton Foundation; Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Private Foundation; Union Square Awards

Every summer, 150 young women from the New York City and Newark, New Jersey, areas spend six weeks at an unusual institute, taking such courses as Poetry and Revolution; Food, Women, and Power; Listen With Your Body: A Body-Positive Dance Class; and Using the Web for Social Change — classes they’d rarely find in their own high schools.

The New York-based Sadie Nash Leadership Project (SNLP) sponsors the Summer Institute primarily for young women of color from low-income families. Adolescence is a time when girls are not only discovering their identities, but also facing societal pressures that can stifle their voices, explains Founder Cecilia Clarke. Low-income young women “have the additional challenge of negotiating their identity against the backdrop of racism and class discrimination,” she adds.

The Summer Institute helps young women gain a greater understanding of societal forces that affect them and their communities and empowers participants to become “agents of change in their lives and in the world,” she asserts. Clarke founded SNLP in 2001, naming it after her great-grandmother, a leader in her community.

The New School in New York City and the Rutgers-Newark campus host the Summer Institute’s sessions, which include humanities, leadership, and art classes. The curriculum introduces participants to the concepts of power, privilege, and oppression — providing a language and conceptual framework for feelings that attendees might have experienced, but were unable to articulate. Through their coursework, students gain confidence in their critical-thinking and self-expression skills. These key abilities will also help them succeed in college.

Although the Summer Institute is intellectually rigorous, for many it is “not like any school they’ve ever attended,” notes Clarke. The classes are fun, relational, and interactive; they also contain a strong mentoring component.

When these students return to their high schools, they report that they’re better able to express their ideas, stand up for their beliefs, and challenge the status quo. They’re also more likely to pursue higher education: Over the past 10 years, more than 80 percent of Summer Institute attendees completed college, with 20 percent earning graduate degrees. By contrast, only 15 percent of a comparable group of New Yorkers finished college.

I learned to be critical and to question everything — even the things that seem "natural" or "just the way things are." Because I became interested in empowering myself and others, I became a more active and engaged student during high school and, later, in college.

Joana Chan Summer Institute participant, 2003 and 2004