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Saint Mary’s reveals alarming data on Indiana girls

Kaitlyn Rabach | Friday, September 20, 2013

Saint Mary’s College became the fifth all-women’s college in the nation to release a report drawing together publicly available data on the status of girls ages 10 to 19 in its home state of Indiana, College president Carol Ann Mooney said in a press conference on Thursday. 

A team of six Saint Mary’s faculty and 60 students spent well over a year compiling data for the 60 page report titled The Status of Girls in Indiana 2013 report (SGI), Mooney said. 

“I am proud to unveil The Status of Girls in Indiana 2013 report,” Mooney said. “We believe that it is the first comprehensive study of the health and well-being of Indiana girls. The report highlights various aspects of a young woman’s life, including income, race, standardized test scores, graduation rates, obesity, depression, abuse, substance abuse and physical activity.”

Over two years ago, Mooney said she attended a conference and learned about the state of Wisconsin’s SGI report. After learning about the report, she said she felt Saint Mary’s had the both the resources and obligation to compose a similar study for the state of Indiana.

“It just seemed to me that we’re a women-serving institution … so we ought to be concerned about and understand what’s going on with girls who could be our future students,” Mooney said. “I also thought there was no other place in Indiana likely to undertake this comprehensive sort of compilation of data and that we could offer that service to the state, especially to the girls of the state.”

According to a College press release, Mooney first proposed the report to Elaine Meyer Lee, Director of the College’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership.

“When President Mooney came to us for help facilitating the administrators project, we thought it was a great fit for Saint Mary’s,” Meyer-Lee said. “The College has a long history of educating women in a variety of ways and this, of course, is about girls. So, we were delighted to mobilize faculty and students and we applaud their work, which takes seriously the intersection of gender, race and socioeconomic class affecting girls in Indiana.” 

Both Mooney and Meyer-Lee said Kristin Kuter, assistant professor of mathematics, was the faculty member who took initiative to make this project a reality. 

“I became involved in the SGI project when President Mooney challenged the College to take on the task,” Kuter said. “Four women’s colleges have done similar reports for Wisconsin, California, North Carolina and the District of Columbia. I saw it as an exercise in exploratory data analysis, something I teach my statistics students.”

Although other states have published similar reports, Meyer-Lee said Saint Mary’s is the first institution to have its students contribute so profoundly in the report.

“One of the beauties of a small college in general, but certainly at Saint Mary’s, is that we involve students in everything we do at every level, in many committees, in administrative projects and in research,” Meyer- Lee said. “For this project, whole classes contributed to aspects of the report. We found that students were not only engaged in different ways, but really found subjects there were passionate about and were serious about their contributions to the report.”

Meyer-Lee said one student, Gina Deom, class of 2013, even chose to focus her senior comprehensive project on the Indiana girls’ education section of the report.

“Every student at Saint Mary’s is required to complete a research project, body of work or exam in their major before graduation,” Deom said. “My senior composition dealt with applying a statistical technique to analyze the relationship between common characteristics of Indiana public school corporations. I was able to identify how characteristics such as enrollment, percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, percentage of special education students, ISTEP scores, end-of-course test scores, teacher’s salary, etcetera, were correlated.” 

For Deom, a native of Evansville, IN, working on the report was not only about acquiring experience compiling, summarizing and drawing conclusions from data, but also about allowing her to work with data affecting her fellow Hoosier girls.

“I gained insight into some of the challenges facing girls in my home state,” Deom said.

She said she was particularly struck by data showing that girls’ performance in math and science wanes somewhere between grade school and high school.

“Why are girls performing similarly on math and science on the ISTEP compared to boys, but significantly lower falling behind on AP, SAT and ACT testing regarding math and science?” Deom said. 

Kuter said the most shocking statistics for her were centered around mental health and body image statistics.

“I didn’t realize that the figures of girls affected by depression and suicide were as high as they are, and that girls in the eighth grade seem to struggle the most with these issues,” Kuter said. 

President Mooney reacted similarly. She said the compiled data makes it clear there are a lot of stressors on girls in Indiana.

“Depression, inactivity and obesity were significantly higher [for girls] in Indiana than the rest of the nation,” Mooney said. “Suicide rates were also statistically higher.” 

As part of Saint Mary’s larger connection with organizations in the South Bend community, Meyer-Lee said the College asked several expert reviewers to examine the report prior to its release. Two of those reviewers include Kathy Schneider, executive director of Saint Margaret’s House, a community day house for women and children, and Linda Baechle, president and chief executive office of YWCA North Central Indiana, both of whom spoke at yesterday’s press conference. 

“I have worked in this community with women and children struggling with poverty for 22 years,” Schneider said. “This report confirms much that we know about girls; that many are receiving great educations and moving toward productive lives that include higher education and work. Yet it also exposes that too many girls suffer from low self-esteem, are victims are sexual and physical abuse and struggle with poverty.”

Schneider said three statistics in the report, strongly call for further action to be taken: according to the report, one-third of Indiana’s female students in grades eighh through teh reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day, almost half of all black or African American girls ages six to seventeen are living in poverty and 14.5 percent of Indiana’s female high school students reported being raped. 

“I think that statistics call us to do more with our programming,” Schneider said. “These numbers are a call to action and these numbers tell us that there are too many girls suffering from low self-esteem and we should be working at a younger age to help these girls build their self-esteem.”

Meyer-Lee said the report is significant because contributors sorted through buried data in different studies and pulled together overwhelming demographic studies that educators, policymakers and others will be able to evaluate. 

“Never before has this data been pulled together to form a true picture of what is happening with girls in our state,” Meyer-Lee said. “Not that a picture is formed, lawmakers, nonprofit leaders and activists can see the issues in a readily accessible format and address them. Data is very powerful and I believe this report will be an example of how decisions are driven by data.” 

President Mooney said she hopes policy and decision makers will see the report as an additional tool to make informed decisions regarding girls in the Hoosier state. 

“This report shows that gathering information into one usable document can have a strong impact when presented in a clear and understandable format,” Mooney said. “It is my hope that our faculty and students may have sown seeds for improvement in the lives of girls in Indiana.”

To read the report online, visit saintmarys.edu/StatusOfGirls. 

Contact Kaitlyn Rabach at
krabac01@saintmarys.edu