Excos, or Experimental College courses, are classes offered by students, professors, or members of the Oberlin community. They’re open to the public and cover a broad range of topics, from pottery to neuroscience to YouTube analytics. While students can get a small amount of class credit for taking excos, they sometimes feel more like involved clubs, and the Exco fair (which felt a lot like a club fair) was where I first discovered Girls in Motion during my freshman year.
The first meeting was in a dance studio filled with light that looked out onto South Quad. A group of girls I had never met sat in a circle in the room chatting. I didn’t know what Girls in Motion was yet, but I knew it involved working with kids, which I had done in the past, and dancing, which I had started and quit in sixth grade. That first meeting was my initial introduction to a group of girls that I became friends with over the semester. Together we would meet every Tuesday in the dance studio to create lesson plans, cathartically talk about our lives, and practice methods of mentorship through games we could potentially bring to the classrooms.
Then, on Thursday our group split into two. With two other mentors I would make the short walk to Langston Middle School around 3:00 pm. There, we would meet a group of middle school girls in the library to blast music, play games and create choreography to prepare for the final recital. We became mentors to the girls, adults they could rely on to listen and not constantly reinforce intensive rules. After a long seven-hour day of classes we wanted to create a space where the Langston girls could be silly and free.
During the last week of the semester, we invited all family members and friends, set the stage at the Cat in the Cream coffeeshop, gave the girls an excessive amount of glitter, and cheered wildly as they did their final performance. At its core, Girls in Motion has always been centered around the promotion of women’s empowerment and body positivity, especially for young girls. It was important to us as mentors to make the Girls in Motion space one where none of the usual rules applied. Though we established a level of mutual respect between mentors and students, that after-school program was a place for the girls to move freely, choose their own music and dance moves, and really be kids.
During my first year at Oberlin, I was a Girls in Motion mentor both semesters. The middle school girls soon recognized me in Tappan Square and greeted me on their walks home. Our routine as Oberlin mentors became stronger as we grew closer, but by March the program was completely shut down as we were told to leave campus due to COVID-19. By this time I had been elected as Co-Chair, and my position fell flat as everyone scrambled to grow accustomed to virtual learning.
By the fall of 2020, my co-chair Dewi and I had decided to move Girls in Motion online. This is when I really began to learn what it takes to run an Exco. Logistically, it requires forms and surveys put together by Oberlin’s Exco committee. With my co-chair I work out the necessary funding, the possibility of meeting in person in the fall, and advertisement for our program online. We coordinate applications, answer any stray questions, and keep up communication with members of the Oberlin school board. Now, online, these responsibilities begin to look a little different. Instead of asking the registrar of Langston Middle School to make announcements to the student body during lunch, we meet with members of the school board over Zoom to understand the best methods of online learning. What used to be a lesson plan full of site visits to the school is now a balance between meeting mentors online and finding ways to reach out to our Girls in Motion students. Though the curriculum has shifted, our core values remain the same, and we strive to achieve mentorship, women’s empowerment, creativity, and movement in new ways.
Since going online, we have had great successes and failures. Girls in Motion reaches beyond Oberlin students; it is an established program that has been important to the Oberlin community for decades. Instead of forcing a program that was once completely in-person into a Zoom room, Dewi and I decided to think about what could benefit our students best. With the help and ideas of many Oberlin mentors, we now begin to incorporate visual arts and self-care into the curriculum while maintaining our core values as an Exco.
Though I joined Girls in Motion with little to no dance experience and little to no understanding of what the Exco would entail, it has become a program that I’m truly invested in. In my time as a mentor and now a co-chair, Dewi and I have managed to meet new Oberlin students and forge a community. We’ve reconsidered what mentorship looks like for our Langston students and opened up the program to ideas that might have never been brought to the table without these strange circumstances.