As a member of WILL, Jade-Evette Strachan, ’13, is accustomed to discussing gender associations and stereotypes with her peers. Last semester, she mixed things up a little when she facilitated those discussions for a younger group — 3- to 5-year-old girls and boys.

Strachan started volunteering at the William Byrd Community House, a partner of the University’s Richmond Families Initiative, as part of the gender action project for a class on Gender, Race and Activism. Her project focused on children’s interactions in terms of gender.

She and her classmates spent a few hours a week in WBCH’s early childhood education program, serving as role models and educators while promoting gender equality through interactive activities.

For one activity, “We read them a story and had them write down their interpretations,” she explains. It was clear that the children made gender associations beyond the actual story content: When one story mentioned a castle, the girls all wrote about princesses and unicorns, while the boys wrote about dungeons and dragons.

Afterward, Strachan and her classmates talked with the children about seeing each story from different points of view.

Sometimes the children actually expressed their desire to conform. “One girl told me she thought about dragons, but knew her classmates would think she was weird,” so she ended up writing about princesses, says Strachan. “Children, from such a young age, are already creating stereotypes about gender associations.”

In addition to discussing the stories, Strachan observed the children’s interactions to see how gender associations influenced their playtime. “They [quickly] started to mix and mingle more,” she says. “In my later weeks, I saw girls playing in the blocks sections with the boys and boys going into the kitchen area.”

“They are starting to see they can do what they love,” she adds. “They know that [those realms and associated roles] are available to both boys and girls.”

Though the class project has wrapped up, Strachan will continue her work at WBCH. She is currently building a list of gender-neutral storybooks to add to the preschool's collection. She also serves as the Richmond Families Initiative’s student liaison to the house, helping connect other students from the University.

Judy Mejia, program manager for the Richmond Families Initiative, says that Strachan “really gets the idea of being a student leader — engaging from both the University and community side.”

On campus, Strachan is involved with a number of groups that bring together people from different backgrounds, including the Multicultural Student Union, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc., and the Peer Advisors and Mentors program.

This year, Strachan will serve as an international student peer mentor for the Office of International Education. A native of the Bahamas, she says she wants other international students to have as smooth of a transition to Richmond as she did — she already knew other Bahamian students on campus when she arrived. “That made a big difference,” she says. “I want to serve as a mentor [to new students] so they know their way around as well.”

Strachan’s ongoing involvement in mentoring is no coincidence. Growing up in a single-parent home, she was encouraged to help others, no matter how stressed or challenged she felt herself — and she credits her mother with instilling that philosophy in her.

“We all needed help at some point,” she says. “And we still do.”