Students at Mary Baldwin University donated Black dolls so young girls could love themselves more and believe in their own power.
Representation matters and students at Mary Baldwin University Virginia know that too well. The students donated hundreds of Black baby dolls to inspire African-American girls to believe in themselves. Having grown up playing with dolls that looked nothing like them, they know the importance of representation and how it impacts the self-esteem of young Black girls. "We know that there is a clear tie between the achievement gap and self-esteem, especially for Black girls," said Reverend Andrea Cornett-Scott, the university's chief diversity officer, who is overseeing the doll drive, reported Good Morning America. "And oftentimes African-American girls have problems with self-image because they don't see a lot of images of themselves in the media, and often they struggle with whether or not they're beautiful." Thanks to the students more than 300 young Black girls in Virginia will have their own Black doll to play with.
"We wanted to make sure we had a program that spoke to their outward and inner beauty, so we decided to do the doll project so they could see themselves in the dolls that they play with," she said. For the students, the doll isn't just something to play with, but to inspire them. "I hope that the girls who we are giving these baby dolls to, will take away that their power is limitless," said Caitlyn Russell, 19, a freshman at the University. "I want them to be able to see that they have the power to do whatever they want."
While it might seem like a novel concept, it's a long-standing tradition at Mary Baldwin University, a private university of around 1,500 students. The students at the university have been holding the Annual Black Baby Doll Drive for over 25 years to distribute to girls in the local community. The idea has always been to boost the self-esteem and confidence of girls through dolls. The dolls are collected from professors and staff on campus and from the community.
Every year before the annual drive is conducted, students are taught about the 'doll tests,' a series of experiments conducted by psychologists in the 1940s to test children's perceptions around race. An overwhelming majority of children assigned positive characteristics to the white doll and chose it over the Black doll, thus perpetuating the myth that White dolls were better than Black dolls which often impacted the image of young Black girls. The study was also cited in the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education, which eventually led to the desegregation of schools in the United States.
"I think it really inspires them to consider how young children are when they begin to doubt themselves, begin to look down on themselves, and begin to have lower self-esteem," said Cornett-Scott. "And to see how important a project this is." Caitlyn Russell was shocked to see that even collecting these dolls for the drive proved to be a challenge due to the scarcity. "What really hit home for me, and what really drove me to do this drive, was the scarcity of the dolls in the community," said Russell. "They’re not always at your local market or local store." She touched upon the importance of representation. "We have astronaut dolls, doctor dolls, a lot of male-dominated career paths. It goes even deeper than the surface of the doll because it's representing that we can do so much more than people give us credit for," said Russell.
The dolls were also a way to tell children they were beautiful. "When you look at dolls and you're giving these young girls dolls and you're telling them, 'Your Black is beautiful, your features are beautiful,' you have to make sure that you yourself believe those things," said Teaira Jordan, a 20-year-old sophomore. "So it had me plenty of times looking in the mirror reminding myself, you know what, my lips are beautiful, even though they're fuller. My nose is beautiful, even though it's bigger."