Chelsea Celistan '14 and Amanda Villani '14 are the Co-Founders of G-Chat, a campus organization that they were inspired to create after the candid and important discussions about the unique female experience at Harvard that they took part in during their freshman seminar, Girl Talk. Fueled by their own motivation to provide an outlet for these types of discussions for the larger community of Harvard women, and with the enthusiastic support of the Women's Center and the Freshmen Dean's Office, Chelsea (left) and Amanda (right) strive to establish G-Chat as a safe and welcoming environment for first-year Harvard women to discuss their own experiences, learn from each other's perspectives, and form lasting friendships. Read on to learn more about these inspiring ladies, and check out G-Chat's Bring-a-Friend Event taking place tonight, November 13th, at 8:00pm in the Women's Center!
1. Tell us a little about yourself -- where are you from, what do you study, and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Chelsea Celistan: I am a Junior in Mather House from Chicago, Illinois studying Government, Economics and Spanish. In my free time, I enjoy running on the track team and traveling.
Amanda Villani: I am a junior in Dunster House joint concentrating in History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, with a focus in the ways in which gender and sexuality play out in our historical and contemporary understandings of science, medicine, and the human body. I am originally from Valley Stream, New York, on Long Island. I enjoy reading, hanging out with friends, watching both films and musicals, and, when weather permits, spending time lounging outdoors.
2. What are some of the extracurricular activities you are involved with on campus?
CC: In addition to G-Chat, I'm on the track team, I am a PAF, and I am Co-President of Circle of Women. I am on the Investment Board of Smart Women Securities and a tutor with the Bureau of Study Council as well.
AV: I am currently social chair and a percussionist in the Harvard Pops Orchestra, a member of the Women’s Cabinet, and a member of the Catholic Student Association’s Leadership Team. I am active with Greek Life at Harvard, as a member of Delta Gamma and serving as Vice President of Finance for the Cambridge-Area Panhellenic Council. I work as a cashier and barista at the Greenhouse Café, located in the Science Center. This semester I am also a student research partner at the Radcliffe Institute, assisting Harvard professor Sarah Richardson with her research that historically situates the science of maternal effects throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
3. What are your plans for J-term?
CC: I'll be home and then back here early to run!
AV: I studied abroad in Cambridge, England up until the last few days of summer, so I am looking forward to spending J-term at home with my family! I plan continue my research for the Radcliffe Institute and hopefully volunteer my time at a nonprofit organization in New York City, as well.
4. What would be your dream job after graduation?
CC: Something in finance . . . hopefully investment banking!
AV: My “dream job” would be a Broadway star; however, that requires vocal talent, coordination, and ample performing experience--none of which I possess! So it's still still a work in progress. I hope that whatever I end up doing will allow me to enrich people’s lives in some way, be it through non-profit work, education, or the media.
5. Tell us about the group you co-founded and continue to run for first-year Harvard women, G-Chat! What sparked your interest in forming the group, and what is the mission of G-Chat?
The process of founding G-Chat began our freshman year after taking the freshman seminar Girl Talk with Laura Johnson. We realized that the conversations that took place between such a diverse group of first-year women, bound by a similar interest in issues concerning women, gender, and sexuality both globally and specifically at Harvard, would be highly beneficial to those not enrolled in the 15 person seminar. We received immediate support by Laura, the Freshmen Dean’s Office, and the Women’s Center, receiving funding from both the Freshmen Dean’s Office and a grant from the Ann Radcliffe Trust Fund in order to get the program going.
This year, we have received ample support from the Women’s Center, specifically Gina Helrich, who has sponsored our work and promotes our mission to “facilitate discussion among Harvard’s first-year women concerning academic, social, and personal tenets of the college experience in order to create lasting bonds between members, foster a sense of comfort during difficult times, and serve as a means of support throughout the year.” We also established an Executive Board comprised of Deirdre Buckley ’15, Taylor DuPont ’15, and Susannah Savage ’15 who have all been wonderful additions to the G-Chat team and whose efforts G-Chat owes much of its success. We also cannot fail to mention that G-Chat is known for the multitude of snacks and freshly baked goods we have at each meeting!
6. What are some of the challenges you have faced in founding and building up a student group?
There have been many challenges in founding a student group at Harvard, mainly through publicizing and maintaining a regular group of first-year women. With the help of the Women’s Center and our new executive board, however, reaching out to the student body has been a much easier process. We are featured regularly in the Women’s Center bulletin, have posters throughout the freshmen dorms, and have a new Facebook page that we encourage all Harvard students, regardless of gender, to check out and “like!” The issue of gender has been another challenge the Executive Board has and continues to address. Because we are currently a single-sex organization at Harvard, we are technically not an official student organization. In becoming a recognized student organization, G-Chat would need to open its doors to members of all genders. While this is something G-Chat hopes to pursue in the future, we recognize that there are certain benefits that single-gender conversations have versus those of mixed-gender discussions. We want the student body to know that G-Chat is not meant to be an exclusive organization and that we hope, in becoming recognized, to restructure our group in such a ways that is more accommodating of all first-year students.
7. What have you found to be the greatest reward from your work as leaders of G-Chat?
Our greatest reward has come in seeing girls reap the benefits from the candid discussions that take place. Not only have we seen new friendships established, but we have also seen girls walk away with better perspective after sharing their thoughts with the group. Since this has been our mission all along, it has been so exciting to see the fruits of our labor come to fruition.
8. How can interested potential members become involved with G-Chat? What upcoming programming and events should Harvard women look forward to from the group?
The great thing about G-Chat is that it's very easy to become involved! We have meetings twice a month, with our Bring-A-Friend discussion happening tonight from 8-9 in the Women's Center (Canaday B Basement). We have asked female leaders from around campus to come and share their ideas with freshmen to have a richer discussion, and look forward to seeing lots of people there! Those who are interested in joining us can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We hope to see you there!