Charm School, a program for girls run by the Raleigh Police Department, is facing criticism from some people who say the program and its name are “retro,” “misogynistic” and “sexist.”
Users on social media sites Reddit and Nextdoor have taken issue with Charm School, a three-week day program in July for girls ages 12 to 17. Some are upset because a similar program for boys is called Leaders of Tomorrow.
On Thursday, amid growing criticism, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said the program will get a new name, chosen by participants. But she defended the program, saying it helps girls become leaders.
Deck-Brown created Charm School nine years ago in an effort to encourage the development of social and professional skills girls will need to succeed as adults. It helps girls develop “self-worth, poise, proper communication skills, anger management, forgiveness, etiquette and hygiene,” according to the police department’s website.
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(The girls) will participate in a leadership exercise to identify what the new title will be.
Raleigh police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown
“As chief and as a woman, and taking it a step forward as an African-American woman ... equality and equity is most important,” Deck-Brown said. “(The girls) will participate in a leadership exercise to identify what the new title will be.”
About 20 people have emailed the police department this month about Charm School, said police spokeswoman Laura Hourigan. On Nextdoor, discussions got so heated that the company sent a warning to users about being disrespectful.
Some residents questioned the school’s name in prior years, Deck-Brown said, but the complaints intensified after the department changed the name of its boys’ program last year from Gentlemen’s Elite to Leaders of Tomorrow.
The program, which began in 2013, teaches boys ages 12 to 15 “how to effectively communicate with others, team building, anger management, time management, proper dining etiquette, and the importance of healthy living and dieting.”
Deck-Brown said Charm School is no less of a leadership course than the boys’ program, both of which are free. Charm School’s lessons on appearance and etiquette are meant to prepare girls for job interviews and professional environments.
She noted that participants come from a variety of home situations. Some are in the foster care system and referred by social services.
Katherine Posner, who participated in a discussion about Charm School on her Raleigh neighborhood’s Nextdoor site, said police are sending the wrong message to young people. She pointed out that Charm’s School’s online description mentions hygiene, but the Leaders of Tomorrow description doesn’t.
“So boys are allowed to be sweaty but girls aren’t?” Posner said.
“It’s just outrageous,” she said. “I don’t usually get so hot under the collar about politics. This just hit me wrong. Maybe it’s the atmosphere we’ve got in the country now.”
Kyaijah “Kiki” Lawson, who completed Charm School in 2011, said the program helped prepare her for high school and college and changed the way she interacts with the world. She enrolled in the ROTC program at Broughton High School. Now 20, she is a student at Wake Tech Community College.
“I used to be really shy and not sure what I wanted to do,” Lawson said. “It built up my confidence really high.”
Some people have questioned why Raleigh police don’t host a a co-ed leadership class for children. On Thursday, Deck-Brown defended gender-specific programs and pointed out that the department has a co-ed Junior Police Academy for ages 13 to 15.
“It’s important that we not forget the reality that we are dealing with adolescents who are, in some instances, at awkward times in their lives,” Deck-Brown said.
When trying to help build self-esteem, she said, bringing boys and girls together “can create more of a distraction.”