Before the coronavirus quarantine, Aria Sline and Katie Nottke spent tons of time together, just like most teenage best friends.
They saw each other during their days at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, especially enjoying lunchtime conversations that often took deep dives into important topics.
“During lunch we would have awesome discussions about activism, and our experiences with gender injustice, and how we don’t talk about feminism in school,” said Aria, of Glenwood.
Out of a passion for these conversations and a desire to engage their peers, the girls planned to create a discussion club for the 2020-21 academic year. Students could meet after school to talk about these topics of shared interest.
However, with school closed to in-person learning and meetings due to the coronavirus quarantine, the girls, both seniors, had to rethink their plan. They decided to develop a podcast called "(f)embolden" in which they could have the same types of conversations and share them with their peers.
Aria records episodes of "(f)embolden" with a podcast app called Anchor, as she and Katie talk over the phone. After their conversation, Aria edits the audio, and publishes the finished product.
Katie, a Flossmoor resident, said the podcast is aimed at teenagers who are interested in topics of social and political importance. She hopes the episodes embolden audience members who are reluctant to talk about difficult topics, as they observe two of their peers having productive conversations about these issues.
“It’s very rewarding and relieving to have someone to connect with and have intellectual discussions about what’s going on,” Katie said. “We want to help our peers become more educated and have more insight on what’s going on in the world so they can build activist tendencies and speak out on things that are wrong.”
With Katie’s dog, Oreo, often barking in the background, the podcast conveys a personal, informal feel, as though the listener is observing a conversation between good friends.
The subject matter Aria and Katie cover on "(f)embolden" reflects their commitment to intersectional feminism, which Aria describes as an ethos that “allows for all groups, especially those that are marginalized, to be represented; and rejects racism, misogyny, classism and anything that would go against equality.”
In the 15- to 30-minute episodes, Katie and Aria discuss a range of topics including misogyny, human trafficking, sexual harassment, racism and the role of youth in shaping culture. In a series suggested by Aria’s dad, a handful of scripted mini-episodes share quick personal histories of notable Black women.
“Some of the episodes are scripted, but the rest are pretty conversational,” Aria said. “We want to show our peers how easy it is to have that (difficult) conversation, and enable people with the language for them to talk about it. If it was too robotic, or too scripted, it would take away from the authenticity of our conversations.”
In June, Aria and Katie hosted a fundraiser through "(f)embolden" by selling Black Lives Matter sweatshirts with rainbow-colored lettering. They raised $285 and donated it to the Black Feminist Project.
In the podcast, the girls also discuss their lives during quarantine and experiences with e-learning. Katie said she appreciates when she gets out of the house to work at her restaurant job because she does not like attending school at home.
“It’s lame. It’s really boring,” Katie said. “Other than work it’s just been e-learning and prepping for college. The days are kind of repetitive.”
Both Aria and Katie said they still are deciding which colleges to attend. Katie plans to major in biochemistry, and Aria intends to study molecular and cellular biology. Science is another of the girls’ shared passions.
They continue to develop the podcast, working on the feedback they’ve received to speak more clearly and offer each other turns to chime in — “the stuff you have to get used to when you’re talking to an audience,” Katie said.
Feedback about the podcast’s content has been overwhelmingly positive, Aria said. Listeners they’ve heard from have especially appreciated "(f)embolden" episodes covering sexual harassment, sexual assault and consent.
“We got a lot of positive feedback after our consent episode,” Aria said. “So many people reached out to us that they were so glad we were having this conversation. Even people from other states, they’ve said they finally feel their voice is being heard and they’re being empowered. That’s one of the things that’s been exciting.”