Athena began in 1993, when a group of Harvard women hosted an event for high school women known as the Lighthouse Conference. This conference became a yearly tradition and was renamed the Athena Conference after the Greek goddess of wisdom and justice. At its peak, more than 100 high school women attended the conference each year and participated in workshops in a variety of gender-focused topics.
After a two-year hiatus, the Athena Conference returned in spring 2008 as an initiative of the Harvard College Women’s Center. Two Athena Conferences were held during the next year, beginning the practice of holding a December (fall) conference and an April (spring) conference. In order to reach students from more diverse backgrounds, admission fees were abolished and non-female identifying students were first invited to attend. Currently, approximately 50 students attend the conference each semester.
Athena Mentoring began in fall 2009 with 15 students from seven high schools in Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding areas. With the addition of the mentoring component, the Athena Program became part of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) in 2010, a student-run, staff-supported public service/social action organization at Harvard College providing services to the greater Boston community. PBHA, Athena’s fiscal sponsor, is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.