Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets

I’ve been hearing a lot about this publishing of this book and am superexcited (yes all one word) to have the opportunity to review this text. I have joined several other folks who are a part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. You may visit this link to see the other Tour stop spaces that are supporting this project and find out how you are able to support it too! Many amazing reviews are posted (and I tried not to read them before I wrote mine), but you may read from a variety of different perspectives.

The Hey, Shorty! text has the following information about the contents:

is a narrative account of ten years of community organizing led by young women at Girls for Gender Equity to end gender-based violence against girls, women, and LGBTQ folks. Hey, Shorty! is a tool that can be used by both young people and adults to spark conversations about street harassment, sexual harassment in schools, and strategies that can be used to increase safety in public spaces.

This is not just a guide that shares the trajectory of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), (which is a 501 (c )3 not for profit organization and thus your donation is tax deductible, and if you cannot donate monetarily you may donate your time as well) it is also a collective text and narrative that provides various voices and testimonies from GGE staff, youth, and parents as to why the work to end gender-based violence is imperative and must continue.

When I received the text in the mail I was surprised by the size. Less than 200 pages, I could argue it fits comfortably in your back pocket (but it fit well into my handbag also). I thought about how the size may make it accessible to various communities, something that folks may carry with them wherever they go, and reference it as needed. I also wondered if this was intentional, would youth carry this around as well?

Part of my surprise at the books size was my assumptions about the book before I even investigated more. I had seen the cover and the description of the book and assumed it would be well over 200 pages and almost like a textbook. Perhaps this is my hope, my own values and ideas about what texts about violence, especially sexual harassment about youth of Color living in NYC would represent. I think there are also a lot of assumptions I make about the term “guide” when used to describe books. I assume a guide will have many layers, a specific layout, (unsolicited?) advice, scenarios and problem solving approaches. Yes, Hey, Shorty! does have many of these components, but not in the “traditional” way I imagined. It was good to be challenged in this way for me, to expand what it means to create and have a “guide” that can be more inclusive, shift in ways that are useful, and reach people that are the focus of the text. I believe this is what Hey, Shorty! has accomplished.

The authors of the book include GGE staff and youth. Author credits go to the executive director of GGE; Joanne Smith, Mandy Van Deven, former associate director of GGE; and Meghan Huppuch the current director of community organizing at GGE (who began her work at GGE as an intern), and the youth participants of Sisters in Strength, which includes interns. As I read the book I thought about how dope it could be to have a chapter by youth who were a part of Sisters In Strength. For many people publishing and authorship credit is important. We live in a society where people want to write books, have them published, and (most likely) have them read. How awesome would it have been if we lived in a society that made it possible for books to list ALL the authors, all the young women whose voices are shared, as authors without having to identify them as a “group”? That each young woman had authorship and thus could be found by doing a search on major bookstore search engines, is something I hope we can come to in the future!

Other assumptions I had before reading the text was that the image on the front of tho book of dangling feet of young girls meant the text would focus on younger girls (ages 8-12). Many times when I see similar images that accompany a piece of media/text they send specific and very intentional messages and sometimes they are not as inclusive as they could be, thus misleading the viewer/reader. With this image on the cover, the focus is on discussing sexual harassment and the origins of GGE, which began with young girls in the 8-12 group and then included young teenage women.

The book contains 12 “chapters” that provide the evolution and need for creating and sustaining Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) which segues into the work youth members of Sisters In Strength, a part of GGE, crafted, evaluated, implemented and produced on sexual harassment in their community. The main focus is utilizing Title IX in NYC public schools and holding those schools and the NYC Department of Education accountable and responsible for enforcing it. Title IX, which has often been discussed but only partially to emphasize the focus on sports, is more complex than many of us may believe. The full entire part of Title IX includes ending sexual harassment (the wikipedia entry for Title IX doesn't even MENTION sexual harassment! and if I knew enough about technology and contributing to wikipedia I'd change that ish myself, but I don't so hopefully some of you readers will!). As the National Women's Law Center describes Title IX:

Many people have never heard of Title IX. Most people who know about Title IX think it applies only to sports, but athletics is only one of 10 key areas addressed by the law. These areas are: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology.

As I began reading the introduction by Joanne Smith, I realized quickly that we grew up in the same community in Maryland (I don’t know if she considers it the south, but after living in NYC, I sure do!). Her experiences growing up in a primarily Haitian-American space is one that I am very familiar with as I grew up in the same one in Silver Spring. I wonder if we have met as teenagers…. As I continued to read and learn about a young woman Joanne was working with, Lilly. There was something about Joanne sharing this story that made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure what all the parts that led to my discomfort come from and I’m still sitting with that discomfort to find its origins. However, I think the first thing that led to my discomfort is the thin line I often struggle with, of sharing stories. What stories am I privileged/allowed to share? When are other people’s stories ones that I can share, is that ever all right? When can I tell when other’s stories intersect with my own, impact my own, and thus become a part of my personal story?

Then there was the feeling I had, which I recall first having when I read Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa. There is a part when Anzaldua writes about first hearing the term “nosotras” with an “a” which feminizes the term. She shares how she had only heard of the term with an “o” which masculinizes or always imagines a man is present. She writes that the first time she heard “nosotras” was hearing two Latinas from the Caribbean speak to one another (one from Puerto Rico and another from Cuba). I remember feeling included. Learning about Latina Feminist Thought almost 10 years ago, meant a focus primarily from Mexican and Chicana perspectives. I didn’t see myself or think I had a place. Then I read Anzaldúa’s rememory and how it impacted her and began to see a space for myself.

I found this same feeling reading Joanne’s connection to Lilly, which triggered her desire to “challenge the limited opportunities and outlets for girls living in urban communities” (p. 12). I thought to myself, here is an experience, a story about Latinas (we do not know Lilly or her mother’s ethnic background) that has inspired important work. I’m still working through some other parts of this, but think it’s important to share this for the review.

Moving through the next chapter written by Many Van Deven, who shares her experiences working within schools, creating curriculums, and implementing those curriculums that focus on sexual harassment in NYC public schools located in Brooklyn. As Van Deven shares her challenges of finding solid curriculums to share with the students of Color, I thought about the dearth of curriculums that still remain today centering them, especially those that can be considered “comprehensive sexuality education.” I think may of us could agree discussions on sexual harassment are important for such curriculums (and more), and that we remain without curriculums that are useful, can reach many youth, and that are effective and engaging. Usual readers of my work know my stance on "comprehensive sexuality education" that has no conversation on race, class, ethnicity, disability, citizenship and immigration status as well as experiences on how to interact with law enforcement is NOT comprehensive; especially for youth of Color and queer youth! I take the same position with discussions of sexual harassment.

I appreciated the focus of GGE utilizing a Frierean philosophy that “one must work with not for the oppressed” (p. 39), the discussion of the youth-led and created award-winning documentary Hey, Shorty! (for which the book is named). The documentary focuses on street harassment primarily in communities of Color. Below is the trailer.

In addition, I appreciated a frank and honest discussion about searching to find research methodologies and approaches that can be best utilized to include and be guided by the community. The author’s discussion of Participatory Action Research (PAR), how they were exposed to the idea, learned about the methodology, and built connections with folks who were familiar with this approach to train young women involved in Sisters In Strength speaks to GGEs transparency. I think it is a great discussion about how you do not need to have experiences in higher education to be inspired by such research, that such research does not have to be exclusively done by people who are only from particular backgrounds or training. This is something that I find useful for myself and that I think can be useful and inspiring for folks who seek to do similar work.

This research was a part of a larger project Sisters In Strength produced, asking youth at NYC public schools (in all 5 boroughs) about their experiences with sexual harassment. At the same time, the research is a part of the text (as with many) where some identities and experiences are generalized at times. Sharing the struggle Sisters In Strength and staff experienced in defining how often sexual harassment occurred in NYC public schools, which they decided is something that happens so often it is normalized (and often not defined as sexual harassment), is a candid discussion of challenges and decision-making as a collective. There are parts of the data that I hope will be expanded, such as having a more inclusively based on gender (currently the research gathered information from folks who self-selected to take the survey in various forms, but also fall within a gender binary, with one testimony from a young trans person). Race and ethnicity seemed to be combined, i.e. How are multi-ethnic and racial students counted? What about Afr@Latin@s, how are they categorized and counted?

Their findings definitely speak to how modernization and technology have expanded the sexual harassment many people are experiencing and give support to folks who are pushing Sexting laws forward. This is something I discovered the 60 students (aged 16-19) I taught this semester have NO idea about. Many of them had never heard of Sexting laws and how they can have an impact on them. They also have not ever heard of Net Neutrality, but that’s a different issue (sort of…).

Another thing I (re)discovered from reading their research was the over-sexualization of LGB and queer youth. The data they gathered showed that “it seems the students did not define the harassment of LGBTQ students in the same way” (p. 123). This made my heart sink. I think many of us in this society already over-sexualize people who identify as anything beyond heterosexual (“straight”) (hopefully readers know that the over-sexualization of heterosexual people based on various differences does occur!). As a result we see our youth showing how we have socialized them to do the exact same thing. The assumption that youth who identify as LGB, Queer, or even transgender (which is NOT a sexual orientation) are constantly sexual, acting out sexually, or active is something I know exists, and if you don’t think this is true, take a look at how any mainstream media coverage discusses our communities.

There are 3 findings from the research: 1. In school sexual harassment occurs in many ways, to many people, and in many locations; 2: sexual harassment is a “normal” part of young people’s school experience; 3: youth want and need more education about sexual harassment. During the discussion of the third finding, it was shared that “[w]hen we asked students to write about their potions for responding to sexual harassment, over a third of the responses involved physical violence. Youth wrote that they would ‘beat up,’ ‘punch,’ or ‘kill’ the person who harassed them” (p. 128). I thought immediately about how violence for many people is a form of power, and for people who don’t have a lot of power to begin with, violence may be the only form they have. I think about how this type of power is something many people, especially young women claim as a form of liberation. I do not deny this for anyone, and I think it is very much a reality as I’ve shared in the past, specifically for Latinas. I believe this data supports this idea and speaks to the ways our society limits (even sets our youth up) for only finding power in violence, even if that violence saves our lives and is where we find forms of freedom.

I would have loved to have read a larger discussion on misogyny and how it impacts everyone and the experience of sexual harassment. I am thankful for the appendix that offers definitions of sexual harassment, ways to combat it, myths and a quiz about sexual harassment. I am also appreciative of the three Community Organizing Rules shared throughout the text which include:

Community Organizing Rules

  • Rule #1: If what you need already exists, don’t waste time reinventing the wheel (p. 33)
  • Rule #2: Make friends with people who hold true power. Principals may give you permission but security guards, custodians, and secretaries give you information and access when it is most crucial (p. 43).
  • Rule #3: Self-care is just as important as social change (p. 72).

If you are a young person, work with youth, in the school system, or are in a community this is a text that can be useful and provide a framework that can be molded to fit and reach various people in multiple spaces. Hey, Shorty! Is published by Feminist Press and you may purchase it at your favorite local and/or independent bookstore here. Learn more about how you can help donate and support the Hey, Shorty! On The Road here.

Many thanks to Mandy Van Deven for reaching out to me and providing me with a copy of the text and communicating with me to provide this review.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Media Justice for Outlaws

cross posted from my Media Justice column

Ya’ll know I love snail mail.

And although I agree with many who critique “Hallmark holidays” I do send my parents mail for Mother’s day and Father’s Day. I started this piece with a different focus, but then I saw this interview of author
Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street, Loose Woman: Poems) by author Dorothy Allison (Skin, Bastard Out of Carolina) from 1996. As I prepare to teach two “special topics” courses this summer, one on women, art and culture and the other on sociology and human sexuality, and build my syllabi I found this interview. See the interview below (in English and right now I have not found a transcript).

Sandra Cisneros with Dorothy Allison, Conversation, 8 October 1996 from Lannan Foundationon Vimeo.

I am using Cisneros’ Loose Woman: Poems in the class I’m teaching this summer, so this video is very much of interest to me and I plan to include it in the class in some way. What struck me at first was Cisneros’ conversation about her mother and Allison’s discussion of her parents and their responses to their work. I wondered about how my work may be interpreted and impact my family. Cisneros talks about there being something embarrassing for her family to read some of her stories that are about sexuality, assaults, and healing while Allison shares similar experiences with her family as well.

Cisneros says that she thinks there may be some level of embarrassment for her parents regarding her work and I wondered: may my parents be embarrassed of my work? May parents of any sexual health educator be embarrassed? How do we reconcile this with the work we have been called to do? The authors talk a bit about parents not wanting to see their children as sexual beings.

I’ll admit I have my fair share of approaching the idea of
children being sexual beings and parents recognizing that as an important part in child development and parenting. As someone who is not a “traditional” parent (I believe I have provided a certain level of parenting, support, and mentorship with many young people in my life, especially a young woman who I’ve mentored for over 15 years), I kind of understand this. It was only this year (this week actually!) that I had the courage to ask one of my mentee’s what her experiences were with sex, sexuality and pleasure.

I realized after all the work I do, the trainings, my goals and hopes there remain some parts of me that are still very similar to, not only my parents, but to some social norms that still believe young people are not sexual beings. I’m more like my parents and I realize this each day and sometimes it terrifies me, but other times I realize I have been selected to embody and continue an amazing legacy. It’s such a overwhelming and affirming experience!

So I wonder, how many of us have talked to our parents about the work we do? What have been their reactions? Do we keep it secret? If so, why? Is there a reason connected to protecting ourselves? What are we protecting ourselves from? Disappointment? Critique? Support? Love?

My parents support me. Yet, I don’t share everything I do with them. I’ve shared that my parents are not too wired, so it’s not often that they read what I produce and share about my experiences, so in that way there is a level of “protection” for me and for them. This “protection” I’m writing about is more connected to anonymity, which is connected to safety and freedom to write on various topics. However, I’m not sure how much longer that may last, for many reasons. With age I realize my parents are important parts of who I am, support systems, and sexual beings on their own. But I also realize they will not always be here with me. I’m still “young” enough to have them in somewhat good health, but that is quickly changing and it’s a new form of terrifying!

Similar to Cisneros, my parents don’t talk too much to me about the work that I do, the classes that I teach, or details about them. When I won the 2010
Mujeres Destacadas award(Distinguished Woman) by El Diario La Prensa and they listed me as a “sexologist” my parents didn’t ask what that was or what it represented when I gave them copies. I can’t say if this is connected to embarrassment, but more to a larger communication about sex and sexuality in our family. I find many similarities to Cisneros. Although my parents were big hippies when I was born, and we embraced nudity and art, we didn’t discuss details to sexuality or sexual health. And that silence transmits so much!

Through this silence, that was often only presented through images of art (think paintings, sketches, some forms of music, after all it was still the 70s and 80s!), I had to find the type of representations that spoke to me, and much like Cisneros, I saw what I desired for myself in the representations of White men around me. The White men were seen as “independent” in a very particular way and could travel freely. I translated these two things as freedom, liberation. I interpreted this freedom and liberation and thought: what could it look like for me?

I knew long ago that just because a White man can do something that doesn’t mean a bushy-haired brown girl could. Yet, that restraint allowed me to dream bigger. The imaginative and creative attributes my parents fostered in me as a child were able to manifest into something more useful and life changing as a young adult. I imagined leaving my town, living in a world where I could do whatever I wanted without having too much responsibility to certain people and things, only responsible to the people and things I love (and yes this means no children or spouse which on it’s own is a anomaly even today!). Today, I think I’ve been able to reach a bit of that.

I think for these reasons, although I’ve selected a very “untraditional” route of work for myself as my parents’ daughter, as a person with US citizenship, and as woman of Color, I’ve still been able to find success in how I define it. That is one of the things I take away from this interview: defining success to our standards not to others.

When Cisneros and Allison talk about their parents questioning their sexual orientation because they are not married (more Cisneros) and wondering if academics and going to college is connected to that or ignoring it because Allison went to college, is something that really speaks to me. My parents have not questioned my sexual orientation, but they do question my desires and (in)abilities to partner. I do believe they wonder how/if my career choice may limit my options for partners: would a person want to partner with a woman who does the work that I do. More so, would a man of Color want to partner with me knowing I am working in the field of sexology?

Allison says to Cisneros at the 6-minute mark: “I think there is this common territory that independent, unmarried, women writers occupy. Particularly independent, unmarried, heterosexual, outside the acceptable definition of what a woman is supposed to do. That’s the, it’s the same niche lesbians occupy in this society where, we are in the outlaw territory. It’s a safer place for a writer.” Wow.

Cisneros states later at the 19-minute mark: “What are the options for a woman who wants to be a writer? And Latina? If I had been in a situation where I would have been married that could have killed my writing career. If I had been in some traditional relationship where I had children, I would never have been into books. So I think that destiny puts these situations in my life so I could be who I am now and have all these books. Now I feel like ‘ok I did all that now I may think about having a partner and all that’ I might have kids. I might not. I can afford now to make those decisions, but it’s different for a man.”

Although it’s an identity I’m not in love with, I am a writer. One of the reasons I’m not in love with such an identity is because I know of people who write for different reasons, reasons connected to surviving, to living. My writing is connected in the same way, but at the end of the day, if I had the chance to choose what to do, writing may not be the first thing on that list. I’ve felt shame with my identity as a writer, but I realize that I can’t and will no longer be ashamed, or hold my writing up to the same standards or goals as others. I will write because I can, because I want to, and because there is still so much to say and share. I realize now it is a gift and that I am writing and occupying in an outlaw territory.

I share this because it’s a process. Maybe some of you reading may have never found yourself in that space, maybe some have, either way it is all right. I think it’s important to share these experiences even if they still remain a struggle.

After doing some research, I found a great passage from Allison’s book of short stories
Trash, in her story “Muscles of the Mind” where she writes:
“We are under so many illusions about our powers,” I wrote, “illusions that vary with the moon, the mood, the moment. Waxing, we are all-powerful. We are the mother-destroyers. She-Who-Eats-Her-Young, devours her lover, her own heart; great-winged midnight creatures and the witches of legend. Waning, we are powerless. We are the outlaws of the earth, daughters of nightmare, victimized, raped, and abandoned in our own bodies. We tell ourselves lies and pretend not to know the difference. It takes all we have to know the truth, to believe in ourselves without reference to moon or magic. (pg. 140)
The idea and identity of being an outlaw is not new. Many authors have written about it from gender, race, and class perspectives. Unfortunately, it’s an ideology and discussion that often is transmitted mainly within certain (academic) spaces. Although outlaws are “wanted,” considered deviant, having broken the “law” or challenged social norms, they remain without any (legal) protection. This is many of us writing here at Amplify. Many of us working in the field of sexual and reproductive justice and we must create protections for ourselves within our community.

These are all forms of media I believe. Media that nurtures us and is vital to the work we do. Forming a message, constructing it in the way we choose and sharing it, that’s media!

So, how does this change the relationship I want to forge with my family, to have a response? Some protection? I too, like Dorothy Allison, am hungry for my family’s response to my work. Here’s my plan of action, if you have one, or are thinking of one, please share! I really do believe we learn from sharing and from one another.

Action Plan

• Tell my parents. Perhaps print out a piece I’d like to share with them, mail it, and ask them to read it when they can and be proactive about finding their opinions. This means doing a lot of reflexive work to prepare for that conversation. I think I’ll have to prepare myself for critique, questions, having to explain things in new ways, and being ready to accept love and support.

• Ask myself what does it mean if I am choosing not to share certain pieces with my parents and be honest about those responses.

• Be clear in what my parents may be able to offer me and be ready to receive it or to find it elsewhere.

• Expand my ideas and definitions of “family” to include my community.

• Make sure my community is one that can provide me with the support and is present for me in the ways that are healing and supportive.

• Make sure I can reciprocate what my community offers me.

• Do it all over again.

Update: Get Bi to the AMC

It's been a little over a month since I started to fundraise to get to the AMC, and I'm superexcited (yes all one word!) to give an update!

I have raised $466!!!! through virtual donations alone (I know others are coming via snail mail!)

I've also been provided with FREE registration for the AMC as my application for the first ever Healing Practice & Relaxation Space was accepted. As a result, in exchange for free registration, I will be providing my doula and/or art therapy services. This is an amazing opportunity for me to continue to do work in specific space and with various communities while still gaining insight, experience, and challenging myself in the media and work I plan to continue to do.

Because I was able to raise a good amount of money fairly quickly I was able to purchase my plain ticket for significantly less than was originally believed. I've also got a friend who is flying from NYC on the same flight as I am and who can cut transportation costs with me to and from Detroit Airport while we are there (although we are still seeking other options via the AMC travel boards). For those of you who are more visual here's the old budget followed by the NEW budget!

Old/Original Budget NEW budget in RED

Plane Ticket $325 Paid $245
Transportation to NYC airport: $20 ($10 metrocard roundtrip to BX, $10 roundtrip shuttle card to JFK) $10 b/c leaving from LGA
Transportation to AMC from airport: $110 ($55 1 way not including gratuity) $60 for now b/c riding w/a friend
Registration: $70 (i'd like to pay $100 as requested if possible) $0 FREE registration
Grub: $100 (lunch (~$10 & dinner ~$15 for 4 days) $100
Lodging: $180 ($45 per night in 4 person suite style dorm room) $180

Total: $805-835 (cover $100 conference fee) NEW total: $595

Which means I only need to raise $129!!!

Many thanks to the folks who have donated, shared this link, and supported my first efforts to get my tail to a conference! Snail Mail goodies will come to you and I can't wait to meet folks in 3D for the first time!


Are You A Sex(uality) Blogger/Writer of Color?

I'm looking to expand my "resources" list on my website and would like to have a list of sex(uality)* bloggers/writers of Color** (you do not need to identify as Latin@). I've asked around and searched to see if there is some type of list of us, but there does not seem to be any.

It's time ya'll. I envision shameless plugs for all of us who are writing on these topics, but also provide a range of resources for folks seeking insight, support, advice, community, affirmation, or whatever else they need through what many of us may provide!

I know several bloggers/writers of Color who write on sex(uality), but I'd like your permission to share your site on, so please let me know if I have your permission one of several ways:

1. Leave a comment here, DM me on Twitter, leave me a message on Tumblr, if we are homies on Facebook, leave a note there, or if you have my email address send me an email with a link to your online/virtual home(s)

2. Share with me how you would like your online/virtual home(s) identified (i.e. name)

My goal is to have this list completed (and continually updated) by mid-summer 2011. I will only check the link you provide to make sure it is live and working, not for specific content. If you identify as a person of Color writing on sex(uality) and reach out, I'll include you.

Many thanks in advance!
Peace, love and light

* I'll leave it up to each individual person and/or group to define sex(uality) as a theme/topic they write about, no definitions or restraints from me, define it how you see it!

**I'll leave identifying as a "person of Color" up to the individual and/or group, again I will not define or restrain folks from identifying as such.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Notes From A Workshop: Gender, Dating & Technology

cross posted from my RH Reality Check

The past several weeks have been super busy for me. Filled with new opportunities to talk with young people, reach out to communities all over the east coast in 3D, and have really important conversations around sexuality and how complex it is for many of us. I want to share some of these experiences, conversations that were created, how I was challenged and what I learned. I’m really interested in hearing others ideas and thoughts about the topics presented here and if you have used similar curricula or activities and the outcomes!

Towards the end of March I was invited to provide a workshop to the students at Saint Peter’s College, a private Catholic college in Jersey City, NJ. Similar in population to the private Catholic college I teach at in the Bronx, I was asked to help participants understand and discuss gender expectations and norms, dating and how technology has challenged and changed courtship. My workshop was called Gender, Dating & Technology.

The preparation for this workshop took some time. I had to have a few conversations with the faculty member that invited me and hear some background as to what led to students requesting such a workshop. I was told that some students were sharing challenges they encountered with potential partners text messaging at late hours of the night asking for a date the next day, not having calls returned, and folks browsing others Facebook page to find potential dates. Then there were ideas about what a partner should and should not do, how they are to behave and challenges to even beginning the conversation about what someone desires in a relationship.

I had some ideas for such a workshop from past sessions I’ve done, but I wanted more options. I headed over to the Advocates For Youth website and checked out what curriculums they share that center around relationships, sexuality, and friendships. Two activities stood out to me: Likes & Dislikesand Body Language from Life Planning Education, Advocates For Youth, 2009. I was inspired by the goals and objectives for these two activities and spent some time thinking about how to use activities targeting high school students with college-aged young adults.

The activity Likes and Dislikes was one I knew I wanted to start with, but a issue I had with the activity the way it is presented is that it supports a gender binary: that there are only people who identify as women or men and nothing more. It took me a moment to think about how I could alter this activity and it was not until about an hour before my presentation that I came up with an idea. Instead of breaking groups up by gender identity as in the curriculum, I provided each participant with a sheet of paper to list likes and dislikes of all genders and I used gender neutral and inclusive language. For example, I said: “list likes and dislikes for men, women, gender non-conforming/queer, and/or trans people.” This allowed participants to self-select how they would identify and offer opportunities for them to not have to be targeted, choose which side of a gender binary they wanted to be on to build a list, and allowed for some introspective writing. The second addendum to this activity I decided to implement was to have groups share their writing and build a list on a piece of newsprint that they would then present to the group.

One of the things I did not expect was having over 75 students present! Saint Peter’s College is not a large campus and has about 3000 students. I was truly surprised and honored to have close to 100 students, and almost all of them students of Color, present for a majority of the workshop. I did have enough paper for folks to do the first part of this activity, but the second part where they work as a group was a challenge.

I had about 8 groups of 15-20 people in stadium style seating, so no moveable chairs. Good thing I was excited and kept a pretty upbeat attitude as I grouped folks together and provided them with markers and paper to write. I then had to keep moving from group to group making sure folks were not excluded because of proximity and that each person was able to share what they wrote and were comfortable including. Usually I would allow students to do things on their own and more independently, but there were specific circumstances where I thought more facilitation in a specific way was needed. I had participants pick a spokesperson to share what they wrote.

Following the original guidelines for sharing lists in the article, I asked folks to refrain from any call and response and to be quiet and listen as each group shared their list. To say the lists and qualities I heard were amazing is an understatement! Many qualities that were desirable and disappointing overlapped. For example, almost each group shared personal hygiene as a quality that is important yet having poor hygiene was a turn off. Other likes included good communication, being supportive, affectionate, and goal-oriented. Dislikes shared included being overly sensitive or expressive (crying often), lack of pride in physical appearance, and one group said street harassment, fatphobia, and misogyny.

Then I asked participants to share how they felt about what they heard and if there were any stereotypes they heard that they challenged. The conversation was really engaging and powerful. Participants were honest with feeling hurt and angry with some of the things shared. Others shared that they simply dismissed some of the comments while other folks started a good conversation about what it means to desire qualities in a partner but go after the opposite thing in someone.

Several young men shared that they heard the women present say they want certain qualities, that they embody these qualities but are ignored or overlooked for various reasons, mainly connected to class status and ideas of having “swag” or “game” and being “too nice.” This sparked a conversation about responsibility and friendship. How are we as friends of people who say they want one type of partner but choosing ones that are abusive, hurtful, and the complete opposite, responsible to our friendships and ourselves? This then led into a conversation about technology and communication. How do we share with a potential partner that their personal hygiene is a turn off, or could be altered to appeal to the other partner? Is a text message or phone call appropriate for such a discourse? When is a 3D conversation needed versus something online?

This activity took well over an hour. Yet, it was a good lead into the next activity. I had done this activity almost 15 years ago as an undergrad in a human sexuality college course. My professor at the time wasDr. Robin Sawyer, it was his wife Anne that mentored me into working as a sexuality educator a year later and who helped me realize this is the work I wanted to commit to as a professional. Dr. Sawyer had created an activity called “Can’t Buy Me Love” (find it in this workbook) where he listed several characteristics some folks desire in a relationship (i.e. communication, attractive, supportive, etc.) and added a value to each. The instructions on the activity were that each person was given $100 and could go shopping and spend their $100 to find the partner they desired.

I used this activity for the second part of my presentation and had altered the original a bit to include more characteristics, terminology the community I was working with was familiar with, and to represent and be more inclusive of various types of relationships (i.e. polyamory). I shared with the group that they could not borrow money from someone else’s sheet and that they could spend as much money as they had. This activity took a while as well, and many students had to pair up as I didn’t have enough copies for all participants present.

When I asked the group what they thought of this activity they had varied responses. Many of the students shared that they thought a lot of the characteristics were too expensive. They gave the example of communication being almost $40. This I found interesting, and shared that we had spent almost 20 minutes talking about how important and valuable communication was to them and now they didn’t want to pay so much for that quality. Many laughed at the irony while others rethought their position.

Other students shared how they did the activity with their partner and they both came up with different responses. We talked about what that could mean, how that may alter a relationship or strengthen one. Students shared that it was a good exercise to do with a partner versus alone as it could spark conversation. Others shared that they were unclear about the difference between supporting someone and someone offering security. I shared that for some folks being supported by a partner may mean they will listen to them and help them through difficult times, whereas offering security could mean for others having a home or feeling emotionally secure/open with a partner (being comfortable enough to cry). This offered some clarification and students were able to make the best decision for themselves at that time about what characteristics they desired.

I shared how I’ve used this activity in my own personal dating experiences. My current partner and I did this activity together last summer and had some very interesting conversations. We spoke about how being attracted to your partner is essential and that I did not have enough money to purchase it along with the other things I wanted (I was $5 short). That led to a conversation about what I was willing to give up, if anything, to be attracted to my partner. I argued that I could find some of the other characteristics attractive, and my partner argued that it may not be enough at some times.

That story led me to ask participants what characteristics they would buy if they went on sale, or had a lower value. I also shared that their ideas may change over time. That they could do this activity at various different times in their dating history and have very different outcomes. Some students shared that they planned to do the activity with other friends and potential partners. We spoke about how this may also be useful for when meeting people online through either dating services or via social networks. That meeting in a public space and using this as an “ice breaker” may be a good way to figure out what our priorities are and what type of relationship we seek with specific people.

We finished with the Body Language activity, which ended up being like a game of charades. About six students volunteered to act out the emotions on the card and we had a short conversation about how our body language sends certain messages. We briefly discussed how when we try to show our emotions (i.e. disappointment, anger, discomfort) it may be interpreted other than how we imagine it to be (i.e. participants guessed frustration, sadness, complacency for disappointment).

By this time my two hours were complete and I was exhausted but invigorated. I had put together a powerpoint presentation to include some film clips to use as points of discussion in case they were needed but they were not. The three films I had planned to use were Girlfight (2000) to discuss gender norms and roles, Raising Victor Vargas (2002) to discuss how we are socialized to act out based on gender norms and roles and to discuss body language, and I Like It Like That (1994) to discuss characteristics in a relationship that we desire or do not want. (And yes these films are over a decade old and I think it says something about media and what has been produced and can be used to begin discussion in specific ways).

I want to thank all of the student groups that worked to get me to their campus to provide this workshop, the audio visual and technology folks who recorded this presentation (when video is available I'll share) and Dr. Alex Trillo who reached out to me, discussed the needs of the students, and gave me a ride back to the Path train!

Have others had similar conversations with students? If so, what were the outcomes? How have some of us changed curriculums to be more effective with our specific populations? Are there other ways that you have used similar curriculums and had different outcomes?

Get Your Tail To A Conference

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

As the end of the semester is arrives I am reminded of all the ways I’ve looked forward to this summer. There are a ton of fabulous conferences going on this summer (and this year in general) that I think may be of interest to readers. So, this piece is focusing on helping us all build community through conference attendance and organizing, as well as some pointers on how to get funds to attend (I know all too well how expensive it is to travel and get to conferences!).

I asked some friends to share with me conferences they think are important to share and have you all know about so I’ll include those in this list. If you are interested in continuing your training and commuity building in the reproductive justice and sexual health field there are many different conferences all over the world to look into. The Kinsey Institute has a great
list of conferences all year round for 2011. A few that the Kinsey Institute features that I’d like to highlight are the International AIDS Conference 2012 which will be held in Washington, DC, the annual AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors & Therapists) which has already passed, but is held each year in the US, and the Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia, PA, this is the 10th year the conference being held. The Kinsey Institute seems to update it often enough, but I noticed a few things missing from this list that I think may be of interest to Amplify readers.

Allied Media Conference
One conference I am shamelessly plugging is the
Allied Media Conference (AMC). I have so many friends and chosen family who attend and present at this conference that I’ve decided I’m going to attend this summer. Located in Detroit, Michigan, the AMC focuses on cultivating “strategies for a more just and creative world. We come together to share tools and tactics for transforming our communities through media-based organizing." Their vision is “participatory media to transform our selves and our world." Needless to say AMC is one of the most radical, progressive, inclusive and accessible conferences in the US. They center on including and supporting folks from various experiences and backgrounds, offer accessible housing that is affordable ($45 a night) and have amazing programs each year! One of the documents I used in writing my Net Neutrality article was created by participants of the AMC. This year the AMC is June 23-26, 2011 and if you are interested in media literacy and media justice this is where you need to be! Come find me I’ll most likely have a big side ponytail.

World Congress of Sexual Health
The World Association of Sexual Health conference (WAS, formally the World Association of Sexology) is an international organization of sexual and reproductive health professionals from around the world. It is one of the largest conferences that is every other year. I’ve attended two conferences for WAS and both were funded by donations from the places I was working and my colleges. It can be overwhelming, but totally worth it, especially as someone of Color in this field where in the US there are not many of us, but when we look outside the US, we are everywhere! The 20th Annual World Congress of Sexual Health is on June 12-16, 2011 in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

Kansas City Human Sexuality Educational Regional Conference
Focusing on people working with clients or in the field of reproductive and sexual health,
this conference will discuss the specific needs of people living in Kansas City. The conference will discuss human sexuality in a changing world, as this is the title of the conference. Registration needs to be received by June 1, 2011 and the final program is available onlineand includes keynotes on sexuality education updates, sexting, and ethics in the classroom. June 8-10, 2011

SisterSong Let’s Talk About Sex Conference
Many of you may know of
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective as their mission is to “amplify and strengthen the collective voices of Indigenous women and women of color to ensure reproductive justice through securing human rights.” This year is their first annual conference called “Let’s Talk About Sex: Love, Legislation and Leadership” in Miami, Florida. The conference will focus on celebrating the movement for reproductive health, reproductive rights and reproductive justice. It will be held on July 14-17, 2011 and registration is now open! As this is the first conference for SisterSong, there will hopefully be many more in the future. They have had a call for bloggers, volunteers, workshops, presentations, and offer scholarships (deadline was in March).

Conferences coming up in the Fall and Winter 2011

Sexuality and Aging Conference will be hosted by Widener University, one of the few higher education programs that has a specialization in sexuality studies on the east coast. It will take place on September 23, 2011 and the conference title is: “Sexuality, Intimacy and Aging: What Every Professional Needs to Know,” and is a day long event and registration begins in the summer.

Transcending Boundaries Conference located in Springfield, MA will be held in November 11-13, 2011. The conference focuses on “’Beyond the Binary.’ Male/Female, Straight/Gay or Lesbian, Man /Woman, Committed/Single, in a world of either-or's, where do those of us that don't quite belong in one category or the other fit? Gender, sex, orientation, relationships and identities don't always meet the definitions society gives us, but that doesn't mean they are any less valid.” They are currently accepting proposals for workshops and presentations and the keynote is Kate Bornstein.

Conferences my friends shared with me are on a range of topics. The first two my homegirl Pamela suggested and the last my homegirl Adele provided:

NCORE is The National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education and the “conference series constitutes the leading and most comprehensive national forum on issues of race and ethnicity in American higher education. The conference focuses on the complex task of creating and sustaining comprehensive institutional change designed to improve racial and ethnic relations on campus and to expand opportunities for educational access and success by culturally diverse, traditionally underrepresented populations.” Registration is now open and the conference is being held May 31-June 4, 2011 and is in San Francisco, CA.

The Gloria Anzaldúa Conference is hosted by the University of Texas, San Antonio Women’s Studies Institute and it seems it is usually held in November. I’ve mentioned Anzaldúa here in the past, most recently when I wrote about Lady Gaga and her misuse of the term “chola.” Anzaldúa was an amazing Chicana lesbian feminist, and one of the first to discuss how race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation and gender intersect. Check the website for updates and information about when this conference is being planned for 2011.

MALCS is Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (Women Active in Letters and Social Change) and is a “national organization of Chicanas/Latinas and Native American women working in academia and in community settings with a common goal: to work toward the support, education and dissemination of Chicana/Latina and Native American women’s issues.” Each summer they provide a Summer Institute for members (you do have to be a member to attend) and this year in August 3-7 they will host Against Fear and Terror: Una Nueva Conciencia Sin Fronteras
 at California State University. This years summer institute will focus on “aims to foreground the academic and activist endeavors contesting the current framing of citizenship and belonging through binaries such as immigrant/non-immigrant that ignore lived relationship, histories and transformative practices in rights-based struggles.”

How To Get To Conferences

Most of my time in undergrad and graduate school I hustled to get to many conferences. Not only did I volunteer to work at many conferences in NYC and DC to get free admission and not pay for registration, but it also helped me build community. One of the ways I was able to get to international conferences was by fundraising. I’ll share here how I’ve fundraised in the past, some key words to keep in mind, and how fundraising has changed with new technology that can be very useful.

The first thing I did while in school or working was find a conference I wanted to attend that connected to either my field of study or the work I was doing at my job. I had to make a case for why I should be provided with funds and time to attend certain conferences. If you are seeking an employer to pay for your conference travel and registration (including food and lodging) make sure you have a clear understanding of why you want to go and can eloquently articulate it verbally and in writing. Terms such as “professional development” and “training to share with colleagues” can be useful phrases to use. If you can demonstrate that what you will learn and acquire at the conference can help impact the work you do chances are you may be able to get full funding. If you are interested in taking what you learn at the conference and sharing it with staff, your employer may see this as a investment as you can provide a “free training” for staff through your participation.

It is also important to have a budget planned out. Make sure you consider and include all forms of travel: to and from the airport, train, a cab, bus or metro/subway fare. A per diem is a fancy way of saying how much money you are allocated to use for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Often this does not go over $50 a day if you work for some non-profit organizations, but check with your employer before picking an amount to include on a budget and see if there are any meals covered by the conference registration fee. Make sure to include registration fees, institute or special fees, hotel accommodations, and any special support you may need. Having a budget demonstrates you have considered the costs and itemizing the budget allows for easier fundraising for your fees.

Sometimes employers will reimburse you for your lodging, travel, and food so make sure you have that amount of money available or a way to access it via credit cards. Keep in mind that reimbursement varies for each location so make sure you can cover what you spend during that time and keep all your receipts!

As a graduate student I asked for funds from various places: my department, provost for retention and recruitment, provost for diversity, student organizations, and specific programs such as LGBT studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies. Having an itemized budget may be useful in these situations as you could ask for specific amounts to be covered (i.e. lodging only) and also you can demonstrate how you are fundraising across disciplines and are actively seeking support in multiple ways versus leaving it up to one space to cover all financial needs. I have also offered to provide recruitment to our department or campus through attendance and took brochures, applications and other information to share with participants.

If you have a blog, or you write for a specific space, such as Amplify, and have a few posts to show as proof, you can ask to attend as media. Many conferences offer media passes for FREE. Yes FREE. You can get into many events on a press pass, such as film festivals, special events, and advanced screenings. Many of the conferences above offer press packages that include waiving registration.

Other options are to host a table, become a sponsor or join the exhibitors at the space. Often these are opportunities for you to share the work your organization and/or school provide. Sometimes there are fees to host a table or be an exhibitor but they are often less expensive than full registration fees. You will have to sit at the table for a certain amount of time, but often if more than one person attends you can agree when to take breaks to attend some sessions that may be of interest.

Many conferences offer scholarships if you apply in advance and can demonstrate need. I’ll admit that this is not the most enjoyable thing to do: talk about how broke you are and how worthy you are of attending. I’ve had my fair share of providing such narratives to get conference support and I think I’ll be continuing to do so for a while. However, it is an option. It is important to get your information and application in advance, and keep in mind they don’t often have enough funds to offer scholarships to everyone. Although it may hurt you are not offered a scholarship and thus not able to attend, it does not mean that the work you do is invalid, your existence is being ignored, nor does it mean there are not other conferences to attend! Believe me, I wish I had someone remind me of these things because I spent a lot of time being upset and disappointed when I wasn’t offered funding.

Using online technology is another way to fundraise. I’m currently fundraising to attend the AMC and if you want to see how I created a budget and set up a request for funds feel free to
check out the post as a template. Having an account with PayPal requires you to have a bank account to confirm your money can be sent in a particular way, usually directly to your selected account. PayPal can also provide you with a check but that takes some time. So, think about how this option may be useful to you or not.

My homegirl Stacey shared with me the
ChipIn widget that you create to demonstrate how much money you have raised and how much more you need to meet your goal. This is useful to include on a website or blog so that you and others can track your progress. I chose not to use ChipIn because I discovered it later in my fundraising and it does not show how much you have already raised, it works when you include it prior to fundraising. ChipIn is set up via PayPal, but there may be some other options for folks outside the US as well using this service.

Are there other suggestions folks have for fundraising and/or conferences that are coming up or are of interest? Please share below! I’d love to hear how many of you are fundraising and which conferences you are hoping to attend!