A Popular Education approach to sexual violence prevention

By: Marsela Rojas-Salas, El Programa Hispano Católico – Project UNICA (fmr.)

As an organization, Proyecto UNICA believes that prevention against sexual assault and anti-oppression work should begin at a young age to re-imagine a world without violence. However, often times the voices of youth of color become marginalized and misrepresented in the mainstream anti-violence movement. Proyecto UNICA’s Prevención de Agresión Sexual (PAS) team strongly believes that youth should be the practitioners of their lives with the support of adults as their allies and advocates.

In the classroom, the PAS team has utilized theater of the oppressed to begin conversations around sexual harassment and violence at the intersections of immigration rights, labor rights, racial justice, and gender justice. When PAS students were asked how they had been impacted by the class they stated that “Pas helps you understand things you didn’t understand before, like consent” and “You learn how to help people if you have a problem, like domestic violence or racism.” Other students described how PAS became a place for them to build their confidence and community: “It helps you be less shy” and “Once you get to know the people more, you start acting more like yourself.”

In the last year, the PAS team’s efforts have moved towards creating more opportunities for youth engagement through the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, XRAY.FM, and other local arts and culture organizations and individuals. It is critical that youth continue their education and practice beyond the classroom and into their communities. When asking Chelsey (a 3rd time PAS student) why she felt that field trips were integral to the PAS curriculum, she said they were necessary “To be more free.”

Most recently, the PAS team collaborated with the Puentes program to implement the PAS curriculum during summer 2018. It was during these classes that the prevention educators invited a local muralist, Rodolfo Serna, to begin envisioning a future without violence through a collaborative mural. The youth decided to include images of mothers crossing the border with their children, cactus, Mexican candy, a strong indigenous woman figure, the sun and the moon, and various representations of their culture.

On August 31st we completed the third and final layer of paint. With the support of Open Signal, a Portland Community media center, the youth recorded themselves discussing what they learned in PAS and while painting the mural. Although the central focus of the mural is immigration and culture, many of the students discussed how “chisme is a form of medicine” because as Nancy shared, “It can help you desahogarte [vent].” They also proclaimed, “we’re better than Doctor Phil. We learned how to solve a problem [among our friend group]. Not to get jealous [of our friends’ partners], but also to understand that jealousy is natural, especially when your friend gets a new boyfriend…but only if he treats her right!” During PAS classes and the mural project, the youth used “chisme” as a way to problem solve issues they had in their friend groups and build healthier relationships and communication styles. Nonetheless, they all agreed that chisme can be harmful and damaging to others if it isn’t shared consensually.

The youth will be presenting the mural and video project to the community and their families on October 19, 2018 at the Voces de la Comunidad conference at the University of Portland.

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