Whilst a deep theoretical analysis of race, gender, class, sexuality and ability is needed to understand the roots and origins of societal issues today, equally important is taking that theory out of the classroom and into action based praxis. As an undergraduate student at Columbia in the fall of 2013. I cofounded the campaign for Columbia to divest from fossil fuels and engaged with youth across the country to build a movement for climate justice.
Having no experience in community organizing or campaigns prior to college, I had a steep learning curve when I organized a summer conference with trainings for hundreds of students focusing on how to build an anti-oppressive and inclusive climate justice movement. I have kept the core values of service, empowerment, and antioppression with me in all my work since then and believe these principles of equity and inclusion are some of the most valuable lessons I have learned in doing social justice work.
I found organizing with grassroots communities to fight for social change was extremely rewarding, but I was aware that attending such a prestigious institution gave me the unique opportunity to learn how to work within institutions of power, levering my privilege to fight for social change. I was chosen as one of seven students to present the case for divestment from fossil fuels to the full board of trustees, recognizing that although I was just one voice, I was representing many voices that would not be given the chance to be heard.
I have consistently taken what I have learned inside the classrooms out into the real world, and hope to continue that if given the chance to attend Columbia School of Social Work. Throughout my academic and post-college career, I have been passionate about fighting for sexual and reproductive justice. In particular, sexual violence and sexual health disparities are serious and complex public health problems I am committed to addressing in my social work career.
There are many ways to combat this problem, and the social work field allows for intensive and necessary research, which can then be put into practice, intervention, supervision, and evaluation. I believe that a deep theoretical analysis of race, gender, class, sexuality and ability combined with intellectual creativity and leadership is needed to understand the roots and origins of societal issues today.
Whilst research and theory is deeply important to understand societal contributions to the origin of the problem, what draws me to the Social Work School at Columbia University is how theory and research fuels the praxis necessary to move forward on combatting these problems. 1 in 4 woman are sexually assaulted during their time at college. We currently live in a rape culture that seeks to excuse, condone, normalize, and even encourage sexual violence. These can be seen through responses trivializing rape, victim-blaming, and rape myths.
In 2010, the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale University parading around campus chanting “No Means Yes! “; students from a fraternity at UVM in 2011 circulated an email with the subject line “who do you want to rape list? “; and how a former student of Wesleyan University is suing the school after she was raped at a fraternity informally called “the Rape Factory”. While I have studied and written about rape culture during my college career as a sociology student, I did not have the training necessary to put theory and research into practice in the field.
I believe a career in social work could contribute to ending sexual violence and sexual health disparities, and I am passionate about committing myself to doing this work in the field of social work. I believe that sexual health disparities are deeply connected to sexual violence, and combatting one means combatting the other. Sexual and reproductive justice cannot be separated from race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and ability.
Social Work policy, research, field work, and education forces us to connect societal systems of oppression that contribute to the problems we are trying to solve. For example, racial disparities are particularly pronounced in reproductive and sexual health. Nearly all minority groups contract STIs at much higher rates than the majority white population. Together, African American women and Latinas account for 80% of reported female HIV/AIDS diagnoses, even though they represent only 25% of the U. S. female population.
Sexual health disparities like this reveal not only bad policy in the US that fail to meet the needs of these populations, but also is evidence that the US is failing to meet its human rights obligations to provide equal access to health care and eliminate race and gender discrimination. Therefore, not only do we need to make sure that policy changes to end the unacceptable sexual health disparates, but that this work needs to include prevention techniques that address sexual violence as a concern deeply connected to sexual health.
I am committed to understanding what is means to strive for sexual and reproductive justice and I believe one of the key steps is through making comprehensive sexual education and resources available to everyone. Studying the construction of rape culture during my college career, it was clear that one explanation to the prevalence of this problem is the way we teach (or don’t teach) communities about sexuality, sexual health, pleasure, consent and communication in a nonjudgmental environments so that people across all ages can learn about sexuality in a healthy and positive context.
I wholeheartedly believe that evidence based sex education is needed in order to prevent STI/and unwanted pregnancy, however, I have seen the limitations of this type of education in the field as a sexuality educator. Sexuality education that does not address consent, communication, gender, and sexuality misses vital information necessary to improve sexual and reproductive health needs of all communities. In 2013, I was invited to the White House to attend an event on violence prevention with Vice President Joe Biden because I had been an outspoken organizer combatting sexual violence at Middlebury
College. We received a document prepared for the White House Task Force to Protect students from sexual assault, and in this report, there was evidence-based strategies for the primary prevention of sexual violence perpetration. These included policy suggestions and practices to improve safety, addressing social norms and behavior with messages from trusted and influential voices, as well as training student bystanders to intervene. But the most effective prevention strategy to combatting sexual violence was through comprehensive sexual education.
The primary goal of sexuality education is the promotion of sexual health. In 1975, the World Health Organization offered this definition of sexual health: Sexual health is the integration of the somatic, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects of sexual being, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication, and love. Fundamental to this concept are the right to sexual information and the right to pleasure.
Thus the notion of sexual health implies a positive approach to human sexuality, and the purpose of sexual health care should be the enhancement of life and personal relationships and not merely counseling and care related to procreation or sexuality transmitted diseases (WHO, 1975). I order to address this problem, it is necessary to ensure access to needed information and services, resources, and programs that deliver education and prevention techniques that include an intersectional analysis of race, gender, sexuality, disability and class, as well as promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression.