Major: Peace Studies
Minors: Biology and Psychology
Year of Graduation: 2013
Current Position/Location: Sexual Health Educator & Program Specialist at CLUES (Comunidades Latinas UNidas en Servicio) in Minneapolis, MN
Please give a brief description of your current position.
My role involves supporting the development of a multi-generational and bilingual sexual health education program for Latinx families in the Twin Cities & Metro Area. I’m also responsible for collaborating with community partner agencies (like schools, churches, nonprofits) to host educational programming for parents and teens. My colleague leads the teen workshops, and I facilitate workshops on sexuality and parent-child communication with parents & guardians (in Spanish).
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
After graduating from CSBSJU in 2013, I did a short-term AmeriCorps VISTA position with the MN Literacy Council and then moved to Guatemala where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer for over two years. In Guatemala, I lived in a rural town where I worked together with the school district and teachers to implement a program called Escuelas Saludables (Healthy Schools). As a side project, I co-coordinated annual GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camps for 6th grade female students to talk about women’s rights, leadership, and sexual health. Doing GLOW Camps, observing what was happening in the community where I lived, and observing my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers working in maternal & child health – all of that inspired me to continue work surrounding gender and healthy sexuality. When I moved back to my home state of Minnesota, I knew I wanted to work with communities of immigrants from Latin America – to apply what I learned while living in Guatemala, including Spanish language abilities. Finding this job – at an organization founded by Latinxs to serve Latinxs, working in sexual health education – was really a great fit for me!
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
My position is unique because I am a white person working with Latin American immigrants from mixed Spanish and indigenous origins. This has required me to do a lot of work surrounding my own white privilege, and my ability to be culturally responsive (and I had to be fluent in Spanish to effectively do this work also). To other people who wish to work cross-culturally, I’d say: Immerse yourself in a community very different from your own – whether that means moving to another country or not. Do so not with the idea that you are there to change people – rather, go there as an observer, a learner, a collaborator who supports communities in whatever way they ask you to. Do so with a recognition of your own privilege, perspective and biases. Absorb all that you can from that immersive experience, not for the sake of achieving a ‘competency’ in or mastery of that culture – but rather to understand deeply that you actually know very little and will constantly and continuously be a learner. Working cross-culturally without a great deal of humility can be more harmful than it is helpful, to communities of color especially.
For those who wish to work in sexual health education I’d recommend taking classes in gender studies, biology, and psychology in addition to your Peace Studies major. Since we live in a world where sexuality is a taboo topic, and many of us received insufficient (or shaming or fear-tactics-based sex ed), preparation for careers in sex ed requires some individual work to process those experiences. Seek ways to reflect on your own sex ed experience (if you had one in school), how sexuality was talked about in your family, and how your upbringing has affected your sense of sexual identity and your personal relationships. Explore your own values as they relate to sexuality, and explore the range of values different people may have related to sexuality. Watch documentaries about gender and sexual violence, analyze media messages related to sex, read books about all things related to healthy sexuality and relationships. Familiarize yourself with sexual health clinics in your community, the services and supports they offer; learn, also, about barriers to accessing sexual health services. Seek trainings on comprehensive sex ed curricula such as Our Whole Lives or FLASH (if you’re hired to be a sexuality educator, your employer will likely fund this for you).
What skills are important in your field?
- Cultural humility/cultural responsiveness
- Emotional intelligence
- Knowledge of human reproductive anatomy & physiology
- Understanding of intersectionality (of race/gender/sexual orientation/class/religion)
- Public speaking and/or teaching skills
- Organization & planning
- Communication (including skills in a non-English language, if you’re working in immigrant communities)
- Evaluation and result-reporting skills
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
The most rewarding part of my position is working directly with groups of parents as a workshop facilitator. It is especially satisfying to talk to these parents toward the end of a workshop series (we usually do 6, 2-hour sessions) and hear the ways in which they’ve become more comfortable talking about sexuality or increased communication with their kids at home. I also learn from the program participants constantly, which is incredibly rewarding.
The most challenging aspect of my job, recently, has been that our program growth is impeded by a lack of funding (especially federal grants) for comprehensive sex ed due to the current political environment. It is disheartening, to say the least, to see firsthand the great need for programs like ours (and how helpful they can be), and at the same time see government diverting funding away from such programs.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Studying biology and psychology, as well as CSBSJU’s requirements for gender studies and international studies and ethics courses, have helped me in my current position. I will say, however, that my time in the Peace Corps – all the training and experience that entailed – has consistently provided helpful background for my current position. I think back to those two years all the time.