7. Youth Development & Education, 9. Racial Justice

Time to Mobilize: Youth Development Scholars and the Movement for Black Lives

This piece was originally posted on September 6, 2016 on the YN Blog of Youth-Nex, the University of Virginia Center to Promote Effective Youth Development.

The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 50 organizations fighting for Black liberation and for the end of state-sanctioned violence against Black people and communities.

The platform is divided into six sets of demands.

To examine how these demands relate to our work as scholars of youth development, we needn’t look any further than the first demand of the first set:

  1. An immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society including, but not limited to; our nation’s justice and education systems, social service agencies, and media and pop culture. This includes an end to zero-tolerance school policies and arrests of students, the removal of police from schools, and the reallocation of funds from police and punitive school discipline practices to restorative services.

This is not hypothetical. This is not up for empirical debate. This is happening, across all areas of society, as in, all the areas of youth lives that we study. And this is urgent.

“The urgency around Black Lives is not only relevant to scholars who list “race” among their research interests. It is relevant to ALL of us whose work touches our nation’s justice and education systems, social service agencies, and media and pop culture.”

And we’re not just talking about research, either. This past spring, Elise Harris, Lisette DeSouza, and I organized a one-day #BlackLivesMatter pre-conference for the Society for Research on Adolescence in Baltimore. (Huge thanks to the many Youth-Nex faculty and alumni who contributed. And work with us to get ready for Minneapolis next spring!) The central focus of the day was a panel of Black community activists, and one of the core messages we heard was, “Let us ask you for what we need.” In other words, don’t charge into the Movement with your own research agenda. Participate as a person first.

Our primary professional identities as academics are built around what research we have done, are doing, and plan to do in the future. But our behavior as professionals involves much more than the planning of research.

The first demand quoted above was drawn from the set titled, “End the War on Black People.” There is a second set titled “Reparations.” This set begins:

  1. Reparations for the systemic denial of access to high quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all Black people (including undocumented and currently and formerly incarcerated people) to lifetime education including: free access and open admissions to public community colleges and universities, technical education (technology, trade and agricultural), educational support programs, retroactive forgiveness of student loans, and support for lifetime learning programs.

This isn’t just about our research anymore, see? This is about the institutions that employ us and support our research. And this is about our students.

Here’s another one from the list of demands for reparations:

  1. Reparations for the cultural and educational exploitation, erasure, and extraction of our communities in the form of mandated public school curriculums that critically examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery, and funding to support, build, preserve, and restore cultural assets and sacred sites to ensure the recognition and honoring of our collective struggles and triumphs.

This is about our classes. This is about what we teach and how we teach it. This demand is not specifically about higher education classrooms, but the message is clear.

There is also a message here about funding. Another section of the demands is called “Invest-Divest”:

  • We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.

Investing requires divesting. Mobilizing the resources of youth development scholars to support the Movement for Black Lives and to invest in the education, health and safety of Black people will require redistributing financial, intellectual, and emotional resources that are now spent elsewhere.

The platform includes detailed policy briefs for each demand, with actions steps at local, state, and federal levels. So we have this map. Now, we need to figure out how to use our energy, and our positions within the system, to implement these urgently needed changes.

7. Youth Development & Education, 8. Research & Academia

Including – but not limited to – sexual and romantic relationships

Dear University of Virginia,
Read my blog, and then you’ll see why I want to join your Center to study youth relationships with peers and adults. Relationships matter. A lot. To me. And yeah, I do all this sex ed stuff, but really that’s all about relationships, too. Seriously. You can check out my bad-ass academic articles and all but still, read the blog. Connection, empathy, #feelings, love, community. I’m in.
With hope and an open heart,
Miriam R. Arbeit, PhD

I emailed the above letter to my best friend, and went back to writing a formal academic cover letter. My formal writing often flows better if I simultaneously have a document open in which I can say exactly what I need to say, on my own terms. Eventually, I crafted this:

My work thus far has illustrated the barriers to connection that adolescents face at multiple levels of the developmental system, including in their self-conceptions, in their sexual or romantic relationships, in their family and peer relationships, in the ways in which they are treated within youth-serving institutions (e.g., schools, health care), and in the messages they receive from their cultural context. My next steps involve deepening my study of empathy and diversity within youth-adult and peer relationships and across in-school and out-of-school-time settings. For example, I want to examine how the developmental process involved in building empathy may or may not be related to other aspects of emotional and relational skill-building. I also want to examine how youth and adults can form authentic and respectful connections across social and structural differences, such as gender, race, and language. I believe that these steps will support my future plans to do curriculum and program development with school-based and out-of-school time programs to promote youth thriving and facilitate safe, supportive, and fulfilling relationships including but not limited to sexual and romantic relationships.

Huge shout-out to my amazing colleague-friends who gave me job app edits. It still takes a village, even – or especially – at age 30.

And now I get to study that village!

I will be a postdoctoral research fellow at Youth-Nex, the UVa Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, directed by Patrick Tolan. I’m working with Nancy Deutschand Amanda Kibler on the study of youth development through interpersonal relationships (hence the above rant). There are two main projects, and a bonus pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Amanda Kibler’s project that I’ll be working on is Languages Across Borders: Building Positive Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Networks in High School. It is aimed at promoting positive development for youth who are English Language Learners through strengthening their school-based relationships with peers. Nancy Deutsch’s project that I’ll be working on is the Study of Important Youth-Adult Relationships. It examines youth experiences within relationships with important non-parental adults. Obviously if you want to talk more about either of these projects, just let me know!

And oh, the pot of gold at the end of this already gorgeous academic rainbow. Nancy Deutsch is collaborating with Futures without Violence and the Harvard Law School Gender Violence Program on a comprehensive training curriculum for institutions of higher education to reduce and address sexual violence on campus. So like, yes. That’s what I’m trying to do. This is the work I want to be doing in the world. Dare I repeat: Connection, empathy, #feelings, love, community. I’m in. My heart is exploding with hope.

I now have a job and an apartment in a place I’ve never actually been. But I hear it’s beautiful.

I’m moving next month. On my own… don’t worry, I’ll be asking for lots of help. It’s taken several villages to get me this far, and I may be physically leaving those particular villages for the time being, but I’m a big fan of Facetime, and I’ve got lots of plans for finding new villages down in Virginia. Did I mention that I’m already on an email chain with the other postdocs at UVa’s Curry School of Education? A warm, welcoming email chain. I’m so excited. I’m going to miss New York, for real, and also I’m so excited.

Charlottesville, Virginia. Come visit!

7. Youth Development & Education, 8. Research & Academia

Publication Alert!

I published original empirical research, as a first author!

I am currently a PhD Candidate in Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University. Throughout my time here, I have worked as a research assistant at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development. One of our flagship projects is the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. I recently used data from 6th through 12th grade participants in this study to assess the relationship between potentially problematic behaviors and indicators of positive development.

You can find the article here, or email me if you’re having trouble.

Here is a passage in which we discuss our findings related to sexual activity:
“We found a distinction between youth who had sex with protection and youth who had unprotected sex: members of the Low Risk group were increasingly likely to engage in protected sex as they got older, but had a very low probability of engaging in unprotected sex; in contrast, members of the High Risk group were likely to engage in unprotected sex but not protected sex. Other research has shown that two-thirds of adolescents will have sex before they are 18 years old, making sexual activity a normative behavior during adolescence (Crockett et al. 2006). Unprotected and/or unwanted sex is problematic, but sexual activity per se is not always linked to negative outcomes” (p. 987).

In simple terms, when we talk about teenagers having sex, let’s focus on what goes on in the sexual activity, for example, whether or not they are using protection. Sex itself, particularly sexual activity characterized by positive attributes such as the use of protection, can be part of overall positive development for young people. But it depends what happens and how it is experienced.

However, this study only differentiated between protected sex and unprotected sex. I would advocate for additional research that assesses the degree and kind of consent involved in a sexual encounter, in conjunction with other variables and other aspects of the process. I hope to design and implement such research myself, in the future.

Arbeit, M. R., Johnson, S. K., Champine, R. B., Greenman, K. G., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2014). Risk in Many Shapes and Sizes: Profiles of Potentially Problematic Behaviors across Adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(6), 971-990.
1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 7. Youth Development & Education

Testimony for An Act Relative to Healthy Youth

 

JOINT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
***Testimony of Miriam R. Arbeit, M.A. in support of***
***H. 450/S. 209 An Act Relative to Healthy Youth***
May 14, 2013
Chairwoman Chang-Diaz, Chairwoman Peisch, and members of the Joint Committee on Education, I, Miriam R. Arbeit, am pleased to offer this testimony in support of H. 450/S. 209, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth.
I am a third-year doctoral student working on my Ph.D. in Child Development at Tufts University. As a youth development researcher, I enthusiastically commend the beneficial impact this bill would have on the youth and families of the Commonwealth.
An Act Relative to Healthy Youthis a critical legislative initiative that will help more young people have access to comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate sexual health education. It will also ensure that no young people are shamed or taught lies about their bodies and their choices while in public school.
In my research institute at Tufts, we study Positive Youth Development in diverse adolescents across the country, which means we see young people as resources to be developed, not as problems to be managed1. This approach makes a vital difference when it comes to supporting adolescent health. For all of us – youth and adults – sex is an area of our lives that can be both positive and challenging – and, yes, even risky2.  The best way to promote sexual health and address sexual risk is to talk about it. Sex education is a perfect opportunity for youth to develop skills like communication, healthy relationships, decision-making, planning, and critical thinking3. Such life skills can contribute to their positive development throughout adolescence and into adulthood4.
The power of this bill is that it sets meaningful standards for our schools. We don’t have to tell districts that they must include algebra in their math curricula, or that they cannot say triangles have five sides. But, unfortunately, we very much need to send these messages to districts regarding sex education: they cannot spread lies and they cannot omit vital information.
I used to be a health teacher in a Massachusetts school district. The health curriculum explicitly included sex ed and it was my job to teach HIV prevention to all of my students. But I was warned NOT to teach about homosexuality, condoms, or birth control, and not to discuss oral or anal sex.
How is anyone supposed to teach HIV prevention without discussing the life-saving potential of a correctly-used latex condom? How is anyone supposed to teach pregnancy prevention without discussing safe hormonal birth control methods and other medically available options? How is anyone supposed to promote sexual health without acknowledging the sexual world students already observe in the media every day5,6?
I made a worksheet on the concept of consent. The goal was to establish the standard that when two people kiss each other or engage in other activities, it must be something they both want and agree to do.
I was reprimanded for making this worksheet and prohibited from discussing it with my students.
In 2011, 84% of high school students in the Commonwealth said they learned about HIV/AIDS in school and 49% said they learned how to use a condom7. That means that over one-third of our high school students learned about HIV without learning how to use condoms. What were they learning? There was nothing in place to protect those young people from the lies and shame that are too frequently invoked in the name of prevention. Such an approach leaves young people vulnerable to sexual coercion and more likely to have sex without protection8,9.
It does not have to be this way. If schools provide sex education, we must require them to do it well.
We all agree that young people need quality education. And quality education includes medically-accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health information. An Act Relative to Healthy Youth is one important step towards promoting the positive development of young people and helping them thrive in all areas of their lives.
Please Give a Favorable Report to An Act Relative to Healthy Youth
(H. 450/S. 209)
References
1. Lerner RM, Lerner JV, von Eye A, Bowers EP, Lewin-Bizan S. Individual and contextual bases of thriving in adolescence: a view of the issues. Journal of adolescence. 2011;34(6):1107–14. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22056088. Accessed June 13, 2012.
2. Tolman DL, McClelland SI. Normative Sexuality Development in Adolescence: A Decade in Review, 2000-2009. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 2011;21(1):242–255. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00726.x. Accessed March 8, 2013.
3. Kirby D. Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; 2007:72–81. Available at: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf.
4. Lerner RM. Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among American youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications; 2004.
5. Kim JL, Sorsoli CL, Collins K, et al. From sex to sexuality: exposing the heterosexual script on primetime network television. Journal of sex research. 2007;44(2):145–57. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17599272.
6. Ward LM. Understanding the role of entertainment media in the sexual socialization of American youth: A review of empirical research. Developmental Review. 2003;23(3):347–388. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273229703000133. Accessed February 28, 2013.
7. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth. 2012;(May). Available at: http://www.doe.mass.edu/cnp/hprograms/yrbs/2011Report.pdf.
8. Fine MM, McClelland SI. Still Missing after All These Years. Harvard Educational Review. 2006;76(3):297–338.
9. Santelli J, Ott MA, Lyon M, et al. Abstinence and abstinence-only education: a review of U.S. policies and programs. The Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006;38(1):72–81. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16387256. Accessed July 24, 2012. 

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 7. Youth Development & Education

Jackson Katz responded to my email (and here’s what I wrote back)

 

Hi Dr. Katz,
I deeply appreciate your taking the time to respond to my email. I am going to take another opportunity to express my concerns with more detail and clarity, in response to the issues you raised in our personal correspondence.
In terms of not serving queer folk:
I agree that MVP does great work to address harassment that targets sexual minority and gender variant individuals. As I want to emphasize, I think MVP is in a very powerful position to impact violence perpetrated by and through heteronormative masculinity. In contrast, one of my major concerns, as I will explain further in a moment, is about the experiences of transgender and gender variant folks who might actually be in the room during an MVP workshop. Another major concern is that people who have or will have same-sex relationships will not realize in MVP that sexual and relationship violence can happen between two women or between two men, as well. Such work may not be within the goals of MVP as a program, but I do think there are steps that MVP can take to address and support these needs.
In terms of silencing survivors in the room:
This point is tricky. As a sex educator myself, I struggle with the ability to provide a space in which survivors can receive strong support without identifying themselves, and, in addition, to make space in which survivors can choose to identify themselves and use the power of identification to push back against the silencing and shaming cultural norms in our society. It’s about actively structuring my teaching based on the assumption that in any given group, there will be people in the room who are survivors of various forms of violence. Addressing people who are survivors only as potential bystanders can be guilt-inducing and embarrassing. To be a male ally to women who have experienced sexual violence requires a trauma-informed curriculum and approach.
In terms of reinforcing the gender binary:
I completely agree with you that gender neutrality is counter-productive. To talk about sexual violence, we need to analyze gendered power dynamics in history, society, and in our lives. And I appreciate that the MVP policy is to allow people to self-identify, as in, if someone identifies as a man, he can go to the men-only break-out group, and if someone identifies as a woman, she can go to the woman-only breakout group. But I’m wondering, what about someone who doesn’t identify as either a man or a woman? Or someone who identifies as both? Such people exist, and they matter. But I do not see them within the MVP curriculum, and that scares me. I don’t know what to do about it, either. I have a lot of ideas, and I also recognize the complexity. So at this point I am working to name what I’m seeing. To render visible what is now invisible.
In terms of the need for more comprehensive sexual violence prevention:
Here is my question for you: What does MVP do to “set the stage” for an expansion of comprehensive programs? I can see all the fabulous ways in which MVP is a strong program to start the conversation, to address the most resistant leaders and to start building social norms that would facilitate further sexual violence prevention work. However, in reality, I picture schools and colleges saying “well, we do MVP, that’s our sexual violence thing.” Thus, in practice, MVP could very well be the sole source of sexual violence education in many communities. That’s why I’m voicing my concerns. My question is, what can MVP do to be a better ally? When MVP does work with mixed-gender groups, the people in the room who aren’t the hetero/masculine men (who were the original target group of MVP) are not being prioritized in the conversation. Interestingly, these are the very same people (women, queer folk, gender variant folk) who are not being prioritized in society at large. So what is MVP as an organization doing to directly link schools and campuses with programs that will address the needs of women, people who have same-sex relationships, and people who are transgender or gender variant?
The broader question I’m getting at is: What does it take to be an ally? What is the imperative on those of us with power to truly open spaces in which we can directly hand over power to those who need more of it in order to be safe, in order to speak up, and in order to exist? How can I be a better ally to others? How can I ask you to be a better ally to me?
1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 7. Youth Development & Education

How do we prevent men’s violence against women without recreating the sexism we are trying to end?

“How do we have men and women working together on preventing men’s violence against women without recreating the sexism we are trying to end?” 
Jackson Katz, at the Mentors in Violence Prevention Bystander Intervention Conference at Northeastern University, May 31, 2012

Dear Jackson Katz,

Great question.

Here’s my short answer: Currently, you are indeed recreating the sexism you are trying to end.

Here’s my long answer: Thank you for having the wherewithal to recognize the complexity and challenge in being a person with privilege taking leadership on issues of systemic oppression and violence. Thank you for your leadership, thank you for your decades of work, and thank you for continuing to ask yourself how you can be a better ally.

What I say in this blog post may be read as a criticism, and I want you to know that I am criticizing you because we are on the same team. We have the same mission. As we work towards this mutual goal, I believe I have a perspective that you need to hear. So, let’s get coffee (or the internet equivalent, if you’re back in Cali by now).

Yesterday I was at the MVP Bystander Intervention Conference, and I’ve also participated in the MVP Institute training program as well as taught several workshops myself in the (distant) past. I have a lot of respect and affection for the work done by MVP. I personally have gained so much from your organization, including some of my favorite workshop activities addressing gender and systemic violence, and that’s why I am so invested in seeing it do good work now and in the future.

For my readers: Jackson Katz founded MVP in 1993, to recruit male student athletes as leaders in ending men’s violence against women. Yes, just men’s violence against women. Not all sexual violence, not all gender-based violence. That’s fine. No one can do everything, maybe. The MVP approach is to address men as potential active bystanders—to talk to men about why stand up as a bystander, and possible ways to intervene in sexist and violent behavior. Calling other men to understand men’s violence against women as a fundamental social justice issue (see The Macho Paradox), Katz and MVP have brought their work to sports teams, fraternities, and the military.

Back to Dr. Katz: I’m grateful that you recognize the role that masculine role models can play in reshaping masculinity and addressing men’s violence. I can’t walk into hockey team locker rooms and talk to them about sexual assault. The NFL isn’t inviting me to speak with their players about rape. You are getting into those spaces and opening up conversation, and I’m impressed and grateful.

That said, Bystander Intervention training is NOT a comprehensive sexual violence prevention program. Bystander Intervention should NOT be promoted in mainstream spaces as a priority over actual skill-building that addresses actual people of all genders as people with bodies, people with intimate relationships, people with the capacity for sex and for love. Where are those people in Bystander Intervention training? I understand the importance of getting your foot in the door by addressing everyone as potential Bystanders so participants aren’t as defensive. But your approach is actively silencing those people in the room who may be more than potential bystanders—they may be victims and survivors of sexual or relational violence. Where are those people able to express their lived experiences in your workshops?

Furthermore, when you split up the participants into groups of “men/boys” and “women/girls,” to talk specifically about “men’s” violence against “women,” you are erasing the existence of trans* and genderqueer people. Erasing them. There is not room for people with non-binary gendered experiences and identities within the curriculum you use. What are you going to do about that? That is a major problem. It’s a problem that is the Achilles heel of your intervention. You cannot expand so much. You cannot be everyone’s solution.

When MVP comes to “mainstream” spaces and coed spaces—spaces that are not these hyper-masculine communities that were the original location of this Bystander Intervention—then you recreate the sexism you are trying to end by silencing the voice of survivors and by rendering invisible those living outside the gender binary.

 What are you going to do about that?

From your ally,
Mimi Arbeit

7. Youth Development & Education, 8. Research & Academia

Interviewed for The Academic Feminist

Gwendolyn at Feministing.com interviewed me for her Academic Feminist series. I loved the experience so much, and really appreciated the questions she asked. I’m excited to see more entries into her series, and also to continue thinking about the issues she brought up and expressing my thoughts here on this blog.

Read the interview, and let me know if you have any follow-up questions 🙂

7. Youth Development & Education

An Open Letter to Tufts Magazine

Dear Tufts Magazine,

The New Girl Order,” an article by Kay Hymowitz in your Fall 2011 issue, is a misinformed and narrowminded article that insults both girls and boys in America today. Hymowitz puts girls in danger by making the argument that there is no more need for feminism and that somehow the position of girls in society today is the best it could ever be. Hymowitz bluntly perpetuates the war of the sexes by looking for point-by-point equality rather than stepping back and asking, given a history of patriarchy, what can we do now to achieve gender equity. Furthermore, Hymowitz’s final messages seemed pinned on hurtful and antiquated ideas about marriage.

Hymowitz cites girls’ advancement in education as evidence that feminism has succeeded and is no longer necessary. Increasing numbers of women in science and engineering must mean that we’re all set. But we are not: I could talk about the glass ceiling, the need for more women in politics and the need for more fair and holistic representations of women in the media. I could talk about how women on college campuses face an epidemic of sexual violence and the “terrible trio of shame, blame, and fear” when they try to pursue their own desires. I could also cite the very research that Hymowitz dismisses—the tradition of Carol Gilligan of listening to voices of girls as they become teenagers, as they silence their own needs in order to become that perfect girl that everyone else wants them to be. Furthermore, I could and should write about so many women who don’t make it to college because they don’t have access to the education or the money they need, or because they were not encouraged to pursue their dreams. So many “American girls” are not the girls about whom Hymowitz writes—the ones who benefit from own race, class, citizenship, and other privileges that remain invisible in this article yet delineate her entire argument.

Another major misconception in this article is that equality and equity are not the same thing. Hymowitz seems to believe that we have reached equity once we have both “College Women’s Centers” and “College Men’s Centers.” She lives in an utterly binary, separatist world. I don’t want to live in that world. I am a feminist, but I do not, as she thinks I do, “worry that if we pay more attention to boys we will take our eyes off girls.” In fact, I heartily believe that the key to improving our education system and transforming gender socialization is empowering children and youth of all genders to explore, express, and embody. Hymowitz lauds a girls’ softball coach who decided to “coach them like men.” But treating girls the way we treat boys will not help anyone. What about the boys who want to sew, cook, care for children, build close friendships, and share their feelings? Where is the room for them in our culture, in our gender system? According to Hymowitz, feminists “could say that the culture of male privilege is so powerful that it can’t hurt for boys to be pulled down a peg or two.” Actually, dismantling the culture of male privilege is essential—for women and girls, for men and boys, and for everyone who can’t live and love within such a rigidly policed, binary system of gender.

Hymowitz, for a moment, would agree with me that girls and women stand to gain a lot from more attention paid to boys and masculinity. But her reasons for wanting to attend to boys are quite the opposite of mine. She says that girls are going to begin looking for males to marry, and will struggle to find males as educated and accomplished as themselves, and will instead choose to be single mothers, which she sees as a crisis. (Of course, in her world, the option of two women marrying each other does not seem to be available.) I find this last paragraph utterly offensive. It proves that her investment in the “betterment” of boys is not because feminism has done its work but actually quite the opposite—she invests in patriarchy because it provides a foundation for normative heterosexuality. Men have to be successful and powerful in order for women to be their subordinate wives.

I’m sorry, but as I finish reading this article, I completely fail to understand why you published this in the Tufts Magazine. Once I have my Ph.D. from your institution, will you be ashamed of me unless I become the wife of a man who also has a doctorate or other advanced degree? Women’s lives do not revolve around wearing a diamond given to them by a man with the right resume. Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do in promoting positive development for all youth and freeing all youth from hegemonic gender ideologies.

All my best,
Mimi Arbeit

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 7. Youth Development & Education

Boston Teens Speak up for Sex Ed

This afternoon, Boston City Council’s Committee on Women and Healthy Communities held a public hearing on a proposal to bring sexual health education and condom availability to Boston Public High Schools. Committee Chair Ayanna Pressley presided with eloquence and insight over the hearing this afternoon.
While I am happy to express the depth and breadth of my support for sexuality education and condom availability in the Boston public schools in future posts, for this post I will focus on what I experienced as the most powerful part of this afternoon’s proceedings: the testimony from the teenagers themselves.
The Boston teens who spoke today totally stole the show, and rightly so. The teen activists from the Hyde Square Task Force have been leading this work all year. “Sexuality is a part of our lives,” said one teen, insisting that young people want to make responsible decisions but need the tools that will help them on the path. The teens advocated not just for condom availability but also for access to broadly comprehensive sex education. The teens named issues such as health, relationships, identity, power, and control.
Two teenagers from the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence also spoke. One said that sex education has the potential to help each student learn how to become a better person and a better partner. The other said that her last relationship had been unhealthy, but she did not know it until she had the opportunity to learn about healthy relationships through her involvement in this task force. Her story illustrates the importance of making this education available to all teens.
A representative from the Boston Student Advisory Council said that without sexuality education, students feel confused, and they feel they are not receiving the support they need from their school. She wants teenagers to learn about both the emotional and physical risks of sexual activity.
Two teens spoke for Massachusetts Asian and Pacific Islanders for Health (MAP for Health). The first teen scrolled through his Blackberry, reading aloud that students need an environment in which they can ask questions without judgment. When he finished, he reached across to pass the Blackberry to his fellow speaker. Lovely laughter flowed through the room. I felt it was a very sweet and humbling moment… The next teen was a bit flustered, but soon he started speaking and spoke eloquently. He emphasized that teachers need appropriate training in order to feel comfortable addressing issues of sexuality in the classroom. Therefore, he argued, Boston should invest in getting more teachers trained and certified to teach sexuality education. Both teens also made a plea for sexuality education that is fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth.
Many adults who work in various capacities to address the health and wellbeing of Boston youth also spoke with poise and insight, as did the Chair herself. But tonight, I am prioritizing the voices of the teens themselves, the people whose lives and whose friends’ lives can be changed for the better through the passage of this bill. Let’s listen to the voices of the teenagers, who organize their peers, educate themselves and others, and have the courage to speak at City Hall and ask that their right to education be fulfilled. These youth really want to be educated and equipped and responsible and healthy—we, the adults in power, now need to give them what they want.
1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 7. Youth Development & Education

Educated, Empowered and Resilient

Yesterday was the first day of classes! I am taking a seminar in resilience, which opened with ten minutes of free writing about what we think the concept of resilience entails. I love free writing as an educational technique, so I was thrilled. I also found it quite useful to take the time to frame my interest in resilience in terms of my mission of promoting positive adolescent sexual development:

Resilience is the process of getting through difficulty with continued strength and positive development. I think of resilience as a dynamic aspect of person and context that helps to foster positive development even through negative occurrences such as violence, trauma, illness, oppression, or other normal and abnormal challenges.

I believe resilience to be an important concept in the study of adolescent sexual development because adolescents must demonstrate resilient functioning in order to resist negative stereotypes and achieve personal agency within our sexist and sex negative culture. What characteristics of individual adolescents and of the contexts in which they live will contribute to their resilience and thus to their positive sexual development? How does resilience manifest in girls, boys, and transgendered youth? What kind of resilience do girls need in order to access positive feelings about their bodies and their sexuality?

We can ask questions such as the ones above in order to seek different approaches to promoting resilience within the realm of sexual development, and we can ask questions from a different angle. We might find that sex positive educators and activists are already engaged in promoting adolescent resilience in a variety of life contexts. How can sex education and, in particular, sex positive education, contribute to adolescent resilience overall? How can the knowledge, skills, and attitudes taught in a sex positive classroom or youth group help youth demonstrate resilience in a variety of situations in the realm of sexuality as well as in other aspects of their lives?

These two approaches to forming questions about the relationship between adolescent resilience and adolescent sexual development reflect the double meaning I intend in the title of this blog, “Sex Ed Transforms.” Through the reading, thinking and writing that I do in the process of blogging and in my other work on sex ed, I hope to transform the approaches we take to sex ed and our conceptions of what sex ed can entail. In addition, I believe that through reading, thinking, writing, and educating others and ourselves about issues of sexuality and sex education, we can transform our communities, our world, and ourselves. I am looking forward to discovering how the study of resilience can play an important role in both of these processes.