Our Leadership-in-Action trip to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and working with the Women’s Coalition of St.Croix was truly transformative. Prior to the trip, we had several different project ideas. In line with the Coalition’s work with victims of domestic violence, we started off by wanting to focus on a seminar discussing coping mechanisms for stress and a project focusing on art as healing to present to the women and children the Coalition worked with. Based on the needs of the Coalition this project evolved several times in several ways during the three weeks we worked on it in the States before flying out to St. Croix. We also ran into some problems, pretty early on. We were not as communicative with the coalition as we should have been, for example, the dates we decided on to be in St. Croix did not work as well for them as it did for us and we did not know that until after it was too late because we did not confirm with them about the dates beforehand. This problem also leaked into the actual project as we were having a difficult time coming up with something the Coalition was happy with it and helped them. I think this had a lot to do with the lack of listening on our part and too much assuming. By the time we reached the island, we were beginning to see and improve on our communication with the Coalition and as a result were ready to start our project, one that we were excited to embark on and also fulfilled a need for the Women’s Coalition.
The Women’s Coalition expressed a deep desire to involve the youth of the island more with the organization and based on this need, we came up with a survey to try and aid in this. We were fortunate enough to be on the island during their annual Agricultural or Ag Fair. Usually held once a year around March or April, the Ag Fair had been canceled for the last couple of years due to the ongoing global pandemic, and this year, for the first time they were able to host it during the summer in early June. The Ag Fair was a huge event with food trucks, live music, and local businesses selling their merchandise. It was an amazing event to be able to attend while visiting the island. It allowed us to experience Crucian culture in a way that would have been difficult to do had the fair not been going on at that time. Most importantly, due to the turnout of the fair we were able to interact with the most number of youth on the island that we could have interacted with. We went from youth to youth as we enjoyed the fair, giving them our survey and prizes supplied by the Coalition as a thank-you for filling out the survey. The survey asked questions such as their current knowledge of the Coalition and their interest in getting involved. We also asked them to choose among certain topics such as body image issues, teen dating violence, etc. that they were most interested in learning about. The survey had a question that allowed the youth to add their social media handles and the Coalition will be able to use this to reach out to those that indicated they would be interested in becoming involved with the Coalition. We tried to focus on youth between the ages of 10-26, splitting this wide range of ages into five age brackets when putting together the results for the Coalition.
In addition to the survey, we were also able to perform an intensive, in-depth interview with three middle school and high school girls. With the permission of their parents and Clema, the director of the Women’s Coalition, we discussed a wide range of issues that young girls and teenagers faced on the island and with specific regard to Crucian social values, from self-esteem and physical appearance, to gun violence, to dating culture. Specifically, the girls shared differences in how boys and girls were treated in instances of sexual assault and revenge pornography, the scrutiny about how girls dress and act, misconceptions of the older generation about seeking support for mental health, how children are exposed to drugs and alcohol at extremely young ages (elementary school, etc), and the high frequency of colorist and racist experiences that St. Croix youth face. Although some of the topics were sensitive and at times took a while for the girls to share, they were tremendously accommodating and willing to share their experiences and perspective— this was immensely helpful in helping us build a better perspective of what it was like to live on St. Croix and to know specific, intimate challenges that the St. Croix youth face that we would not have known otherwise. Moreover, the girls gave us advice on how we could approach and cater to the perspective of Crucian youth for our cumulative poster project that addressed relationships, consent, and boundaries.
At the Coalition’s annual Women’s Race, one of the largest island-wide events hosted by the nonprofit, we debuted our poster at our information booth next to the start and end of the race. Based upon the information and experiences that we discussed with the girls in the interview, we created a poster and brochures detailing the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, what consent was and how to establish boundaries, and specific programs and organizations that St. Croix youth could reach out to for help. Throughout the day, we manned our booth and spent time talking to girls participating in the race and anyone who came up to our booth. Furthermore, we took turns collecting more field data for the survey and also helping out with different aspects of the race. Runners ranged from infants pushed by their mothers in strollers to 70-year-olds looking stronger than ever, and the race took place alongside the ocean. The overall atmosphere of the race was electrifying; there was a live DJ and Zumba trainer that led a dance warm-up with all the runners and volunteers, and the square was filled with music and a sea of dark purple and turquoise (the Coalition’s colors) throughout the entire event. We had so much fun that day and were so glad with how the event turned out, especially after sitting through meetings where we were able to first-handedly experience how much work and effort the Coalition members put in for the race.
Working with the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix was not without challenges, and definitely pushed the two of us outside of our comfort zones. We learned so, so much about both Crucian culture and what it is like to work with/at an organization that has a significant, long-lasting impact locally— from legal support for survivors of sexual assault, to taking part in passing local laws against child marriages, to assisting single mothers in providing a steady income for their families, it has been such a privilege to work with the Women’s Coalition. We only wish that our in-person experience had been longer, and are eager to help future cohorts of Laidlaw scholars pursue future collaboration with the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix!
~ Christalie and Lauren