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Dec 27, 2022

Leadership in Action - Women's Coalition of St. Croix

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
Nov 24, 2021

Leadership In Action Project

Over the last two summers, I had the chance to work on leadership in action projects in the United States and Brazil as part of my Laidlaw training. In this blog, I'll discuss my second summer experience. But before going into details, I'd like you to have a basic understanding of the current Brazilian job market. Unemployment rates are at an all-time high in almost every industry. However, there are several job openings in the tech industry. In fact, there are more positions available than eligible applicants. According to a popular Brazilian magazine, O Globo, 15% of the population is unemployed, while there are approximately 200,000 job opportunities in the tech industry.  Several non-profit organizations have been founded in Brazil with the mission of aiding in the development of the next generation of IT leaders. I worked at one of them, the Minas Up Institute in Janauba, Minas Gerais, during the first half of my Laidlaw Scholars leadership in action project. Every year, Minas Up teaches coding and 3D modeling to approximately 300 students. One thing that struck me was how applicable the leadership skills we learn as part of our Laidlaw Scholars program were there. As I was immersed in such a collaborative environment, values like protagonism and integrity came into play. I had the opportunity to plan a curriculum, teach classes, and lead workshops.  I spent the final half of the summer conducting community outreach and speaking at events about my Tufts experience. For low-income students who, like me, had a public education in Brazil, studying abroad is seen as practically impossible. The expense of attending a school in the United States is unrealistic for at least 95% of the Brazilian population, who survive on $7 a day (minimum wage). People are fascinated when someone like me has the opportunity to attend a school like Tufts. So I decided to share a bit of my experience applying to schools in the United States with Minas Up students. I spoke to over 200 students about my application process and how to find community-based groups that provide financial and academic support to low-income applicants. I put out a list of opportunities I took advantage of in high school and shared it with them. Following the events, my email box was flooded with notes from students who were thankful and encouraged to dream bigger.  One student in particular applied for the Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS), a prestigious program at Yale University, and was awarded a full scholarship to attend the program. Another student applied for the Latin America Leadership Academy (LALA), a leadership bootcamp that I had attended in high school, and was also accepted with a full scholarship. These are the examples that make me feel like I'm on the right track, paving the way for people who look like me to occupy spaces where we've been disregarded for far too long.
Nov 23, 2021

Leadership in Action 2020-2021

For my Leadership in Action experience this past summer, I piloted and directed a summer program called YouthRising. YouthRising is a four-week summer enrichment program with full-day programming for Black and brown elementary students grades 2nd through 6th who qualify for free or reduced-lunch in the East Somerville community. The YouthRising model is rooted in an empowering and inclusive pedagogy which aims to empower students and their learning by engaging youth in critical dialogue about identity, and inspire civic action. The YouthRising program is proud to partner with Building Audacity, a Boston-based nonprofit, to cultivate empathy, equity, and empowerment in the greater Boston area. Without Building Audacity, the YouthRising program would not be what it is today.  The summer was certainly not without its challenges and moments of learning, while it was also full of successes and joy. First and foremost, a huge success of the program is that we were able to provide completely free, empowering, and enriching summer programming to 40 youth in the East Somerville community this past summer! These 40 youth were taught and mentored by 8 incredible staff members who made up the YouthRising team, and the core of the program. Another huge success that deserves mention is that we were able to have the entire program run in-person for all four weeks, and that we had no covid cases over the course of the program! Additionally, we had two wonderful field trips with the YouthRising youth and staff to the Stone Zoo and New England Aquarium, in addition to an incredible field day with program youth and staff. We also had a pizza party, an ice cream truck visit, and a series of catered meals in the last week of the program.  Furthermore, another notable success of the program was the curriculum specifically the art and self-care based curriculum provided and intentional designed by Building Audacity, the nonprofit which sponsored the YouthRising program. The curriculum was designed so that each week of the program would be centered around a different theme, and then the youth would engage in activities and discussions related to that theme each day. To elaborate, the theme of the first week was identity, the second week was centered around self-care, then we discussed community in the third week, and in the fourth week we focused on taking action.  Moving forward, I am currently working on reflection of the successes and areas of growth for the program so that it may continue to improve and grow in the future. Thus far in this process of reflection, I have discerned three main areas of improvement: staffing and training, curriculum flexibility, and community outreach. It is my hope that in continuing to work with this program that we can address these areas of growth and continue to build the program to its fullest potential. Thank you to everyone who supported myself and YouthRising on this journey!
Nov 19, 2021

Leadership in Action Project 2021

My Laidlaw experience for the last two summers has involved working with the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Last year, I conducted research connecting Scotland’s historic linen industry with systems of enslavement in Virginia and Jamaica. For my Leadership in Action project this past summer, I continued working with the University of St Andrews, this time specifically contributing to the Re-Collecting Empire program. The program is an ongoing project that seeks to reassess and retell narratives behind a myriad of objects with colonial histories in St Andrews’ collections. It also seeks to involve a variety of voices, from academics to students to community members, and explore new, creative methods of display beyond the traditional museum setting.  My research from my first Laidlaw summer developed my passion for the recontextualization of objects and material goods, but this past summer’s work is where I really made change beyond the world of academia. The goals for me this summer were to 1) create a case example for the recontextualization of an object in the Wardlaw Museum, 2) learn new ways of creatively disseminating this information, and 3) develop a toolkit for this kind of work so that others can do the same on their own. All of these goals fit within the Re-Collecting Empire project, but I had the opportunity to execute these goals independently.   Firstly, I focused on the case study. I looked at all the objects of the Wardlaw Museum to determine a candidate for an object that represented colonial entanglements but whose label or description didn’t reflect that reality. I landed on two stone figurines from Myanmar (Burma): a kneeling Buddha and a cross-legged monk. According to the only information in the description, they were donated by a St Andrews alumnus and member of the East India Company around the time of the First Anglo-Burmese War, but no direct reference was made to how these objects were likely spoils of war. I decided to focus on these two pieces not just because of the lack of essential contextual information, but also because British colonization in Burma is an under-researched history in itself, compared to British colonization of India for instance.   After doing some digging and research, I had developed a more accurate picture of these objects, their contexts, and what they represented. I was able to present this information in an academic workshop hosted by St Andrews, where experts and academics pitched their cases for their own chosen objects to be included in the project’s upcoming in-person exhibition. This experience was fantastic as it forced me out of my comfort zone by placing me in the same position as expert anthropologists, historians, and art historians. I was able to develop not just public speaking skills in the development of a concise, well-researched presentation, but also my sense of confidence and leadership ability.   Yet, I still had to do something with this information I had discovered. Herein lies the pursuit of my next goal: learning new ways and forms of creative research dissemination. I was able to do this through Exhibit, an online platform St Andrews had been experimenting. Exhibit allows you to create a virtual exhibit of one or more objects, add in contextual images and information, and share it. Depending on the object, you can view it in 3D and can manipulate the object to see it from every perspective. There was certainly a learning curve with this platform—one of the biggest struggles here was finding IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) images. These were fairly difficult to locate; only some museums—like the Getty or Smithsonian—use them, which made the exhibit even harder to create given that I chose these objects partially because their historical contexts weren’t widely available in literature or visual material. This part of the project was out of my comfort zone, but ultimately gave me a good idea of the challenges in digital humanities and innovative presentation forms. Eventually, I managed to figure it out and create my exhibit, which I plan to publish on the website to complement the work of the in-person exhibition.   The last goal of this summer came through my creation of a toolkit for others to use when doing the same work. I ended up creating it for students at the Madras College, a secondary school near St Andrews, with the goal of developing materials for high school students to do similar critical work by dissecting the archives and collections of their school and the colonial underpinnings behind them. I divided it up into segments, where I laid out steps and guiding questions for the different steps in the process. I included an explanation of decolonization in the museum context, some guiding ideas for the development of a clear mission statement, ideas for object identification, what to look for when researching, a sample research profile for an object, research resources to get started, advice on getting community and peer feedback, and finally, considerations for audience accessibility. I felt what was hardest here was not outlining the steps, but also including the aspects of research and this kind of work that younger students wouldn’t consider (and that I didn’t even actively think about until making this sort of resource). In making this resource, I really felt like an educator and like I was not just able to do this work myself, but also lead others to be able to do it too. It really felt like the bridge between the university setting of academia and the community who also has a stake in their heritage and how it is talked about. While the Madras School hasn’t gotten the chance to use the resource yet, when they do, they’ll hopefully be using my tool kit. Hopefully, we can see how effective it is soon and can tweak it as necessary so it can act as a resource for schools elsewhere in Scotland.   

About this room

This room provides a space for Laidlaw Scholars and Alumni from Tufts University to showcase research and connect with peers.