When I learned that a group of Asian youth was researching the state of sex education in the Oakland Unified School District, I was shocked. The sex education research I knew rarely had Asian youth represented, let alone leading the project. I was determined to be involved with it.
As I’ve shared previously, my early experiences with sex education left plenty to be desired. I learned about puberty, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, STDs, and little else. We focused on abstinence and didn’t even see a condom demo, let alone discuss important issues like healthy relationships, communication, and consent. Despite all this, I never thought to question that my school wouldn’t tell me the whole story. This was partly due to my Catholic upbringing in which the abstinence narrative neatly fit, but I also wasn’t taught that my voice could (or should) be used to question authority. As an Asian American young woman, I didn’t realize that I had bought into systems that silenced my voice.
When I realized how much I was missing--not only in my sex education, but also in my understanding of whose voices could speak up--I became motivated to be a part of changing that for others. Supporting the YPAR project led by Forward Together Youth is one unique way I’ve been able to contribute to incredible efforts that support youth to amplify their voices and use them for change they want to see.
In Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR), young people conduct research to improve their communities. As our Youth Organizing Manager Amanda Wake explains,
Youth are the primary thinkers, writers, facilitators, and researchers throughout the project, [because they are] the experts when it comes to researching issues about their peers. [...] An essential part of the YPAR process is that it leads to action that strengthens community. We are not doing the research and then leaving; we are doing the research so that we can act on it and positively impact our community.These projects are challenging to implement, but the benefits include youth empowerment, sustainable community change, a redefinition of the researcher vs. the research “subject”, and a shift in the power dynamic from ivory towers to the communities involved.
For the past 12 weeks, I have been privileged to support the Forward Together Youth and Youth Organizing Team in their work as part of the Sex Ed The City: More Than Just Protection Campaign. This reflects that sex education can (and should) happen in a range of “classrooms” from schools and health centers to households and communities. It also supports that sex education should include a wide range of issues like body image, healthy/unhealthy relationships, gender identity, sexuality, harassment, etc. The latter issue is specifically informed by the YPAR project, and as one young person shared, “Surveying brings out the truth, but the truth ain’t pretty.”
Forward Together Youth have recently completed their report called “Let’s Get It On: Oakland Youth’s New Vision For Sex Ed”. Through data, stories, and graphics, Forward Together Youth creatively present what they found in OUSD, what they envision for the future, and how it all contributes to the broader health and well-being of youth and our communities. They’ll formally release this report on Thursday, 8/16 at their Oakland Speaks event at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. Come by, check it out, and support our youth!
Aubrey Daquiz served as the Youth Organizing Intern for Forward Together through the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She is in her last year of the MPH program with a focus on adolescent sexual health and community-led research and intervention.