Interview with Marc Fernandes on Youth-Adult Partnerships

 
 Marc Fernandes

Marc Fernandes

For over eighteen years, Marc Fernandes has been deeply involved in the organizational, programmatic, policy, and advocacy sides of youth development and community engagement efforts across sectors. He has provided extensive positive youth development training and consultation to government jurisdictions, school districts, and community-based organizations. Marc specializes in using youth-adult partnership theory and practice as a framework for youth development and organizational and community change. He envisions a time when all youth-serving systems will engage youth as active partners in decision-making processes rather than treat them as passive recipients of services. Currently, Marc works as a consultant in NYC. He lives in Queens with his wife Ivette and their sons Luca and Johan. Learn more about Marc here.

Tell us about your work. 

A lot of what I do as a consultant is work with organizations to help them think strategically about how they engage the youth they serve and help them move from seeing youth as passive recipients to active partners. It is important to think about how youth can play meaningful roles, not only in program design and implementation, but larger organizational thinking as well. How can organizations rethink the way that they do business to see young people as having the capacity to participate in larger conversations that are impacting their lives? In addition, from a social justice framework, believe that youth have the right to participate in these kinds of conversations and processes and create intentional structures for engagement.

Through my graduate studies in Urban Policy and Leadership, specializing in youth policy, I focused my research on youth-adult partnership within organizations and systems.  I looked at when young people are engaged as equitable thought partners in decision-making processes about their own lives - what are the impacts of that - not only on youth development, but on adult development, organizational change, and community change as well.

Any program, practice, or policy that adults put into place on behalf of youth - we need to restructure into creating opportunities for those young people to be equitably at the table with a sense of shared power and control.

Why is youth involvement important in the development of educational materials for young people?

Firstly, I think there's a lot of value developmentally in young people playing a role. It can help build a sense of self-efficacy, a sense of ownership, a sense of direction in their education. I think at any age, young people should have the opportunity to participate in meaningful actions that directly tie to real life experiences and learning.  It goes back to having power and control over their own lives.

Secondly, I think it's important that young people are directly engaged in the development of education materials because they bring an understanding of their experience and what it means to be a young person that adults cannot cultivate. Not every young person is the same, so if you’re designing curriculum for different demographics, it would be valuable to bring those diverse voices into the planning process. Homeless youth, queer youth, youth of color, or the intersection of them all for example  - they know their experiences, their knowledge, their culture, their world, and they need to be part of the shaping of their education. Youth have an understanding of what they need, what is relevant, and how it relates to the communities they are a part of and those perspectives need to be valued and incorporated into the materials.

What advice do you have for organizations like Nest who are creating materials for youth? 

To be able to do real partnership work with young people, where we see them as valid participants in design, we need to first challenge our own positions of power as adults, as well as own the fact that we are not experts of young people’s lives. Yes, we might be “content” experts in certain areas, bring wisdom from our own life experiences, and hold positions of privilege and access, but to say that we are the most knowledgeable in terms of what youth need to be successful is problematic. So, the first step is really to get adults to think differently about themselves, how they perceive youth and the roles they can play.

As an organization, it's really about shifting the culture because as much as you might have a team of folks that really believe young people should be participating - unless there is a culture shift that validates youth where they are and what they can offer- the practical side doesn’t mean anything. At the same time, the organization needs to acknowledge the possible limitations adults have in successfully partnering with youth and the developmental growth they as adults need to go through as well. This process of adult and youth development happens simultaneously. This acknowledgement can help shift the theoretical to the practical in a more sustainable way.

In terms of practicality, it’s identifying as an organization where within the system partnership, youth engagement, and youth voice can be the most successful. You cannot make change in every facet of the system overnight.

So, start small, identify champions within the organization, and then work on collective issues that are both important to the youth and the adults within your system. If you don't choose something that you're working on that's really valuable and important to both, you are not going to be able to build the interest, capacity, and potentially see greater outcomes. Furthermore, these small efforts need to be modelled within the organization and for the outside community to see. Then try to replicate in little ways and build on those successes. Over time, you’ll see the value.  Adults will see the value of young people participating as partners and what will end up happening is you will start to see organizational change and hopefully community change as well.

Anything else you'd like to share? 

I think for readers it's really important to think: What’s my role? What's my capacity? Where do I interface with youth? Where can I see change take place? And even if you don't interface with youth, if you are in an organization that serves young people, what are the ways you can think more strategically and intentionally about incorporating the voices of those you are trying to serve into your process? I think little things can happen, in all kinds of systems, even in the most bureaucratic ones, that move the dial from youth being seen as passive recipients to being engaged as active partners in processes directly impacting their lives. It just takes time and work. Hard work!

Interview with Sri Craven on Media Literacy Education

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For the June Nest newsletter, we interviewed Sri Craven, an Associate Professor in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Portland State University. Sri teaches university level courses and conducts research on the history of gender from global historical perspectives. She is trained in literary and feminist critical studies. Sri took some time to answer questions we had about media literacy education and the impact media has on our youth.

NEST: What influenced you to become involved in media literacy education?

Sri Craven: I routinely teach media analysis in my gender studies college courses [at Portland State University, Portland, Oregon]. My sense that media is important emerged organically from my training in literary and gender and sexuality studies, where we talk so much about 'representation,' or the idea that what we consider 'reality' is, in fact, shaped by various modes of representation, of which media is but one. We are unable to really make sense of these other modes as children, and, perhaps even as adults! Given that, media forms such as television, print, the movies, and, now, web-based platforms become our go-to ways of understanding representation, and, since they are more easily apprehended by most people, learning to sift through their messages through their carefully constructed structure and content is essential to an education. I don't mean education in the sense of a degree alone, or an  academic course, but rather, the ability to understand, think, and act based on the evidence for a particular argument, proposition, or idea.
 

What are some of the profound impacts of mass media?

Not surprisingly - and, too many scholars have written about this for over a century now - the ability to shape individual and mass thinking in certain directions that are in line with political powers. Mass media is not always used only for more over forms of control and direction such as in military propaganda, but also in covert and harder to challenge ways such as rendering some ideas desirable even if they are, in the ultimate analysis, very harmful. For example, media's ability to shape women's and girls' lives toward heterosexual marriage and motherhood rather than financial independence and a life free from the unpaid work of mothering and care giving is profoundly shaping women's and men's chances to live free from the more harmful social notions of financial dependence, and adding further pressure on an already damaged ecosystem. There are many, many other such examples that I encourage students and the general public to be thinking about each time we consume any media content.

What would you say are some of the barriers to media literacy education?

Questions of access are never far away when we think about education in its more formal sense. As schools and colleges face budget cuts, and as support for the humanities declines, we have to think about how we might continue to procure materials that are helpful in teaching critical thinking and analytical skills in reading and consuming media. We also need to be mindful of the funding needed to train primary and high school teachers, in addition to college lecturers and professors in this important arena.

Certainly, there is a distinction to be made and understood in the context of people having access to media in western countries, and the literacy they can receive to decode media, and approach it more critically than as willing consumers who may ultimately be not well served by media messages. This means understanding and correcting the K-12 school systems in the U.S., for instance, and ensuring that there is a basic standard to be met regarding media literacy, encouraging bringing in guest teachers and donating funds to help achieve parity across the class groups represented by different types of public schools.

In addition to funding, it is imperative that we also de-link religious beliefs from education, especially when religious ideas are used to prevent media literacy. It is important to hold in our minds that just because we have religious proscriptions against media does not mean those who follow the faith in question do not access those forms of media.

And, finally, it is important for us to remember that globally not all people have access to media forms more easily available to the middle and wealthy classes in the west. Not having a worldwide standard to be maintained - in similar spirit to non-nuclear proliferation; environmental guidelines; etc. - in the case of media literacy is tantamount to a failure to address something that is as dangerous as arms, nuclear warfare, and pandemics.

Many schools and parents are starting to understand the importance of media literacy. How can we encourage youth to add their voice to the conversation?

Ask any youth what they spend the majority of their time doing per day, and the answer is consuming media!  Ask any youth where they get the bulk of their "information" about the world from, and the answer is media! So, it would be best to start there. Each school year - in K-12, and in college - having youth engage in a piece of "community or civic engagement"/ "activism"/ "change" that is focused centrally on media is a great way to get youth involved in this conversation about media literacy. In my own classes, I have made space for collage and formal presentations on issues of concern in the media for young people (examples have included "the representation of women as celebrities and their bodies rather than politics, law, and education"; "toxic masculinity"; "dangers of body image"; "unnecessary consumer spending"; "hypersexualization of girls"; "talk without evidence").

I would also advocate having students conduct media literacy talks in student groups, where interested groups can make presentations on various aspects of the media that are harmful to students. Youth can also check out and screen the hundreds of critical documentaries that promote media literacy by doing some research through school/college/public libraries, with their faculty, with the help of families and friends. Yet another way to add your voice would be to have cohort members and classroom communities make a list of "hot button" issues that you are confused by in the media, and request teachers, tutors, coaches, mentors, and care givers help understand them. If you have no one in your immediate environment in K-12 that can do that, send out emails to college faculty, or ask your own teachers to reach out to college faculty to come and give guest presentations in which they can help address your hot button issues. Raise your voice as individuals, as a group, and be heard, so you can be helped and supported!

Anything else you would like to add?

It is extremely important that we learn the value of evidence-based arguments. Let us be mindful of not accepting hearsay in the media, and being responsible for disseminating it in our turn, whether by word of mouth, or through other online or other communication channels we use. Every time the media presents us with something, we should ask a) who is saying this; b) what is the person's background (educational qualifications, institution, professional pathway, employer, employer credibility); c) what is the background for what content being discussed; d) is the person providing clear evidence (not vague statistics, not quotes without attributing it to a clear source that each of us can look up and verify); d) is the person presenting a solution that is in line with a clear sense of c & d; e) if not a solution, what is the person's ultimate point, and is that point in line with c & d; and, f) how does the news item relate to the person's employer?

Of course, I encourage you to make a list of other questions you might come up with that will help us read media from a much more critical viewpoint rather than merely allowing media to wash over us, cloud us, and have us not think for ourselves! Share your list with as many people as you know, share it with teachers and peers, community members, online and other communication sources! Let's use media to make media better for everyone, and stop the ongoing ways in which media forms are misused to proliferate some very dangerous messages about and for so many individuals and groups!

"Waiting for Change" -- Capstone Project produced by two health class students

We couldn't resist not sharing with you this powerful capstone project written, produced, and mixed by two health class students. Once you listen and read the lyrics excerpt, you'll understand just how empowering these projects can be for students, teachers, and our school community. 

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Waiting for Change

written and produced by Amulet and Marz1pan

(CLICK HERE TO LISTEN)

Maybe one day I'll wake up
And I'll feel safe
In my skin in the air and on every single public train 

Are you asking to help me,
Or to push me away
Cause the victim's the one that is lost in the area gray

I keep hurting,
And now I’m feeling the same
And I beg on my knees to the perpetrators please won't you change

Are you waiting for change?
Vision losing its range
Will it ever get better?
I feel the same
(we feel the same) 

Yeah I get how you’re feeling
running out of your rage
All that’s left is the hurt and the loss of too many good days...

Interview with Amanda Swanson -- Trafficking Intervention Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Justice

Amanda Swanson, Trafficking Intervention Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Justice, shares with us her nine years of experience working with and for victims of human trafficking. She currently chairs the Attorney General's Trafficking Intervention Advisory Committee, working with stakeholders around Oregon on addressing the state's response. We spoke with her to learn more about her work and the changing demographic of trafficking victims in Oregon.

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NEST: What is Oregon's current anti-human trafficking focus?

Our main focus right now is the trafficking of children and youth. Before, we were identifying children as young as 15, but now we are starting to identify them around 13 or 14-years-old. We are seeing perpetrators start initiating children younger and younger, and we also know that with gang members, they are training them younger and younger, so our exploiters are becoming minors as well. 

How is digital technology facilitating the sex trafficking of children?

It is a digital age and children are super savvy and smart. Most adults want their teenagers or their children to teach them how to use the new apps, and so keeping ahead of the game is something that is a constant battle. I think the digital age is definitely playing havoc with this issue - making it harder to get people to identify victims and making it a lot more profitable. It was hard to identify before and now it's almost impossible. 

What can young people do to help prevent sexual exploitation?

The only ways we are going to prevent sexual exploitation is with this new generation coming up. So, that is calling up this generation to a higher standard of how we treat each other. It's calling up boys to hold their peers accountable for how they treat women, and boys in general. Young people have a huge battle to fight and we are just now clearing out the brush. We need to shine light on sexual exploitation, bring about awareness, and educate youth on prevention. 

Interview with trafficking survivor Andrea Benson

Andrea Benson spends her days working as a Client Services Manager for a wealth management company. Her evenings are spent with friends, taco nights with family, and her beloved dog Patches.

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Her deep passion is for spreading awareness of sex trafficking with the hope that no one will ever have to endure what she went through as a survivor. As part of The Life Story project, here is her story:

NEST: Can you tell us a little bit about your story? 

My story is one that is unique, but not too far from how others get lured into the life of sex-trafficking. I grew up in a normal loving home, went to college, and it was after college that I was manipulated into trafficking by the man who I thought was my boyfriend. He used my vulnerabilities and hopes for marriage and a family of my own to convince me to prostitute myself for him. After he had lured me into the life, he used video footage, photos, and threats that "no one else will ever love you...I'll make sure you will never be able to get a job again...and your family will never take you back" to keep me in that life. After finally leaving that lifestyle 3 years ago, I was connected to trained mentors who have walked alongside helping me through an incredible healing journey. I have committed my life to helping others understand and fight sexual exploitation, and my next steps are to go to Law School to help vacate charges for girls coming out of the life and prosecute their traffickers."

Why was it important for you to be part of The Life Story project? 

It was important for me to be involved because I want to use my story to help others become better equipped to recognize the signs of trafficking and know where they may have the opportunity to step in and make a difference in the lives of those being trafficked.

How do you hope the project will be shared and used?

I hope that the tool will be shared organically...I imagine one person sharing it with a friend who is a nurse, that person going and sharing it with their coworkers...maybe one of the co-workers also happens to do foster care and shares it with their friends who also foster...I just see people saying to their friends and loved ones, "You HAVE to see this!!" That's partly because as I have shared my story and spoken in many different venues, I have spoken with people who think this would never apply to them or their work, but the truth is, this is a tool that every single person could benefit from using.

What would you like our audience to gain from The Life Story?

The biggest thing that I want people to gain is that we are all living life together in this world. As humans, we need to care, we need to help, we need to tell others that they matter to someone and that help is out there. And ultimately, I want people to understand that this can happen to anyone. We all have vulnerabilities within us and traffickers are experts at exploiting those vulnerabilities. Don't think that you are better than, or smarter than the next person because honestly, you're not.

How can we encourage young people to speak out against sexual exploitation?

I think that this is already beginning to happen with the "Me too" movement, but I think we need to continue to encourage young people to speak out, love those that seem different from us, lose the stereotypes about prostitutes that we've held onto for so many generations, and start to open our eyes to the people around us who are hurting and need help. The resources are out there, we just need to share it with others.

We want to give special thanks to Andrea, NoVo Foundation, and Brew Advisors for bringing voice and awareness in ending systematic oppression for all girls and women. 

Interview with Youth Advisery Board Member Mirka Estrada

Mirka Estrada, Nest Youth Advisory Board Member and a Junior at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School in Dallas, Texas, speaks with us about the #MeToo movement and how the Nest Curriculum helps prepare young people to identify signs of sexual assault and exploitation. 

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NEST: Is #MeToo impacting your school or your community? In what ways? How are people talking about it?

The #MeToo [movement] has opened the conversations we have about sexual assault around the school. Now, we are seeing perpetrators being exposed and having to deal with the consequences. It honestly has given us hope that we will see more justice for sexual assault victims, and we are now seeing the era of silence come to an end. It inspires us to stand in solidarity with those victims and makes us more passionate about organizations that are leading the charge for transformation, such as Nest.

How do you think education plays a role in ending sexual harassment? Has the Nest Curriculum affected the way you think about it?

Education opens the conversation and allows us to explore the root cause of the problem. Thus, we can craft a plan that attacks the issue at its core. This promotes better and more comprehensive solutions. Nest and its curriculum is eye-opening, because of it we have become more conscious citizens. Now we can identify the signs of sexual assault and trafficking, and offer aid to those in need.

What can young people do to change the culture of sexual assault and harassment?

Change starts with the next generation, and if we equip them with the knowledge and the tools to educate those they meet, then change is bound to happen. Instilling moral values in our youth is important to see a societal change. We must stop teaching that "boys will be boys" and start to hold those who do wrong accountable. Accountability is the first and the most important thing we need to teach our youth.

To read more about Mirka, find her bio here.

Interview with Gemma Hoskins and Alan Horn from The Keepers

Years after the death of her high school teacher, Gemma Hoskins became an educator. Gemma, now in her 60s, recently decided to re-examine her teacher’s disappearance, which uncovered cases of systemic abuse at Seton Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Gemma Hoskins and Alan Horn, a longtime advocate against child abuse, have been working together along with one of Gemma's former classmates, Abbie Schaub, to bring justice to victims who suffered abuse from the now-deceased priest, Joseph Maskell. To learn more about the story, check out the Netflix series The Keepers and find an interview with Gemma Hoskins and Alan Horn below.

 Gemma Hoskins (L) and her co-researcher/high school classmate, Abbie Schaub, on "The View" 

Gemma Hoskins (L) and her co-researcher/high school classmate, Abbie Schaub, on "The View" 

"I'm using my 10 minutes of fame to talk about people who were hurt" - Gemma Hoskins

NEST: What’s important for people to know about the work you’re doing now?

Alan Horn: People who are abused have to tell. Secrets have been the power-tools of predators for generations. The incidents of false reporting by young children about sexual abuse is less than 1%, it is non-existent. So, when someone like a 9-year-old child comes to you and says “I’ve been hurt by somebody,” you need to believe them.

Gemma Hoskins: There’s a group of people who have done the right thing and told somebody. There are some rogue survivors of abuse that happened at (Seton Keough High School) - they were screaming for help, but nobody helped them. Now, I hope that people will start to listen.

Gemma, since you were a student at Keough, can you walk me through the experience of your understanding changing with regards to fellow students at the school being abused?

GH: I knew nothing about what was happening. When I think that physically, the width of a door was all that was separating me when walking down the hall from girls being drugged and hypnotized, and their lives being threatened at gunpoint, it blows my mind. Most of us knew nothing about this abuse.

I only started to hear about it during the early 1990s during the Doe/Roe v. Maskell case. I received a letter in the mail from Jean’s family asking if anyone had been abused. I knew nothing about what happened. We all got on the phone and started talking to each other. I believed it was true because there was no way that somebody is going to put themselves out there in public if this didn’t happen. They (Jane Roe and Jane Doe) were 40 by then. Why would they come forward if it wasn’t true?

What would be helpful for both the victim and investigator during the aftermath and reporting of a crime?

AH: Victims just have to tell. I’m talking to people now who are saying things like “I thought it was a dream” or “I’ve spent my whole life trying to convince myself it didn’t happen.” or “I haven’t told my wife.” They need to know that people will believe them. I talked to a man yesterday who has been abused and one thing he said is that everybody in the church knew what was going on.

My comment, forgive me it is aggressive, is that the people who need to come forward are those who have been betrayed. Not the “bad Catholics” but the “good Catholics” who are disgusted about what has been done to their religion. There’s got to be priests, church managers, maintenance people, who are active and want to take their religion back and set this straight. This is not the entire Catholic faith, this is just a few bad apples. There are some good Catholics out there who need to come forward and tell us what they know.

GH: We aren’t attacking Catholics, we’re attacking the institutions that allowed this to happen. The people involved aren’t all bad either and they refuse to talk because they won’t want to lose their pensions. If I could talk to the Pope, he could tell the Bishop in Baltimore to do was is right and release (the records documenting claims of abuse against Maskell). Somebody get me in to talk to the Pope!

What can people do who want to help?

AH: If people want to join our cause, they send an email to Gemma. (Find Gemma's contact info here)

GH: We vet people and Alan puts them on a team and gives them something to do. We have lawyers, doctors, retired cops, people all over the world who are helping. And, if you’re a victim, what you can do is tell somebody.

AH: Just tell someone. Tell your mother, sister, brother. It doesn’t matter who you tell, but that’s the first step towards healing.

GH: (repeating) Tell somebody.

Alan Horn has been volunteering for the past ten years for an organization that is dedicated to ending child abuse, you can donate to their work here: Stop the Silence.

Interview with Amy Kayon

Amy Kayon recently created and implemented programming at Portland State University, where she works as the Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator.

Three years ago, Nest members Libby Spears and Nishima Chudasama met Amy when they were piloting the first version of Nest's curriculum at a high school in Portland. Amy was quick to introduce changes (improvements) to the lesson plans and she now serves as Nest's curriculum advisor and teacher trainer.

 AMY TRAINING EDUCATORS ON THE NEST CURRICULUM IN PORTLAND, OREGON. PHOTO BY LIBBY SPEARS.

AMY TRAINING EDUCATORS ON THE NEST CURRICULUM IN PORTLAND, OREGON. PHOTO BY LIBBY SPEARS.

NEST: What work do you do with Nest Foundation?

AK: My role has evolved, I give input on the changes that I think should happen to the curriculum and I facilitate the “train the trainer program,” to make sure we are training facilitators in the way that best prepares them to teach the curriculum.

To me, it seems that there’s a great deal of changes made to the curriculum.

Yes, and honestly what I most appreciate about Nest is that we are able to iterate and improve constantly. We have to be fluid because, like the nature of exploitation, the landscape is morphing. Perpetrators revise their strategies as potential victims become more informed and so curriculum has to be evolutionary in order to remain current. They (Libby and Nishima) deeply understand and are committed to that.

What unique challenges does the sensitive nature of this content pose?

(Sexual exploitation) is a moving target. The other challenging thing that isn’t said but needs to be is: trafficking and youth exploitation are hot topics. Today they are buzzwords, the issues are fundable, everybody wants to say they are doing something about it. But, in this space, there isn’t a lot of self-reflection about how people are helping the youth that they are working with.

One example of this is that Nest initially focused on trafficking and exploitation. Then, they realized that the scope was too narrow. So, they zoomed the lens way back, which lets us talk about systems of oppression i.e. how does being a student of color affect your life/opportunities/access?

Tackling systematic areas of exploitation and seeing how the system is already rigged is a huge piece that many traditional trafficking orgs miss. Many want to do “response” or “prevention” but it is so narrowly focused that it doesn’t feel applicable to kids. By opening the curriculum up, students get relevancy which allows them to acquire some empathy, see vulnerabilities other youth are experiencing and ask “what can I do to contribute to the solution rather than the problem?”

What is one of the most powerful moments you’ve had working with educators involving the Nest Curriculum?

I would say what makes me want to do this work is seeing some of the teachers who were at the very first pilot show up to teacher trainings year-after-year. Those teachers have already been through the training, they don’t have to come, they’ve already taught this themselves. But, they keep coming back because they think they’ll learn something new. To me, that is a mark of a great program.

What’s next?

I’ll keep working with Nest as long as they want to keep working with me. I really love the work. 

Also, I would add that right after President Trump was elected, funding shifts happened dramatically and drastically. Orgs like Nest took a hit, funds went to the ACLU. I want to be cognizant that we don’t swing the funding pendulum too far away from work like this. So my final statement if I could add one would be that funding this curriculum and this programming is vital because we are seeing a rollback in the education system on important things like anti-violence and exploitation. We need funders to step up and show that this is important to individuals and that we aren’t going to stop doing this work just because the federal government doesn’t find it important.