Teen Skepchick Interviews: Jamion, Janeth, and Eclasia

This post is part of the Teen Skepchick Interviews series, where TS writers talk with amazing women scientists and skeptics about life, the universe, and everything. These three women are part of the Women’s Leadership Project, an feminist service learning program in South Los Angeles. The WLP has been in operation since 2006, and helps encourage and guide young women of color in their own advocacy projects, including activism around race, gender, and LGBT equality. The WLP is sponsored by the L.A. County Human Relations Commission and the Gardena Healthy Start collaborative.

On a more personal note, I was introduced to the Women’s Leadership Project when Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson spoke at DePaul University last year, and have followed its work ever since. I am deeply flattered that Jamion, Janeth, and Eclasia responded to my questions– and I wish I was so articulate and assured in conversation.

This question is just about you–rant, rave, tell us about yourself! Who are you? What do you like? What do you do?

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 3.55.28 PMJamion: My name is Jamion (pronounced Jay-ME-on). I’m seventeen years old and I live in South Los Angeles. I am currently a senior high school student at Washington Preparatory High School and will be graduating on June 5th, 2013.  I enjoy reading and spending time around friendly people who are intelligent and interesting. Someday I hope to become a lawyer and in time, a judge or a criminal investigator. I may change my mind about what I decide to do with the rest of my life, but I am determined to put to good use my natural leadership and speaking abilities.

Janeth: My name is Janeth Silva, I am nineteen years old and I am an undocumented student.  This past Fall semester I JANETHbecame the first in my family to attend college. I am a full-time student at El Camino Compton Community College and plan to transfer to a four year institution to pursue a B.A. in International Studies. I have a full-time job at my Dad’s business cutting and packaging edible cactuses in bags of one pound. I enjoy mentoring teens to stay on course towards achieving more ambitious goals than what young people in my community have been told they can achieve. Our parents often lack a college education and are unsure of how to guide us or expose us to professional careers. Our teachers make blanket judgments about our intelligence based on our gender and skin color. At the high school I graduated from, many teachers set no higher goals beyond high school graduation for their mostly black and brown students. The few who affirmed our intelligence would pigeonhole us into thinking about nursing or teaching. While I have nothing against those careers, what about encouraging us to be astrophysicists, artists, or intellectuals?

ECLASIAEclasia: My name is Eclasia Wesley, and I am a 21 year-old former foster youth. I attend Southwest Community College and my major is Communications. I work for a company called The Alliance for Children’s Rights. We help foster youth with different legal issues. I enjoy cooking, dancing and talking on the phone.  Going through high school without parents was tough. Believe me not having parents continues to be a challenge. I have to continue to push myself every day. Before my father died, I promised him that I would graduate with my college degree one day. He was very big on education and I always wanted to make him proud. I’m not exactly sure what I want to do, but I know I want to help people. I’m considering pursuing a career working with youth in the foster care system. I plan to attend either Loyola Marymount or Cal State La or Dominguez Hills.

What brought you to WLP?

Eclasia: WLP’s name drew me in and once inside I found caring and supportive mentors who were and still are great role models. The issues we discussed were very important for young women of color to be exposed to. Many of us, most of us, have no one in our lives discussing sexism, domestic abuse, or going to college. I look back and am very proud of the high school version of me who became more aware of the everyday disrespect and abuse black high school girls have normalized and no longer question

Janeth: What brought me to WLP was the amazing Diane Arellano! I met her as the coordinator for the undocumented students’ rights group I co-founded with my good friend Liz Soria. Diane is also part of WLP and she introduced us to the group. I was immediately drawn to having the opportunity to learn about feminist activists of color and how to advocate for myself as an undocumented Latina high school student.  I wanted to create activist work that centered on the problems/issues that impacted on campus. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover WLP until my last year of high school, so it has been 2 years. I graduated from Gardena High School in 2012 but still consider myself an active member through WLP alumni activities.

Jamion: Well, they had club day at my school and I saw the WLP table and after reading a bit about the program, I was sold. I’ve been a member since the beginning of my senior semester.

What are the most valuable things you contribute to WLP?

Jamion: WLP is a program that trains young women at my school to understand media images, how to succeed in college, and learn how to challenge issues that affect our well-being and education. I contribute my ideas and experiences on how young African-American women are treated in this community and portrayed in the media. I have channeled my outspokenness to give a voice to the many issues at my school. For example, I am an advocate for LGBT rights on my campus. Where I go to school there is a lot of bullying towards LGBT youth. Before WLP, I wasn’t too sure about what to do when I saw this, but now I know exactly how to deal with this situation.

Eclasia: My leadership skills and my humor. I have always felt like a leader, but didn’t know how to bring it to full force. Once I joined this group, it was like I had a new approach to things. I was not afraid to speak on different topics and finally felt like my creative ideas and intelligence were being utilized. I also loved to keep the group laughing.

Janeth: I believe my personality and my lived experiences are the most valuable things I’ve contributed. For example, in December 2012, I was invited back to participate on WLP’s Women of Color College Panel at Washington Preparatory High School. Having gone to a school where teachers expect little to nothing from students and being the first in family to go to college, I personally understand some of the tough circumstances the students in our audience were going through. Only being a year older than many of them, I saw and heard the great social injustice common in many working class communities of color playing out before my eyes.  Nobody raised their hand when we asked senior high school students if they knew what A-G requirements were.  A-G requirements are the minimum requirements for admissions at public four year universities in California. I used my bubbly personality and friendliness to convey the requirements and urge them to take their potential and individual dreams seriously. I believe that day, I was able to reach out to them and give them a sense of “Si Se Puede!

What’s the biggest thing WLP has made you change your mind about?

Janeth: Through our  W.L.P.  classrooms presentations I learned that it is possible to educate high school  students about complicated social issues such as immigration, disproportionately high sexual assault rates in communities, HIV/AIDS awareness, and the unrecognized but long and rich history of activism of young women of color. It was a very powerful feeling to see students who have been conditioned to stay in “sleep mode” wake up and get excited about our presentations.

Jamion: My involvement in WLP has helped me understand and become educated on issues that I was unaware of. I had no idea that intimate partner violence is the leading cause of death for black women. I had no idea that black females have the highest HIV/AIDS contraction rates.  WLP has also helped me learn how to resolve my personal conflicts without resorting to physical violence.

Eclasia: Before WLP, I would have never looked at ads and magazines the way I do now. I am more aware of how people of color are negatively portrayed over and over in the media.  Inside WLP I learned about the inequalities women of color experience and how to challenge them. I also was exposed to a better understanding of why education is so important for young women like me.

The Women's Leadership Project in 2011

The Women’s Leadership Project in 2011

Teens are in the best position to tell us what future teenagers should be learning. If you could pick a single piece of knowledge that every teen woman should be given, what would it be? Why?

Jamion: Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough. My school is predominately African-American. Some teachers will tell us things like, “Why do you even come to school, you’re never going to do anything with your life.” If one student is acting up, we all get grouped into the same trouble maker category and you can literally see the moment our teacher just decides to give up and stop teaching.

I would also tell other teen women to use their full potential and don’t believe teachers or media images that tell them that they’re not intelligent and not beautiful.

Janeth: Honestly, that motherhood is not mandatory for teenage girls who find themselves pregnant. Latina young women have the highest live birth rates. Only one year out of high school many of the young women I graduated with are pregnant or have given birth. This is not a promiscuity issue—Latinas are not having sex at higher rates than other girls. All teen young women, but especially young women who should become the first in their family to go to college, need to learn about the different ways to have safe sex and that there are many methods of contraception, not just condoms.

Eclasia: To love yourself first, empower yourself always, and grow continuously. We need to love ourselves first. How can we love someone else if we lack self-love and respect for ourselves? I feel that once you start to accept who you are, everyone around you will too. You need to be empowered to follow your dreams and to stand up for what you believe in. Last but not least, you need to be able to grow from your experiences. Growing is a part of life, and it should be something that is embraced.

In a similar vein, if you could change one thing about the way adults interact with teenagers, what would that be? Why?

Jamion: At my school, I wish teachers would teach us as though they believe in us and our potential. Teachers, who verbally abuse students, don’t show up to class, or don’t care about teaching should quit. You might be in a school that is one of those as “seen on TV schools,” but my “school reality” is very different. I walk through unclean hallways every day. Large seagulls circle everywhere outside of class, especially the cafeteria area, and their droppings are everywhere. The bathrooms are nasty—worse than filthy. Only one bathroom opens at lunch. Some of the hallways reek of urine. The books or assignments teachers assign are unchallenging and far below standards. A curriculum you would expect for a high school student is nowhere to be found. Instead of teaching, teachers often talk about their personal lives, are absent a lot, or one day out of nowhere they just don’t show up and we are assigned substitutes. How are we supposed to be ready for college then?

Sadly, these conditions make students think that school is not important, and that their teachers don’t care, and don’t believe in them. I get bored in class where teachers don’t care and don’t teach too. Going somewhere everyday where you are supposed to learn but instead are expected to “behave” while you sit there unchallenged is demoralizing.

I don’t believe this would be happening or would be allowed at a white high school in West Los Angeles. From the outside, people think we’re just a bunch of helpless black kids in a black neighborhood, but in actuality this school is filled with potential doctors, lawyers, and perhaps even the next president. We deserve a better school, better bathrooms, and to be supported.

Eclasia: Not sure, but if I could take a guess I would say that adults need to be more supportive and understanding. Sometimes young adults don’t know how to handle things in their life. They might even be going through issues at home and school that they aren’t talking to anyone about. They might not have a solid support system, so please remember you are speaking with a young adult and not your peer.

Janeth:  If I could change one thing about the way adults interact with teenagers it would be the fact that adults do not interact with their teenagers enough! And if they do it is to punish them for something they do wrong! Adults need to start interacting with teenagers more positively.

Many thanks to Diane Arellano for her assistance in coordinating these interviews.

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Kate Donovan

Kate Donovan

Kate is an outspoken atheist, feminist, demisexual, stigma-busting student in Chicago studying psychology and human development. She juggles occasionally, would knit you something warm if she knew you, and reads anything she can get her hands on. She was raised believing alternative medicine worked, and now spends her time making skeptical faces at it. You can find her on Twitter at @donovanable

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