Written by: Jenn Flood
For seven years before coming on as Education Lead at Possibility Seeds, I worked as a sexual violence (SV) prevention educator at two large post-secondary institutions (PSIs) in Ontario. When I started, there were very few learning opportunities or community spaces for people in similar roles. I wondered, how do other PSIs do this? Who else is doing this work? Are there professional spaces where I can meet them?
These questions lingered for several years as the prevention education field grew. I kept searching for the kind of community and connection that this type of work depends on. Then, I met the brilliant Farrah Khan who invited me to join the National Advisory Committee on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Violence on Campuses. I was overwhelmed with joy (and imposter syndrome!) that finally, I could connect with others in the field. When I did, I realized I was not alone in the challenges I was facing; in fact, many of these challenges were echoed across the room. One of the biggest issues that kept emerging was role isolation. Like myself, most folks on the advisory committee had been recently hired into a solitary SV prevention role. Most, if not all, described the isolating and overwhelming experience of being the only ones tasked with this enormous responsibility at their institutions.
During this time, I also met the fabulous Dr. CJ Rowe. Throughout our work together on the Courage to Act Report, and the Education and Training Toolkit, we kept circling back to the lack of community and learning opportunities accessible to those doing this work (including ourselves). So, we decided to create A Workbook for Campus Gender-Based Violence Educators as part of the larger toolkit we were building.
This workbook was designed to help support the learning of those engaged with SV prevention work on campuses. With help from the Courage to Act project team and Community of Practice members, these resources were curated to further the ongoing learning of educators doing this work. Our vision was to spark inspiration for a co-learning group to take hold.
As the workbook began to sprout, we considered how incredible it would be to host a space for other prevention educators to co-learn, connect, and create living documents for future educators to come. So, we decided to create Courage to Act’s first Community of Learning: a monthly peer-led space for SV prevention educators to learn in community with one another.
For the past six months, I’ve had the honour of learning with 11 fellow SV prevention educators across the country. Members joined us from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (if you would like to know more about these amazing folks, check out their profiles here!).
Most of our work as SV campus educators consisted of facilitating workshops, designing curricula, hosting events, running peer programs, consultations, strategy meetings, and everything in between. Some COL members were also responsible for supporting survivors. We spoke a lot about how we’re often not given a lot of time to critically reflect or receive and integrate feedback on our work, which is why this space was needed.
One conversation I appreciated was around how to ensure our prevention work is trauma-informed and survivor-centered, knowing there are survivors in every activity, workshop, and event. How do we ask for this feedback? Further, how do we consider different forms of trauma (intergenerational, historical, complex, acute, chronic, childhood, community-based) in our work? And how do we ensure online spaces in particular are trauma-informed and survivor-centered, recognizing that we don’t always know who needs support, and online learning is not always safe and accessible to everyone? Similarly, we discussed what it means to have an intersectional prevention framework, particularly when we don’t always have time to give a fulsome history of intersectionality during one training session.
Lots more big questions came up for us. Can we truly decolonize our prevention education work in institutions that are inherently and deeply rooted in racism, colonialism, ableism, capitalism and other oppressive systems? I particularly enjoyed discussing the work of Tema Okun, looking at the characteristics of white supremacy culture and how this shows up in our own work, our organizations, and ourselves. We discussed how hard and unsafe it can be for those of us who are Black, Indigenous and racialized doing this work, and our own experiences of violence and harm.
One of my favorite sessions was listening to the group be radically honest about exhaustion and burnout. As someone who has experienced this, it was validating and alarming to learn that I wasn’t alone: I realized how large a role isolation plays in burnout and exhaustion in this field, and how badly I could have used this space years ago. Some helpful strategies shared by the group were: creating guidelines for and saying no to requests, taking time off, creating a self-care strategy, community care, affinity groups, taking lunch breaks with others, exercising, cultivating interests outside of work, and spending time outdoors. However, in listening to the group’s stories and experiences, I was reminded that much of this responsibility rests with institutions – that we need their support in order for this field to not only continue, but thrive.
Learning from and with this group has been an humbling experience and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity. If I’ve learned one thing over the past six months, it’s that community support is essential to keep the heart beating in SV prevention education, and I have hope that Courage to Act’s first Community of Learning will inspire others to reach out, connect, and do this work together. After all, it takes a community to end sexual violence.
If you’re interested in joining a Community of Learning, keep an eye on our National Skillshare Series Page, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media to learn about future opportunities.
Suggested Reference : Flood, Jennifer. (2022, July). Reflections from Courage to Act’s First Community of Learning. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/COL-reflections.