Final Project: Telling and Sharing Stories

To have conversation about diversity and social justice, we must first understand our stories and ourselves. From there we have the ability to hold space for the stories of others. My final project for SW 504: Social Justice and Diversity in Social Work looks at the stories of the young men at my field placement in the juvenile justice system. To contextualize and generalize (for the sake of this project) their experience, they are in a high secure residential setting for an average of a year. The pod I work with consists of 11 young men, all of whom have a very different story but some that may share similar elements. For my final project I planned two story telling activities.

Activity 1 Overview: Inside Outside

For one group therapy session, the residents on my pod engaged in creative expression. The activity is called “Inside, Outside.” To participate in this activity, grab a sheet of paper and fold both outside edges in until they meet in the middle like a set of doors. From there you will write or draw qualities that you think other perceive of you on the outside of these doors. For example, other may perceive me as a student, a sister, hardworking and positive. After you have completed this “Outside,” open the paper’s doors to the inside and write qualities or identities you see of yourself. These “Inside” qualities represent how you view yourself from your own lens, and not the “Outside” lens of others.

Inside Outside Experience

Common “Inside” themes from my residents include being strong willed, resilient, honest, and intelligent. Some residents had similar patterns in how others see them and how they see themselves, repeating words on inside and outside. These qualities hold true to their internal and external behavior. Others had no qualities that overlapped between how others saw them and how they saw themselves. I wonder why this is. Is it because ‘others’ do not see an authentic version of them, but see a mask of who they are? Is it because the ‘others’ may refer to the fellow residents, where it may be harder to trust one another? Or is it simply because they did not make the connection that others can see you as how you see yourself?

IO 8 p2
Figure 1. 

A couple residents on the “Inside” of their paper wrote ‘ME’ (See right, Figure 1). This word really sat with me. Maybe there is not a way to describe how you see yourself, it could just be a way of living, a feeling, not quantified by words.

One resident drew an abstract drawing on the “Outside” of his paper (See below, Figure 2).

IO 7 p1
Figure 2. 

When I asked him what he meant, he simply stated, “Whatever you think.” This response also brings up the question; maybe there is not a way to describe how others see you, because ultimately you do not know. For example, I know how I may behave around others, but I do not know how others perceive me. This could have been what this resident was getting at, that he is viewed in the eye of the beholder.

 

 

Below are some “Inside” and “Outside” themes pulled from the resident’s creative expression pieces. I noticed that if the resident included negative qualities they were more likely to be on the “Outside.” I have held this observation with me, that many of the residents are seen as qualities they do not hold true on the “Inside.” The juvenile justice system has the ability to perpetuate these perspectives that the residents are criminals, aggressive, dangerous, fighters. These views can be extremely damaging, especially when continued as they can become a part of a person’s own narrative.

View the rest of the resident’s “Inside, Outside” at the end of post 🙂 

Outside

Inside
Incarcerated, fighter, bad, love, money, respect, family, smart, leader, cool, confused, defensive

Me vs. everybody, leader, love, talented, strong, smart, cool, resilient, loyal, self-reliant, different, me

Activity 2 Overview: Single Story

For another group therapy session, the residents viewed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Ted Talk, The danger of a single story. (Highly recommend if you have yet to see this talk!) Adichi defines the single story as a one-sided perspective of how someone or something is. When we perpetuate this single story that is what the person or thing becomes. Stories are defined by how they are told, when they are told, and how many stories accompany it. Stories are dependent on power that can foster stereotypes and rob people of their dignity, or be used to empower, humanize and repair. The residents, after watching the Ted Talk had a discussion regarding the stereotypes they have heard about themselves or that they have of others. We spoke of how it can be damaging and reduce our view of that person, or those types of people to that one story. Then the residents were tasked with writing their single story on an index card.

Single Story Experience

Four residents wrote on their index cards a single story of their committing offense, negative and void of hope. An example of one of these stories is below (Figure 3 and 4).

SS 8 p2
Figure 4.
SS 8
Figure 3. 

This resident shared his past negative experiences as important pillars to his ‘now’ story, including his father’s drug abuse and death, his mother’s incarceration, and his own behavior as an effect of his past experiences (Figure 3). On the back of his index card this resident shared important themes that were central to his story (Figure 4).

 

Four residents depicted their stories through drawing, leaving it up to the interpretation of others. An example of one of these stories is below (Left, Figure 5).

SS 2
Figure 5.

Note that this could be representative and abstract, or a way to participate in the activity without sharing a story that could lead to vulnerability in a space that is not always safe. (Sidebar: this is a challenge I have faced throughout my internship. Creating dialogue and listening with TING can be difficult when the environment is unfriendly, forced, and when you are surrounded by unpredictable people).

 

Two residents stories had a negative beginning, but a hopeful and positive end. These residents touched on past and present, and their stories represented a change for the better (See Figure 6 and 7).

SS 3
Figure 7.
SS 4
Figure 6.

 

 

View the rest of the resident’s single stories at the end of post 🙂 

Telling Stories

The lens in which we see ourselves can be affected by how we think others see us. Understanding the importance of diversity and the need for social justice begins with understanding the people we are working with, not just from our own lens but from the lens in which they see themselves. Through this project I really grasped the importance of creating the space in which others feel comfortable sharing aspects of themselves, and to share their stories. Without this type of environment, people may only choose to share ‘safe’ aspects of their story. These ‘safe’ aspects do not put the resident at risk of sharing too much, or being too vulnerable. I intend to continue working towards a space in which my residents feel they can share more aspects of themselves without concern of being judged, stereotyped, ignored, or tossed away. We must value, cherish, respect, be mindful, not judge, and thank others when they take any leap of faith in sharing what could bring down their walls. This will be a constant goal of mine, throughout life and throughout this profession.

Activity Index

Inside Outside: (On the left are the “Outside” qualities and how others see them. On the right are the “Inside” qualities and how they see themselves.)

IO 1 p1IO 1 p2

IO 2 p1IO 2 p2

IO 3 p1IO 3 p2

IO 4 p1

IO 4 p2
Words that were cut off by scanner: The best man boss man

IO 5 p1IO 5 p2

IO 6 p1IO 6 p2

IO 7 p1IO 7 p2

IO 8 p1IO 8 p2

IO 9 p1IO 9 p2

Single Story index cards (One per resident with exception of one resident (indicated by part one and two)):

SS 1SS 2SS 3SS 4SS 5SS 6SS 7

SS 8 p2
Part 1 of 2
SS 8
Part 2 of 2

SS 9SS 10

 

 

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The Use of Dialogue

A social worker’s primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients according to the Code of Ethics. How are we to understand what others need without fostering a non-violent dialogue? We, as social workers, utilize this nonviolent form of communication to ensure the values and ethics of the profession such as cultural awareness and diversity, respect, collaboration, contribution and more. Nonviolent speech works to explore, discover, and build upon common ground to foster respect, dignity, and safety. In doing this we are able to truly understand how to best promote the well being of others, and do so in a manner that is collaborative with our clients.

I see the value in holding a dialogue both in interpersonal settings and structurally in organizational settings. I do my best to create the space for dialogue in my current field placement at Spectrum Juvenile Justice Services, but I must say that fostering a dialogue is much easier said and read about, than done. In reflecting upon our own space and way of communicating during group therapy, it appears more so like a discussion. This is something I have constantly struggled with and am hoping to change after gaining more knowledge about the nature of dialogue.

When I held my first group therapy session at Spectrum with the 11 residents on my pod, I had planned the content and hoped for a collaborative space in which we could hold respect and listen actively to one another. The group created a list of group rules that consisted of these defining dialogue principles such as respect, avoiding judgment, creating an open and safe space, and giving attention to others. I thought this was a great start and would set a precedent for the groups to come. Unfortunately, the dynamic can seem very hierarchical when I am the only one contributing to the conversation and defining the content of the sessions. Some times a few residents will participate and discuss, but this type of participation does not appear whole-hearted as they may do so to get the points for the activity or engage minimally to keep up appearances with others in the group. I wonder if there are systematic barriers to dialogue in, for example, a juvenile justice setting such as this that hinder listening with TING and genuine listening and sharing. Below are some of the barriers I have seen that make dialogue more difficult:

  • Agenda – therapist (or clinical intern in my case) creates the agenda for group therapy
    • This upcoming week I am going to do a topic they suggested to see how this changes the dynamic
  • Hierarchical roles – therapist and staff run group
  • Expectations of participation in receiving group therapy points that contribute to resident’s weekly privileges
  • Putting aside judgments or assumptions – these residents are together every single day and have already created group dynamics
  • Safe, communal space – not always true as residents have physically fought one another and do to these confrontations are often on edge with certain people
  • Location – not able to be changed, fixed
  • Crafting solution together – in my experience only a small handful actively participate in group and this is because of participation points
  • Ahimsa is threatened; verbally, physically, emotionally in this setting

With these barriers in place I struggle with creating an authentic non-violent dialogue. I would love suggestions as to how to address these! 

I could use dialogue at the structural level to begin to address these barriers, through speaking with my supervisor and determining if there is possibility for change within this setting. A dialogue in a structural setting would create a space for genuine conversation in which I could share openly and without judgment the situation with my pod’s group dynamics in the hope that this dialogue could foster additional change. I will bring this topic of conversation to my supervisor to see how it develops in a structural setting.

A lasting thought (and my last thought for this long blog post (sry!)) is that of the cup metaphor in Huang Nissen’s article. We as people cannot expect to take in more information and ideas from others when our cup, our mind is full of what we already believe to be true. An empty cup does not mean an empty mind, but a mind of non-judgment, openness, and curiosity to accept ideas different from one’s own and allow space for more in the cup that is our mind. This is something I hope to use every day, how am I supposed to grow and learn if I believe my cup already has the answers? The answer is, I won’t.

Zen-master-pouring-tea

 

Knowledge is to Knowing as Look is to See

Knowing and knowledge are different concepts according to Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer. In the video Dr. Meyer posed the discussion to her audience to deliberate over the differences of knowledge and knowing, listening versus hearing, looking versus seeing. Though I could differentiate between these seemingly similar terms, I had not before made this distinction that knowledge is a noun and speaks to the information in our heads as opposed to knowing being a verb, an action taking place in which we are gaining the value of knowledge and experience.

I think knowing through experience, mana’oi’o as Dr. Meyer names it, is so important in the field of social work. Dr. Meyer states in her speech that i’o means flesh, and it is this knowing in the flesh that fosters a sense of experience. I love this idea and find it to be very powerful, as I believe I can never truly understand and know something until I do it and experience it for myself. This type of knowing is extremely beneficial in the field of social work, as the field consists of a lot of doing and a lot of knowledge. What better way is there to learn than to do it in the flesh? At my current field placement I am learning through mana’oi’o, as I am thrown into this internship headfirst. I meet with residents to conduct individual therapy on a bi-weekly basis; I first shadowed the therapist on my pod and then was set loose to complete my learning through experience. This way of learning, in my opinion, is so powerful as you are 100% in the experience with your mind, body and spirit. Book learning just utilizes the mind and therefore cannot give you the full value of the experience like doing it in the flesh.

My schooling (I’m intentionally not using the word education) growing up was westernized in the sense of being talked at by a superior (i.e. teacher). Though this was the way I was educated for most of my life, I believe it was not the most beneficial way to go about that process. It is this non-western way of learning that I have experienced, the learning through doing, that has been the most beneficial. Group activities, debates, hands on learning, going into the community, and much more are the things I think of when I reflect upon my education as mana’oi’o. My knowledge comes from a number of different facets; the teachings of my parents, schooling, community engagement, trial and error, asking questions, being thrown in head first. It is the combination of the various facets that I have come to appreciate different ways of teaching and learning.

To tie in Dr. Meyer’s talk with the Mullaly reading, some ways of schooling can create a sense of internalized oppression in the continued perspective of inferiority as a student to the superiority of a teacher. This can perpetuate negative beliefs and lead to negative behavior as an individual consciously or unconsciously absorbs the values of the dominating force that is the teacher. The way to evolve society beyond this type of domination and subordination relationship is to foster connectability through truth, commitment, friendship, and kuleana in which we are dedicated to our own chosen skill set. We utilize these differences in skill set to create a sense of connectability and to develop a vision to evolve society beyond what it is.

From Detroit

3F3F69EA-3791-4CED-B26C-C5304E01797F.JPGI wanted to post this photograph, as it reminded me of a fellow peer’s final project (shout out to Mackenzie!). Her project is dedicated to understanding how art can and may challenge the dominant discourses. I wonder who this art was created by, and who it was created for? What was it meant to represent and what does it actually represent?

This also ties back to my project of Photovoice. What is represented in a photograph shares a story that words cannot do justice.

Final Project Thoughts

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe a picture can foster a discussion worth more than thousands of words, which is why I have decided to utilize the Photovoice method for my Final Project in the 504 Social Justice and Diversity in Social Work.

Photography is a useful and valuable tool. It can be used to express feelings, beliefs and opinions while also aiding as a verbal narrative for he or she who takes the photos (Moss, Deppeler, Astley, Pattison, 2007). One is able to notice, to capture, to store events, to imagine and be creative through the lens of a camera. Photovoice, as an imaged based research empowers the participants, causes them to be aware of important messages through being purposeful in their photographs, and taps into the realities, core meanings, and significances the subject is attempting to capture (Nowell, Berkowitz, Deacon, Foster-Fishman, 2006). The Photovoice project allows for the subjects to cultivate a sense of awareness and mindfulness through their focus on the current moment, creating a window into the individual’s mind and understanding their reflections (Nowell, 2006).

I love that this image-based research allows you to then take the views, perspectives, photos of others and use them to better understand the photographer and the photo’s theme. What might be portrayed in my image of diversity may be very different from a fellow student, a neighbor, or family member. This method allows for the taping in not just of the reality, meaning and significance of the subject but also the reality, meaning and significance of that subject to the photographer. When I completed my previous Photovoice project, I was able to analyze why my portrayal of compassion may be both similar and different to that of my mother. I am eager to see what I learn about others and myself with this project.

I am currently in field and have been struggling a lot with the nature of the juvenile justice system. I work with boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 21 who have been committed with some type of violent offense. For many of these young men, the facility I am working in is not their first facility. Our hope is that it will be their last. The unfortunately reality is that though we will set them up for success, some of these individuals will then be involved in the adult criminal justice system. I want to explore the issue of youth incarceration through Photovoice in selecting a number of themes to be depicted by my participants. These portrayals will shed light on these themes through the lens of my participants. This method will reveal how integral the themes of social justice and diversity are in a criminal justice setting.

I would love some feedback on the themes for the Photovoice. I am currently thinking of doing a total of 5 themes. The participants will take or find photographs that they believe are representative of the theme (as a general concept OR as it relates to the criminal justice system). Possible themes: rehabilitation, progress, aspirations, challenges, immersion, support, acknowledgement, community.

 

Sources:

Moss, J., Deppeler, J.,Astley, L., & Pattison, K. (2007). Student researchers in the middle: Using visual images to make sense of inclusive education. J Research in Spec Educ Needs Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 46-54.

Nowell, B., Berkowitz, S., Deacon, Z. & Foster-Fishman, P. (2006). Revealing the Cues Within Community Places: Stories of Identity, History, and Possibility. American Journal of Community Psychology Am J Community Psychol, 37, 29-46. Retrieved June, 2015.

 

?

How am I to feel in this place, in this time?

Confused, irritated, united, separated, tired, lost.

How am I to have the words to describe what is going on around me?

Conflict, unease, storms, rain, solidarity, divide, confusion.

How am I to focus on me when there is all this around me?

How am I to focus on all there is around me when there is me?

 

My head and heart are in a number of different places right now and I don’t even think words would do them justice. But this was me trying. That’s enough for now.

Oppression

Oppression is many things and can be described in a number of ways. I created a Wordle that encompasses many different terms and phrases that are utilized throughout this week’s reading/podcast that I found to be representative of the idea of oppression. Oppression, in my mind, is a social term indicating a dominant group intentionally or unintentionally exercising power over subordinate group(s). Oppression can exist between two or more groups, and though the intention may not always be to harm the subordinate group, that is the outcome. For oppression to exist there must be some group dynamic of one group being the superior, the majority, the ‘in-group’ and the other being the inferior, the minority, or the ‘out-group.’ Unfortunately individuals and groups have been experiencing oppression for a very long time, and though the expression and perception of oppression has changed throughout history, it still exists today. Iris Marion Young defines social justice in the reading as “the elimination of institutionalized domination and oppression.” Oppression is a social justice issue because it dictates the human experience by providing advantages to some based on group and disadvantages to others.

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 1.37.12 PM

Why does oppression still exist today? Well, to put it simply, oppression exists because there are divisions in societies based on living situations, employment, gender and/or sexuality, and many other factors. According to the reading, oppression continues on living in today’s world because there are benefits in being a part of a dominant group, especially when comparing or at the expense of the subordinate group. These benefits can be tangible; money or goods, or can be intangible; strength, control, intelligence. To compare the past and the present I will take the two groups of Caucasians and African Americans during the time of racial segregation. African Americans were oppressed in a number of ways due to the color of their skin. African Americans were oppressed in part due to the belief that they were genetically inferior to Caucasian people. We know now that it was not genetic inferiority but an enormous difference in the educational and employment opportunities available. The issue remains that though society perceives itself to be committed to racial equality, we are in what Imani Perry calls ‘post-intent’ phase and we still see African Americans being disadvantaged by race. Though we are in this ‘post-intent’ phase where we are no longer intentionally discriminatory and oppressive, oppression still exists subliminally.

Imani Perry discusses racial equity in the podcast assigned for this week and how she does her best to ‘find the sweet in the bitter’ by not letting disadvantages and oppression stop her from her goals to for example foster relationships with peers and to run for student body in school.  As individuals, to progress towards racial equality, it necessary to not just be aware of what is in our hearts (i.e. intention to promote racial equality) but how our behavior compares to what is in our hearts (i.e. acting in a way that promotes the in-group and disadvantages the out-group). To move towards racial equality it is necessary to be actively engaged in the world around us and to be perceptive of the experiences of others. We need to avoid overemphasizing our differences to the points of stereotyping and labeling, while also acting to avoid overemphasizing sameness. It is important to not just be accountable for yourself and one’s own thoughts, actions, and feelings but to also be accountable of those around you; to push back gently and to be responsible. Once we are able to be accountable, active, aware of ourselves and others will we be able to move from a time of ‘post-intent’ to ideally post-oppression and a time of racial equality.

Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege – SECOND Edition – Ch. 2 pp. 34-66

On Being: Imani Perry