Darin James Dorsey is the Associate Educator and MyStrength Facilitator for the Sexual Assault Recovery & Prevention Program of San Luis Obispo County. In this guest post drawn from his professional journal, he provides a first-hand account of the experience as a new MyStrength facilitator starting a new school year.
Click here to see “September, Part 1” in this journal series.
by Darin James Dorsey
During the third session at School #2, I had planned a number of activities; I was going to do ground rules, roses and thorns, introduce the dominant story, and then have them watch 12 Angry Men for the duration of the session. When I got there, I decided to start with an icebreaker, with the intention of having them open up. I asked them to pair up and talk about home. I asked this question in this way on purpose, I wanted to see how much they would open up without any facilitation. This ended up going for about 15 minutes, and because of the amount of time they took I assumed that they were opening up more than expected, so I decided at this point to toss the agenda and go with this. We reconvened, and shared our stories from home. For the most part, the conversations were centered on the mistakes they made that led them to School #2. It was amazing to see the commonalities in these stories, a lot of them began with matters outside of their hands – parents, friends, family members, and the students then dealt with these issues in certain negative ways. Hearing these stories made me realize how much of an impact one instance can make in a kid’s life. I also shared my story of how I became a MyStrength facilitator at School #2 Youth Academy in San Luis Obispo. I definitely felt more connected to the students after we talked about this. We did roses and thorns to end the session.
During the 4th session at School #2, we started by creating ground rules, (which had been tabled since week 2) and then watched about 42 minutes of 12 Angry Men. I think that the 1957 classic is absolutely perfect for this stage of the program. I’ve found that the dominant story/counter story idea is not necessary; all it does is complicate a simple idea. I think the idea of someone doing something against the status quo — or being a “maverick” as Sarah Palin would call it, is already a concept that they understand and relating it to the dominant story/counter story idea just confuses them and wastes time redefining it. There is a possibility that I could be wrong and I can’t coherently express the idea well enough for them to understand, but given the fact that Austin also had difficulties introducing dominant story/counter story also leads me to believe that the terminology does more harm than good. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that having them watch 12 angry men, which has a plethora of examples related to masculinity, stereotypes, majority opinion, and renouncing that opinion when it is incorrect and adopted as truth by society — is a much more fun and effective way to introduce the dominant story/counter story concept along with many others.
I had to cancel the fourth 4th period session at School #1 since I thought it would be smart to start over before getting too deep into the semester with inconsistent attendance.
During the fourth 5th period session I had 9 students after asking each member to bring a friend, and we did the bigger man exercise. The activity went incredibly well. The first comparison of Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods was the most interesting, after introducing some of the facts of Colorado v. Kobe Bryant, most were convinced of Kobe’s guilt. After introducing some of the facts of Tiger Woods’ recent issues, they generally came to the conclusion that he was a sex addict and he had a serious problem. The idea here is that Kobe presents a more ‘manly’ persona, and he may have acted on his sexual desires when he did not receive consent. Tiger Woods, while less ‘manly’, had multiple reports from multiple women, and it’s apparent that he may have an addiction. They were both cases of infidelity. Tiger seems to be more open to improving himself. Not too far into the discussion, a student mentioned that girls “cry rape.” I introduced the ‘2% of rapes are falsely reported’ statistic, and I also talked about the process of reporting, especially for someone reporting a crime by a perpetrator who is as well known and admired as Kobe Bryant. Eventually we moved on after it seemed that they were convinced that girls generally do not falsely report rape. The rest of the exercise went very well; they are beginning to understand that they can come to their own formulation of masculinity. I think a large part of this came through my persistence in communicating the fact that I will never tell them that their ideas of masculinity are wrong, they will only be challenged.
We planned to show the rest of 12 Angry Men during the fifth week at School #2, but we had some technical difficulties. Instead, we did roses and thorns – an activity that has each of the students talk about one positive and one negative aspect of their life at the moment. A lot of these had to do with them going home the next weekend. After about 15 minutes of this and no agenda, we all had a conversation on cheating in monogamous relationships (a topic that came up during roses and thorns, and was tabled for the duration of the activity), and then their plans for home pass. After the session and a bit of reflection, I decided that having a session like this after establishing the role of facilitator is incredibly helpful. I place an emphasis on the qualification of this sentence because if this were done too early, it would be counterproductive to the establishment of an authority role. I don’t think I’m at a place where I can hold this kind of session during my 5th period School #1 group, the attitude towards authority at School #2 was very well established before I even started, and it is definitely a challenge to deal with at School #1.
As the groups are finding their identities, there is a lot less work to be done with the groups. While I spent much of my time in September focused on MyStrength, it’s at the point now where session outlines are almost irrelevant and coming up with activities for the students presents no problem. I think this is the perfect time to begin outreach to new schools. While only having School #2 and School #1 is good for this semester and my inexperience in facilitating groups, I think that we are neglecting other students at different schools. Being at alternative schools, I think the students we do come into contact with generally have experience with the dynamics of oppression, and once they understand the message, they usually side with it. It would be interesting to see if students at SLO High could grasp it as easily. Schools like SLO High and Morro Bay High are more similar to my High School, which I was very involved at, so I think I could easily navigate my way through the resources needed to start a successful program. By knowing my former high school as well as I did, I think I can use that knowledge to figure out how we can get access to these high schools. Some ideas I’ve had include talking to sports teams and student government, I have recent experience being the kind of student who participates in these activities and I think I can make more effective appeals to them.
We can’t hit all the high schools right now, but we can work towards that if we can convince faculty and staff of the worth of the program. I don’t think this is as hard as we are making it out to be, it should be desirable to anyone with the student’s interests in mind. Generally, if we can’t convince them that it is in the student’s best interests to have a program like MyStrength, I believe we’re doing something wrong. I also think this program could run without us eventually, if we approach the group with ultimate long term goals. Our goal shouldn’t be to provide education to a few high schools; it should be to provide education to the community by way of high schools. If we can create an independently operating program at certain schools while facilitating others, we’re making a bigger impact.
During the month of October, I think it will be necessary to begin planning how we will pitch MyStrength to new schools. Sending an email and determining their interest by whether or not they respond is not enough. We cannot be sure that we won’t be running a group at a certain high school until someone from that high school says that we will not be running a group there. The MyStrength program and its impact definitely cannot be summarized by an email, so I’m not sure if that’s the most effective way to pitch the program. Much of the program’s appeal is emotionally driven, and it’s hard to communicate that by email. Furthermore, I think the program is more geared towards the general problem of men’s violence and mistreatment of women, and not specifically sexual assault. This leads me to believe that we should downplay the fact that we are a rape crisis center (never denying or hiding it) when we talk about the program, it may be misrepresented if people make that association.
This Thursday I went to a presentation on Bullying hosted by SLO-CAP (Child abuse prevention). There were administrators and teachers from different high schools and districts, so I saw this as an opportunity to network. I talked to one person, TH from Paso Robles, about the program and it sounded like with the budget cuts and whatnot, they actually NEED a program like MyStrength. I also talked to RL, the CEO of the United Way and we talked about collaborating to end childhood abuse in the future.
I have contacted a few people about expanding the program. I left messages and have not yet heard back from VE (AD of SLO High School), KH (Atascadero Unified), and CB (Arroyo Grande High School). I left a message with JK-M (SLO Coastal Unified), and JA (Morro Bay High School) and I did hear back. In JK-M’s case, someone else who could better handle my request called me, unfortunately I have completely forgotten his name. I think it may be Tom or something very American. We talked about the program for about 5-10 minutes and he seemed interested. He told me he would talk about the program with some other people in the district and call me back to set up a time to talk about it in greater detail. JA called me back directly and I described the program to him. At first he thought I was planning on doing some sort of one time presentation, and once I cleared up the fact that it is a 16 week group program, he seemed interested. It seems that administrators are resistant to anti-bullying messages (they seem to think that they’re doing all they can), so I’ll try to stay away from that message. He also said he’d talk to others and get back to me. He didn’t sound as sincere as ‘Tom’ about this, but we’ll see. I’ll call him on Wednesday if I don’t hear from him before then. I called TH (Paso Robles), who I met at the bullying presentation and left a message. I’m somewhat confident that she will call me back.