Aline Gubrium, Public Health and Health Sciences, and Betsy Krause, Anthropology, recently won a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation’s Sexuality Research Initiative to launch their “Hear Our Stories” project in collaboration with the Community Adolescent Resources and Education (Care) Center of Holyoke, an alternative education program that serves young women ages 16-21 and their children.
Gubrium and Krause plan four four-day workshops at the Care Center by staff of the California-based Center for Digital Storytelling and staff from WGBY’s “Telling Our Legacies Digitally” beginning in the late summer.
“Hear Our Stories” will focus on young Latinas whose families are shifting or uprooted, who may have gone through the foster care system, been forced out of public education and had difficulty finding an academic home, or who have regularly traveled between Puerto Rico and the U.S. For these young women, “home” and “family” may mean more than one place, one connection, the researchers explain. Many Care Center students have had difficult personal lives that may include partner and gang violence, homelessness and hunger. Existing programs and policies often fail to acknowledge these realities and rarely allow them to tell their own stories, say Gubrium and Krause.
“We will invite these young women to use new media to reveal how they sense and negotiate sexual health disparities, in particular. These young women are parenting in difficult conditions, but that’s not the whole story,” says Gubrium. “We hope to change the rather static conversation on young motherhood and sexuality, health and rights across generations by putting a human face on policy.”
Krause adds, “We expect to hear complicated stories, not all about hardship and the harsh realities of being young mothers, but about rich experiences that observers might not expect. They’ll probably tell more complicated stories than could come out in the mass media, for sure.”
Four UMass Amherst doctoral students will be fully funded as Ford Youth Sexuality Fellowsfor three academic semesters and two summer terms as part of this project. Four master’s level students will be hired as interns to assist with digital storytelling workshops.The fellows and interns will learn cutting-edge sensory ethnographic methods that are translatable to public health research and practice, says Gubrium.
In the four-day workshops, participants will explore expressive writing and discuss the meanings of narrative, image and representation in story circles and learn a variety of digital editing techniques including video and audio software and editing skills. The women will discuss whether they wish to share their video or audio stories only with fellow workshop participants or whether they want to share with the public. All 40 participants will receive a DVD of their story with English subtitles where appropriate.
Gubrium says, “The Ford Foundation is very progressive and we’re thrilled that they are helping us move forward to produce alternative understandings on youth sexuality, and ultimately to shift public conversations and produce more sensitive programs and policies directed at youth.”
She and Krause hope that working with some of the Care Center students might lead to creation of a youth advisory board, with young Latina members not merely as tokens but rather as active agents able to articulate their stories, values and experiences and with a new understanding of how their stories might affect health policy. Krause says, “We’ll also work with a group of young parenting Latinas to develop their capacity as sexual and reproductive rights researchers and advocates as they engage in project-sponsored trainings, workshops, meetings, and conferences.”
Gubrium and Krause also hope to achieve longer-term goals that include building national sexuality research capacity by producing researchers trained to conduct high-quality participatory action research and to translate research findings to multiple stakeholders. They believe this will bring new understanding and produce representations of young parenting women and youth sexuality. Where possible, they will disseminate findings in an effort to transform public conversations and policies related to sexual health and reproductive rights.
“We are enthusiastic about working closely with our project partners to strengthen the team’s strategic communication capacity,” says Krause. She is a cultural anthropologist whose work most often explores the “politics of family making,” especially in the lowest-low fertility context of Italy. Gubrium, a medical anthropologist working in public health, has done research on women’s experiences with long-acting reversible contraception such as Depo-Provera, Photovoice research with Latino youth on parent-child communication about sexuality and ethnographic work on holistic approaches to sexuality education at the Care Center.
Ph.D. students supported through the project will be offered summer internships through the Center for Digital Storytelling, the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. These groups plan to develop and distribute bilingual strategic communications materials as part of this project. The Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program and the Center for Public Policy and Administration will support research and provide training in advocacy and policymaking on family planning, public health and sexual and reproductive justice.
Images: Top, the Care Center in Holyoke. Aline Gubrium (left) and Betsy Krause