DECEMBER 2006 • Issue 2
Stigma exists not just in the world outside our organizations but within them as well.
Our assumptions or lack of information about the incredibly diverse range of people and communities affected by HIV, paired with the shortage of resources that can encourage competition between groups, means that we can find ourselves promoting the stereotypes that can perpetuate the stigma we are supposed to be fighting!
Whether we are talking about “down low” men as perpetrators or “youth who think they are invulnerable” or “women in denial” or “gay men who get all the resources for their own community,” we risk making our own community members and/or our potential allies into one-dimensional cartoons, and fueling the fires of stigma that keep us divided and vulnerable.
There are training resources we can use to start to really see and hear each other, and to move forward as a diverse, united force seeking justice for all. Training for Change, a Philadelphia-based institute that has trained activists around the world, calls it direct education, and has hundreds of tools on their website.
Rather than traditional education, which gives all the expertise to textbooks and teachers, direct
education invites the expertise of the people themselves. Direct education is about liberation and empowerment — going to the direct source of wisdom: the group itself!
Direct education is rooted in experiential or popular education, started by Brazilian educator Paolo Friere — and then adds to it.
Here is an exercise used by the CHAMP Academy, in the tradition of direct education:
What I Want You to Know, What I Never Want to Hear Again: A Listening Exercise
Time: 60 – 120 minutes, depending on size of group
Step 1: The whole group brainstorms a list of “communities” or “groups” that they are a part of. This could include racial or ethnic identities, gender, HIV status, sexual orientation, life experiences (such as people who have been incarcerated) or other groups.
Step 2: If the list becomes long, the facilitator can work with the group to consolidate the list to a shorter list of groups that people would like to be a part of. The facilitator should point out that there is no pressure for people to restrict their lives to one identity or group, but for the purposes of the exercise, people should pick one group that they identify with.
Step 3: Participants should work for 15-30 minutes in groups of 3-8 people to focus on the following questions:
1. What do you want others to know about your group?
2. What do you never want to hear said again about your group?
One person in the group should be the notetaker. There is no need to come to consensus about the answers to the questions, but if there are several answers that really resonate with the small group, that should be emphasized.
Step 4: Each small group reports back to the whole group. At the conclusion of each small group presentation, other participants are invited to “mirror back” what the group has said. This means that they paraphrase what the group has said, not interpret what they have said or add additional questions or information. It is an invitation to show that people are listening, not to enter into a debate or dialogue.
We recommend that the facilitator set several ground rules for discussion during the report-back and after the session ends, including:
• People who are not members of a small group should limit their questions to small group members to “clarifying” questions that help them understand the group’s answer, not that challenges their answers or gives a perspective from someone who was not a member of the small group.
• Members of the small groups may not wish to discuss their answers or engage in dialogue on their answers after the session is over, so people should ask permission of each individual before assuming they would like to have further discussion of their answers.