As an active member of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in St. Cloud, Minnesota, alumnus Amy Tran has committed herself to designing the tools essential to providing a substantive education on sexual health and violence to the demographic most afflicted by a lack thereof – young Asian American women. Amy began her involvement with racial justice activism focusing on economic and labor inequality issues during her undergraduate career; however, it was not until her participation in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program in Beijing, China that she was introduced to the intersection between public health and social justice by a colleague with a similar focus. Since her time with CLS in the summer of 2015, Amy has dedicated herself to addressing the cultural stigma of sex and sex education, harmful stereotypes, and mental health issues associated with sexual violence in her community. Not only is Amy an alumna of the CLS program, she also participated in an exchange program to Chongqing, China for a full academic year through the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program.
Although Amy has been the driving force behind the effort to increase sexual health education and awareness of sexual violence in her local AAPI community, it wasn’t until she met Fulbright alumna Kim Walsh-Childers at the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (TIES) in Atlanta, Georgia on “The New Frontiers of Global Health” that she was able to bridge the gap between research and action. The Alumni TIES that Amy participated in is one of 3 seminars that have taken place in the United States. Other U.S. Alumni TIES include the “Intersections: Climate Change, Global Affairs, and the Digital Age” in Silicon Valley, California and “Education for All: Inclusion and Access as Pathways to Peace” in Portland, Oregon. Alumni TIES also take place regionally across the globe on a variety of topics from “Preparing for a 21st Century Economy” in Casablanca, Morocco to “Energy for All” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. These seminars provide exchange alumni the opportunity to network and collaborate with one another, to become educated on key issues affecting their region, and to receive training on tools useful to implementing community engagement projects that they have developed. As part of their participation in these seminars, alumni have the opportunity to apply for small grants of up to 10,000 dollars to fund projects like Amy’s. which make a positive impact on communities. These small grants are designed to encourage creative thinking and collaboration of alumni to implement lasting change in their communities through unique projects and initiatives.
Amy’s project was inspired by a study conducted by her local chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), which found that 100% of Asian women who had been sexually assaulted on college campuses felt they were targeted due to race, whereas 0% of white women surveyed felt that their race was a factor in their assault. These statistics motivated her to address the serious problem of sexual violence in her local AAPI community through organizing a weekend retreat focused on equipping Asian American girls aged 14-18 with the skills necessary to address sexual violence and to engage in the effort to de-stigmatize sex in the AAPI community. In partnership with Kim, who has background in sex in the media and has studied the rise in sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates in high schools in her county of residence in Florida, she was able to add a research study component to the retreat which will provide a means to assess the effectiveness of the retreat through focus groups and pre and post-retreat surveys.
The retreat entitled, “I’m With You: Empowering Young AAPI Women to Stop Sexual Violence” was held in St. Cloud, Minnesota in June 2017 and will be followed by a reunion in September. Beyond the weekend retreat, Amy hopes to inspire change in her community by advocating for safe spaces where girls can express themselves without fear of judgment or punishment and to be challenged to think critically about their actions and words. Amy remarks, “In doing so, we provide these girls with agency – the ability and freedom to let the girls pursue their ambitions and become their best selves.”