ASCA18: Lessons from Tarana
It was the final day of the American School Counselor Association annual conference in Los Angeles and the auditorium was abuzz as school counselors from around the world found their seats and waited in anticipation to hear from Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. By sharing her personal story, Burke provides reminders and lessons to school counselors about the work we do to support students especially those coping with trauma and sexual assault.
Lesson 1: Focus on the Work.
Burke acknowledged the ‘noise’ around the #MeToo Movement. The ‘Hollywood’ treatment the movement has received. The debate over who founded the movement. She called these things distractions from the actual work. Burke challenged us to think about the people behind the hashtag, behind the movement and change the conversation to focus on those people. To focus on the work. Just as it was for her, many of us come to the work we do because we are the work. Burke’s own sexual assault history is what pushed her to be a support for girls and women who have survived sexual assault just as many school counselors are driven to the work based on their experiences, both positive and negative, with counselors throughout their school careers. Burke reminded us that when we focus on this work we have been drawn to, we are focusing on the people who are in need of healing.
Lesson 2: The work is about prevention and healing.
Burke guided us that just as much as our work should be about prevention, it should also be about healing. As school counselors, our prevention work is essential because as Burke reminded us, early intervention may save a life. Additionally as important is the work of school counselors to help students heal. Burke asked “how many of [our students] have to return to a place where they were harmed? How many of [our students] have to return to a place where they are unsafe? To a community where nothing has changed?” She championed school counselors as the first line of defense for students in a trauma-filled world and reminded us of the important aspects of our prevention and healing work.
Lesson 3: Prevention and healing means a) safety and protection, b) making sure students are heard and seen and c) be an interrupter.
As many of our students have no choice but to return to places and communities of trauma, Burke emphasized that in these spaces we have created [at school], children need to know that they deserve protection and they deserve safety. She supported school counselors in their work to ensure all students have the space, safety, and protection to speak their truth. As Burke recounted she knew her lived experiences mattered and through those experiences she recalls the importance of someone making sure they demonstrated to her, “I see you. I hear you. I’m listening to you.” As school counselors, we provide the space for students to be seen and heard and we are challenged by Burke that even if we cannot end what is happening then we must at least interrupt it. She asked for us to dig deep. To be bold and different. To be an interrupter.
Lesson 4: Young people trust us with their future.
Creating spaces where students are heard and seen. Ensuring students feel safe and protected. Interrupting sexual violence and trauma in all forms. This work that Burke described for school counselors is the same work she practices. Burke shared a story of a young girl who told her of the sexual violence she experienced. While Burke had to direct the girl to find support elsewhere because she did not have the experience to help. She did listen to to the girl which made all the difference as the girl later shared “you were the second person I told what happened to me but you were the first person who believed me.” Focusing on the work of creating spaces where students are heard and seen, ensuring students feel safe and protected, and interrupting sexual violence and trauma in all forms is essential because as Burke directed us “young people trust us with their future.”