Learning to Listen

This past month Uffizi had the opportunity to spend the week with a number of Westmont Faculty as they sought to engage with various populations and issues within our city. The Exploitation Prevention team had a day’s worth of material to plan and decided to divide the time into three sections—(1) an educational presentation regarding sexual exploitation in Santa Barbara County (2) a spoken-word performance by a survivor of exploitation and trafficking based out of the LA area and (3) a discussion with Community Collaborative members regarding how our community is responding.

Stacy Jewell—a survivor of sexual exploitation and now speaker and leader of the anti-exploitation movement—shared with us her story and her work in the form of a spoken word poem. Though the educational presentation and discussion with community members were crucial pieces in providing a robust picture of the initiative, we were reminded again about the power of art and poetry in engaging both our hearts and minds. After hearing her articulate the pain of her experience and the beauty of her healing, all who heard were unable to walk away apathetic or disinterested. In addition to being reminded of the power of art in meaning-making, we were reminded of the power of a hearing the story from the person who experienced it. Stacy’s story invited us to take a posture of listening prior to one of action. For this we are thankful.

Going forward, the Exploitation Prevention team will look back on that session as a reminder to fight to hear the voices of survivors before assuming that we can predict how best to intervene. We are pushing harder for survivor-led data collection mechanisms and to have survivor input on our upcoming projects.

Go well with the reminder to listen prior to acting, and to humbly accept that our assumptions might be wildly off the mark. We are thankful for grace in our stumbling.