My Thanks to STAR: A Reflection of an AmeriCorps Member

My name is Sarah Dai and I am a Serve Louisiana AmeriCorps member. I have proudly served at STAR for the past two years, building capacity on the prevention education team. My role as the Community Engagement Coordinator has been to engage college students on campus and engage STAR’s audiences online.

During my time, I have helped establish a STAR-sponsored anti-sexual violence student organization at Louisiana Statue University. I am honored to have had the opportunity to organize at my alma mater and use my past experience as a student organizer. I started my advocacy work with Planned Parenthood and their college affiliate Planned Parenthood Generation Action, facilitating consent talks and organizing weekly table sits distributing condoms and sex education. Tigers Against Sexual Assault, or TASA, is now a registered student organization, dedicated to raising awareness, supporting survivors on campus and creating lasting change on campus. 

Even as schools shut down, TASA stayed active and held an online Q&A session for students. In response to the U.S. Department of Education’s finalized changes to Title IX regulations, TASA attended meetings with the LSU Title IX Coordinator. Together with other student organizations, they were able to obtain an agreement that LSU will keep the preponderance of evidence standard in Title IX investigations instead of the clear and convincing standard that schools have the option to uphold. The clear and convincing standard holds survivors to a higher burden of proof than their perpetrators, while preponderance of evidence puts respondents and complainants on an even level of burden of proof. I am so proud of their accomplishments and for their future! 

During my service, I had the opportunity to use my visual communication skills and to build upon my portfolio of video and graphic design experience. STAR gave me creative freedom to utilize new social media tools like IGTV and IG stories and to create social media campaigns, such as the video series Teal Talk Tuesdays and the staff spotlight during the holidays #ThanksForGiving. I got to use my graphic design skills to design educational flyers like the Healthy Sexuality and the promotion for the new youth website STARt Here. As we pivoted more to online outreach and online educational efforts, I’ve created more interactive, on-trend content that highlighted the STAR staff, such as #quarantinepets, #quarantinehobbies, and #STARMasksUp IG stories.

As I leave STAR, I leave feeling confident in my knowledge of sexual violence and my ability to give support for sexual trauma survivors. After facilitating STAR workshops for college students, I am better equipped to take the lead for meetings and discussions. STAR has aided my growth not only professionally but personally. STAR integrates self-care into its onboarding policies and overall work culture, which has helped me learn about my needs, boundaries and how to practically take care of myself (see STAR’s Coping with Compassion Fatigue workshop.) As someone who is shy and admittedly uncomfortable with conflict, I am growing more comfortable with conflict, viewing it as a healthy part of life and as an opportunity to grow (see STAR’s Building a Positive Conflict Culture workshop.) The nature of this work inherently forces you to reflect inward. I am better able to advocate for others and for myself because of STAR.

I also owe a great deal of gratitude to Serve Louisiana. Serve Louisiana has given me the opportunity to develop my leadership and community organizing skills. As Corps members, we work together to put on monthly educational meetings. We learn to facilitate these meetings and discussions while networking with prominent figures in the area. Each meeting we dive into a topic, such as food access or housing, and learn our city’s history and current issues within the topic. I had lived in Baton Rouge for four years before my service and it was not until I joined Serve Louisiana that I felt like I was a part of this city. 

I learned about Baton Rouge’s rich and troubled history, which feels more pertinent than ever in the new nationwide surge of support for Black human rights, Indigenous human rights and support for other marginalized groups. Through Serve Louisiana, I connected with other lively, active citizens of Baton Rouge, who have already been doing the work to create change. Together Baton Rouge is an exemplary example, who I had the privilege to learn under during an Industrial Areas Foundation organizing training session. I learned about power as a concept, the power behind the relationships we build and the power we hold as citizens who can organize. These are skills and knowledge that we all should have if we are to enact institutional change and better our local communities. 

As we continue on into more uncharted territory of a pandemic-stricken world, I recommend a service year to anyone who is looking for direction in their life and who wants to make a positive difference in their community. Serve Louisiana is a great AmeriCorps program that helped me move forward professionally and feel like a part of the Baton Rouge community. Reach out today if you’re interested.

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