UNSILENCE ACTION PROJECTS
8 PHASES of
BEFORE YOU UNSILENCE...
...it's important to understand the concepts of "silencing" and "unsilencing."
Secrets is comprised of interactive stories, based on real events, that introduce these concepts and illustrate how institutional silencing, cultural silencing, and personal silencing create social taboos.
◆ How might we define institutional silencing, cultural silencing, and personal silencing?
◆ How do institutional silencing, cultural silencing, and personal silencing connect and overlap?
◆ Why are some injustices more difficult to talk about than others?
1. NAME TABOOS
◆ What issues of social injustice does your community find difficult to talk about?
◆ What kinds of conversations make you feel embarrassed or nervous?
◆ Which local, national, and global issues are hard for your community to face head on?
◆ What do you wish you could talk about openly?
◆ How does it feel to be silenced? How does it feel to witness silencing?
2. IDENTIFY BARRIERS
◆ What prevents your community from having certain conversations?
◆ What specific institutional barriers, cultural barriers, and personal barriers prevent your community from talking about these issues?
◆ How do these forms of silencing make you feel?
3. EXPLORE HUMAN RIGHTS
Use our summary of "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (UDHR) to identify where your community taboos fit within International law.
◆ How do the taboos and barriers you identified fit within our understanding of human rights?
◆ Do the taboos and barriers you identified fit under multiple Articles in UDHR, or just one single Article? What does this tell us?
◆ Why are so many people unable to name all the rights in UDHR?
◆ What is most surprising about UDHR?
◆ How does UDHR change how you think about injustice?
◆ How does UDHR change how you think about your community and its taboos?
◆ How does learning about UDHR make you feel?
◆ Why is UDHR a promise that remains unfulfilled?
4. RESEARCH ROOT CAUSES
◆ What taboo social issue or injustice (or set of issues) do you care about?
◆ As you conduct research on your chosen issue, a focus will emerge. What specific aspect of this social issue will you focus on, and why?
◆ Why should we care about this particular issue? Why is this issue important?
◆ What is the history of this social issue? What events in history are connected to this issue? How can history help us grasp what people are experiencing today?
◆ What urgent questions do you have about your social issue? What do you need to know and understanding about your issue?
◆ What must change in society, and why? What is needed, and why is it needed?
◆ Who are the stakeholders? (i.e., who are the people affected by this social issue?) What do they need? What do they want? And what specific assets do these stakeholders have? Are they motivated to find a solution? Do they have great networks and social supports?
◆ How does what you find make you feel?
◆ What existing data may explain why your chosen injustice persists?
◆ What are the key statistics, studies, and public reports about your social issue? What do those studies say? What evidence do we have that this social issue is a problem worthy of our attention?
◆ What do government reports and nonprofit reports tell us about this issue? What do these reports not address?
◆ Are there real-life stories or testimonies you can find that will provide insight into your chosen issue?
◆ What programs already exist that address this social issue? You don’t want to “reinvent the wheel"; what gap needs to be filled?
◆ What data can you collect to help you dig deep into this specific taboo?
◆ How do the people around you perceive this issue?
◆ What do social workers, teachers, and other professionals think about this issue?
◆ What are the burning, unanswered questions you have about your issue? What key information on your issue are being kept out of sight?
◆ During this research phase of your Unsilence Action Project, you should avoid finding solutions (for now).
◆ As you identify your stakeholders (the key people who care about your issue), you should avoid deciding on your program’s main audience.
◆ Allow these elements to emerge as you conduct your research. At this stage, keep an open mind about what your final design will look like.
5. DESIGN INTERVENTIONS
◆ Based on your research, what does your community need in order to break the taboos that prevent you from talking about important issues?
◆ Who is your audience? What do they need? What do they want? How many people do you hope to reach?
◆ What are your specific goals? What specific skills do you want your participants to walk away with? What do you want your participants to learn? In what logical sequence will you achieve your goals?
◆ How will you measure what participants have learned? How will you know if your program has been successful?
◆ What is your program? What do you need to design? How do elements of your program help you achieve your goals?
◆ What is your timeline for designing your program?
◆ What community rules or policies do you need to follow? What best-practices should you follow?
◆ Where will your program take place?
◆ What is your timeline for program implementation?
◆ Who will facilitate your program? What qualifications or skills will they need? How will you ensure they are fully prepared to lead difficult conversations? What training will they need?
◆ What resources do you need? How will you secure these resources?
◆ What implementation supports do you need? What professionals need to be present throughout your program?
Preparing for Implementation
◆ Who will manage your project once it's started? How and how often will your implementation team communicate? What will you do if conflicts arise?
◆ What known challenges will you face?
◆ What are the potential pitfalls of your design? What are you feeling nervous about?
◆ How will you promote your program? What happens if nobody signs up? What will you do if nobody shows up?
◆ How will you prevent attrition? How will you keep your participants fully engaged?
◆ As you go along, how will you record what you learn and keep track of improvements and changes that will need to be made?
◆ How will you prevent burn-out amongst your team? How will you keep yourself engaged and excited about this project?
◆ How will you support participants' emotional responses? How will you support facilitators' emotional responses?
6. IMPLEMENT SOLUTIONS
A Few Ideas for Unsilence Action Projects
◆ Workshop series
◆ Lunchtime discussion group
◆ Breakfast support group
◆ Poster campaign, supported by workshops
◆ "Courageous Conversations" skills training for students
◆ Training for teachers and administrators
◆ After-school club
◆ Book club for students and parents
◆ Create a video, accompanied by a workshop series
◆ Slam poetry workshops and culminating event
◆ Community service project
◆ Film festival, accompanied by workshops
◆ Community dialogue events
◆ Social justice concert
◆ Interactive art installation or exhibition
◆ Field trip series
7. EVALUATE PROGRESS
Content coming soon
8. PLAN FUTURE ACTION
Content coming soon
◆ Stay up-to-date your community's "disclosure" policies. If someone chooses to share a personal experience of abuse or violence, help them get the right support.
◆ Communicate with community social workers and counselors in advance about the upcoming program, to let them know that community members may need support.
◆ Make sure facilitators are prepared. Facilitators can't prepare for everything, but they can read up on topics in advance and reflect on their own emotional responses to different taboo topics.
◆ Never put pressure on someone to share private information or a personal experience.
◆ Remind the group to always assume there's at least one person in the room who has direct experience with each social justice topic.
◆ If a participant shares something personal with the group, always thank them.
◆ Whenever there's an awkward moment, acknowledge the discomfort. It's okay to make a light joke about the awkwardness. This will help to break the taboo even further.
◆ Avoid competitions of victimhood (e.g., "my issue is worse than yours"); pain is pain and we cannot compare suffering.
◆ Help the group see that there's no "right" emotional response to an issue; any emotional response, including a combination of responses and even no response, is valid and normal.
◆ Help participants see that, as long as everyone has good intentions, it's okay to make mistakes and it's okay to say something in the wrong way; we're all learning.
◆ Remind participants that talking openly - with a trusted friend or trusted adult - is a reflection of strength.
◆ Throughout a program, give participants time and space to reflect, alone and with each other.
◆ As you talk about difficult topics, news stories and references to TV shows and movies may arise; take time to acknowledge what is often sensationalized or over-simplified.
◆ Promote a culture of honesty, openness, and no judgement of others; everyone is different.
Before Sharing Difficult Texts
◆ Prepare the group for what they might experience. You might say, "We're about to watch a documentary clip about mass-incarceration. What do you expect to see? How might that make you feel?" This will minimize unnecessary shock.
For more on how to manage emotional responses to violence and injustice, check out Oxygen:
After exploring the concepts of silencing and unsilencing, 9th grade students name “transgender rights” as a taboo issue that is affecting members of their community (different communities identify different issues based on what is prevalent, marginalized, and taboo to them). The students work with their classroom teacher to identify barriers - personal (e.g., fear of exclusion), cultural (e.g., parents and teachers don’t know how to talk about trans experiences), and institutional (e.g., school doesn’t recognize gender identities of trans students) - that prevent them from talking about transgender rights.
They begin to explore the issue through secondary research that includes interactive, digital Unsilence Learning Experiences and guided reviews of published literature, research, and NGO reports to learn about trans experiences and the root causes of its silencing. This exploration leads students to understand the trans experiences in the context of human rights. Next, students engage in primary research, which includes interviews, surveys, and concept mapping to better understand both the historical and present-day contexts of transgender rights, as well as connections to other human rights issues.
Now, armed with information, agency, and growing skills in having difficult conversations, students design community-based interventions that serve to unsilence the transgender rights and trans experiences within their community. The students are then ready to implement their solutions (e.g., hosting a weekly lunchtime discussion group with their peers and teachers around trans experiences).
During this entire process, the students and their teachers receive Unsilence Leadership Training, document each phase, reflect on their learning and understanding, and evaluate their challenges, progress, and successes. As the students gain comfort with facilitating difficult conversations around taboo issues, Unsilence supports them to share their work with their community through various events and public speaking opportunities and then plan future action.
Our work at Unsilence builds a foundation for young people, educators, and the public to engage and reflect deeply on how they see the world, to develop empathy for others, and to begin personal and collective healing. Above all else, we elevate young people to be informed and engaged citizens who know how to lead.