When Monica Adams is in the room, you can feel her presence. At only 24, this powerful woman has strength of vision and clarity of purpose you don’t often see in people of any age. For now, Monica turns her attention to the anti-bullying efforts of GSA for Safe Schools (GSAFE). Down the road, though, Monica seems to be on a trajectory to expand her realm of influence as she builds on her experience, passions, and goals.
“I feel like there’s often a gap between mainstream organizations and the communities they serve,” Monica says. “I want to work with allies and use my ability to speak across cultures to facilitate cooperation and communication. I want to address the “isms” that are inherited in those institutions and bridge those gaps.”
Monica was hired in December 2009 by GSAFE to become the Middle School Program Assistant. Executive Director Cindy Crane said the time had come to bring the work of GSAFE into more middle schools, and Monica is the ideal person for the job.
“Monica has a lot of experience engaging with students of color, including those who are LGBTQ. She is bi-cultural and fluent in Spanish. We were looking for someone who could work with middle school students to address bullying, and we were hoping to find someone who was also familiar with LGBTQ youth issues if possible. That was a lot to a find in one person,” Cindy says.
“A number of professionals understand LGBT issues and many understand youth, but of those people not everyone is specifically familiar with LGBT youth issues.” Cindy says, “Monica really understands all those issues, plus she brings a deeper bicultural experience to the youth.”
Bystanders to Allies Program
“Bullying is a huge problem in middle schools. We recognize that being bullied affects a student’s sense of safety, academic achievement, and tendency to participate in high-risk behavior,” she says.
GSAFE encourages just this kind of positive peer pressure in area schools. Brian Juchems, GSAFE’s program director, has successfully used a program called Bystanders to Allies (b2a) to address bullying in Madison middle schools, with funding from the Madison Metropolitan School District. Through b2a training, students find their own power in naming bullying and being an ally to those harassed, so the entire burden of dealing with harassment doesn’t fall on the target.
Funding the Position
GSAFE relies largely on individual donations to operate and fulfill their mission to make schools safer for LGBT students and all youth. Monica’s half-time position is funded by a three-year grant from the Queer Youth Fund.
With a new staff person, GSAFE would like to extend their trainings and consultation beyond Madison. They also would like to extend their outreach to LGBTQ students of color in middle and high schools and be available to students and parents who only speak Spanish.
Getting to Work
Monica hopes to improve the services offered to underrepresented youth through her work with GSAFE.
“GSAFE does remarkable work,” Monica says. “I’ll be doing anti-bullying work, but I don’t want youth to just get this programming in the schools—the youth we need to be reaching don’t stay after school. I want to make the space for these young people to self-determine and do the work.”
Timothy Michael, GSAFE Program Assistant, says, “Monica’s incredible with the students. She can meet them where they are and affirm what they’re going through while helping them grow and be the best they can be.”
Monica is prepared to build bridges and open doors in the middle schools and within the communities of color to bring the tools to overcome bullying to more students.
“It’s important to build that relationship and do the work in a way that is meaningful, fulfilling, and sustaining for the communities I’m serving,” she says. “My first months at GSAFE will be focused on outreach—going to local community centers that may not already access the service. I want them to view GSAFE’s programming a serious tool to support the work they’re already doing and view GSAFE as a genuine, necessary resource.”
Editor Note: Monica left GSAFE in 2014. She now lives in Milwaukee.