Project Survive Educators Face the Wrath of Funding Reductions

By Aminah Jalal


Last Fall semester a presentation for Project Survive was offered in my LGBT 10 : Culture and Society class taught by City College Interdisciplinary Studies Instructor, Breana Hansen. The presenter started off with asking a simple question,“What do you believe a healthy relationship looks like?” They then drew an oval on the white board in front of the class and titled it, “Healthy Relationship.” At first students were hesitant in raising their hands, but by the end of the class time the oval was surrounded and littered with two-worded phrases such as, mutual respect, open communication, and boundary setting.


Housed in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, Project Survive is a sexual violence prevention and healthy relationship promotion program initially designed and launched by the current department chair, Leslie Simon, in 1994 with a commitment to social justice and is dedicated to ending power abuse in all forms including personal relationships, social groups, and public institutions.


According to studies retrieved from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, despite the statistics showing one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. 


Reasons for under reported sexual assaults were found to be that many women do not characterize their sexual victimization as a crime for a number of reasons such as, not wanting to define someone they know who victimized them as a rapist, embarrassment, not clearly understanding the legal definition of rape, or because they blame themselves for their sexual assault.


In their community, students of all genders are trained to be peer educators and make classroom presentations throughout the college to offer students strategies for identifying, avoiding, and leaving abusive relationships. With this training is a focus on broadening their academic goals through a concentration on sexual violence prevention education.


Simon originally decided to found the program after seeing rape prevention programs running in the 4-year college UC system in which they had volunteers to help facilitate the program. She noticed the peer educators were merely volunteers who did not get paid for their work and time put into the program. Simon made sure students who went through the time and effort in order to be peer educators were paid.


“During the program piloting in 1993, there were only two peer educators. We put up some posters and put together some meetings and tested it out,” Simon said. “And, with the help of some funding from Associated Students, we were able to pay them for their work.”


Simon was set to make sure full-time students who went through the 6-unit requisite courses and worked to present as a peer educators were paid in her program. Aside from on-campus presentations, students of this program have the ability to dive more into this field of work by aiming for a Sexual Health Educator certificate to expand the academic aspect of healthy relationships and layers of sexual assault further. This way, students are able to turn this part-time, paid, on-campus job into a career in which they can bring this knowledge learned at City College back to their community.


Project Survive is a loving and supporting community which supports students aside from just academics. While the program was initially founded on the idea that paid jobs are important for students, the program has grow to be more of a community than just a program.

Resources and events held aside from academics make Project Survive more of a community than just a program.


For example, Project Survive’s healing trauma events typically were designed to take place three times through each semester with one at the beginning, middle, and end. These healing events included experts coming in with different healing modalities including writing, movement, and laughter. These series of healing events are specifically about healing from both historical and individual trauma so that levels and layers of different forms of trauma and strategies to heal are explored and not just individual traumas.



Former coordinator of the Healing and Mentorship Program Maggie Harrison, along with other coordinators of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program such as Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin of the African American Studies and former Chair Trinity Ordoña of the LGBT Studies help to develop the state designated funded equity project Healing and Mentorship in their community of survivors which included the Project Survive Program as well as the series of Healing and Trauma events.


State designated funds for communtiy colleges were not supposed to supplant existing programs. When the department was given these funds, they looked at their data to see who are we not serving as effectively when it came to which groups or programs as well as considering what support can be instituted to help them to be equally successful despite all the external factors that come into people’s lives that are stresses outside of the bounds of the classroom and the institution.  


“What we felt like we could make a difference on is how students respond to those stresses that they can potentially more effective strategies to deal with those real stresses of life,” Harrison said. “So the idea was to formalize what we already saw happening informally, the peer mentorship to say we’re going to value this work that students are doing to support one another and pay them.”


They offered their last set of funded events last year in the Spring 2019 semester until their equity funds from the state were cut. Without these funds, the Project Survive community is unable to pay and organize to hire experts to present. Despite this financial obstacle, students leaders of the project survive community have stepped up on their own to do club activities and independently decided to organize the Writing as Alchemy for Healing which will be taking place this semester on March 12.


“It was profound that they are committed to continue to offer that,” Harrison said. “It was certainly a blow when the funding got cut. But to hear that our students like these events were valuable enough to them that they want to figure out how to continue offering them has been very powerful to hear and also a testament to how strong the peer educator community is. They look out for one another and looking for was to support one another and help one another heal.”


The program’s many layers of events, courses, presentations, and resources give students the opportunity to learn more about what a healthy and intimate relationship looks like and how to prevent and heal from exposure to sexual violence in an open space.


“It allows room for discussion folks usually wouldn’t have outside of the program’s space,” Carpenter said. “It showed me how powerful it can be for there to be conversations opened around these topics with an intergenerational dialogue. The program was very influential to me. It’s what made City College really stand out as special and unique.” 

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