A presentation on Tuesday evening given by Kimber Nicoletti-Martinez, MSW, LCSW and director of the Multicultural Efforts to End Sexual Assault (MESA) program at Purdue University, marked the beginning of events and workshops held at Goshen College for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The presentation entitled “Inviting Everyone to the Table in Sexual Prevention Work” was held in the Umber Center. The event was sponsored by PIN, GSWA, Student Senate and Student Life.
For over 20 years, Nicoletti-Martinez has been an advocate of social justice for migrant farm workers, Latinx immigrant communities and other marginalized populations. As the founder and director of MESA, Nicoletti-Martinez focuses on preventing sexual violence and child sexual abuse in these communities.
Drawing from her own background as a farm worker and survivor, Nicoletti-Martinez found it in herself to follow her compassionate and helping heart and to do something that would help others who have suffered.
“My heart is overly compassionate,” she said. “If I could help one person not suffer, just one person, then it would be worth it all for me.”
Nicoletti-Martinez’s invitation to Goshen College started with a short introduction and warm welcome by Kendra Yoder, associate professor of social work, and social work student Josefina Castillo.
Nicoletti-Martinez greeted and engaged the audience throughout the presentation with lighthearted narratives about herself and her experiences with developing relationships with different communities.
Nicoletti-Martinez’s presentation was framed around the conversation of sexual violence prevention work and the idea of inviting everyone to the table. She explained that her work with MESA was based on working with underserved and marginalized populations.
She wanted a program where everyone could be invited to the table and have a voice in a meaningful way. The acronym MESA also means “table” in Spanish.
Nicoletti-Martinez also talked about the relationships she has developed throughout her career with numerous diverse communities. She then asked, “How do you work ending sexual violence across communities that you don’t have any membership in?”
Her answer was that you “have to drink a lot of coffee” and sit down at the table to talk with people.
She then talked about cultural competence and explained that there is no real form of it. Culture is fluid because “we all have different lenses that we see through life,” said Nicoletti-Martinez.
Cultural humility, a lifelong process where people let go of biases and generalizations, is what she thinks is necessary to develop relationships with communities that we are not a part of.
The principles of cultural humility, which are lifelong learning, recognition and the challenging of power imbalances, and institutional accountability help people understand that sexual violence is not an individual problem, but rather a social and systemic problem that is built into institutions and societies.
The audience also participated in a partner activity that revealed the idea of people having different layers that cannot be seen by just looking at them. Nicoletti-Martinez explained that this is how culture is for people because everyone belongs to different lenses and aspects of culture, which can impact how they move around the world.
The audience was then asked by Nicoletti-Martinez the question of who is underserved and how do they know that they are underserved. She explained that, for every community, the answer to this question is different as well as the challenges for including them in the table conversation.
Nicoletti-Martinez explained the importance of first understanding how everyone is defining sexual violence.
“Before you address anything, you have to start where people are,” she said. “There is no competence. There’s only humility and honor.”
Nicoletti-Martinez ended her presentation by encouraging the audience to gather together and rise to the occasion to realize that sexual violence is not an individual problem, but a problem that is ingrained in societies and communities.
“If we really want to have healthy communities, it requires that we care about everyone having a healthy community. We’re all interconnected,” she said. “There’s enough love and heart to go around for everyone. There’s no need to exclude groups of people. I’ve seen beauty and goodness in every kind of people imaginable.”
This way, Nicolette-Martinez said, we can finally say about sexual violence and abuse, “Basta! That’s enough of that.”