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Honors Seminars in Action: Amor Sin Violencia Collaboration

Maru Gonzalez is an NC State Assistant Professor, Youth Development Specialist and University Faculty Scholar. She is someone who is passionate about programs that uplift the voices of youth globally.

From leading the #PassTheMicYouth program—which provides a platform for young people through podcasting and blogging—to serving as the co-principal investigator for the Empowering Youth and Families Program, which implements prevention strategies for opioid addiction in rural North Carolina, Gonzalez is a steadfast leader who consistently creates positive change. Honors students enjoy the added benefit that she also teaches a remarkable Honors Seminar for the University Honors Program (UHP), HON 295: “Storytelling for Social Change.” 

Honors Seminars are courses unique to the University Honors Program, often taught by guest faculty from around the university on a topic of particular interest to their work. Storytelling for Social Change is a course that hones students’ ability to think critically about social justice while building political efficacy (i.e., the belief in their capacity to motivate change). Upon completion of this course, Honors students are able to tell moving stories in an ethical way, with the aim of creating awareness and cultivating positive change about issues they care about.

Thus, when Gonzalez was presented with the opportunity to have her class participate in a public awareness campaign with the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, and Te Quiero Sin Violencia (Spanish for “I Love You without Violence”), a Peruvian youth-led organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence, she was overjoyed. 

“The U.S. Embassy in Lima, with whom I’ve worked previously, reached out to ask if I wanted to record a message to send to the youth doing this work,” she said. “I enthusiastically accepted and asked if I could invite 19 students to construct the message with me.”

In a 16-day radio telenovela campaign that focused on crafting and sharing stories to advocate for the end of gender-based discrimination, students were able to find their voice in more languages than one. For some, the campaign provided an opportunity to reflect upon their privilege, while empowering them to use their voice in solidarity with others. 

Jalen Hamptom, a First Year Engineering student who wrote two of the lines featured in the class’ poem, shared: “It made me appreciate my support system a lot more. Having to write the poem and understand who I was writing it for caused me to reflect on the privileges I have being able to live openly as myself around people who accept me for me.”

One might wonder, how do a group of students agree on the lines of such a meaningful piece of work? With impactful leadership, an open mind and dedication to the creative process. 

In describing how the poem, entitled “Amor Sin Violencia,” which translates to “Love Without Violence,” was written, Gonzalez shared: “I gave students a few different sentence stems  like ‘love without violence is…’, ‘love without violence means…’, and ‘I will love without violence by…’.” These prompts encouraged students to reflect upon their personal values, and explore: “What does it mean to love someone without violence?”

Rising to the challenge, as Honors students do, Gonzalez was overwhelmed with meaningful reflections from her students.

“Each student contributed one to four lines,” she said. “I then organized their contributions into a collaborative poem, which I subsequently translated into Spanish.”

Remarkably, the journey doesn’t stop here. Taking it a step further, the students then learned how to say their lines in Spanish, effectively utilizing language to show solidarity. 

Gonzalez described the experience of teaching students to tell stories in another language, saying: “We practiced pronunciation in class and then recorded the poem at the Digital Media Lab at DH Hill Library, where each student read their lines in Spanish. The incredibly generous and talented Library staff edited the recording and added music. The poem was then played in Peru on four different radio stations across four different provinces.”

For Hamptom, this experience taught him how language can be a tool to unite people across cultures. He stated: “It was very empowering. The idea of making a message like that reachable to people who have a language barrier with me just felt right.”

He wasn’t the only one who felt that this act was the right thing to do. Reflecting upon Te Quiero Sin Violencia’s response, Gonzalez stated: “It was neat to see how it all played out and just how well received the students’ message was. The youth and staff from Te Quiero Sin Violencia and the Embassy appreciated the support from students at NC State, especially the fact that students put in the extra effort to record the poem in Spanish and took the time to practice their pronunciation. They really received that as a gift of solidarity. Indeed, language and culture don’t have to be a barrier; they can be a bridge toward greater understanding and, ultimately, a more global impact.”

A global impact was undoubtedly created, with Ed Cox, the Cultural Attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Lima, saying: “On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, we are proud of NC State students for their commitment to addressing gender-based violence, an issue that impacts millions of people in Peru, the United States, and across the world.”

The poem, in both Spanish and English, can be found below. To watch the extended interview hosted by Te Quiero Sin Violencia that features “Amor Sin Violencia” and Gonzalez, click here

This post was originally published in DASA.