Alyssa Vera Ramos is an educator and theatre artist in Chicago with an emphasis on social justice work. Alyssa is the Chicago Media Corps Coordinator and youth group leader for the teen artist-activists of Scenarios USA. She currently teaches creative sexual health, conflict resolution, and media literacy at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health with the FYI Performance Cadre. As a teaching artist focusing on collaborative skills, ensemble-created theatre, and arts integration, Alyssa engages youth across Chicago with Urban Gateways, Auditorium Theatre, and Northlight Theatre, among others. She is currently devising and directing THE BARRIO PROJECT, with a focus on teens' relationship to gang violence, with teens at The Miracle Center / Center Theatre. In 2014-15, Alyssa directed and developed a social practice theatre project about youth sexual assault and cyberbullying, The Scarlet 'S' Project Presents: I AM THE RAT, as an Individual Artist Grant recipient from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (DCASE) and from 3Arts. Alyssa is also a member of the newly formed women of color theatre collective, FEMelanin. She is a rape crisis counselor and medical advocate for Rape Victim Advocates. Alyssa holds a Bachelor's Degree in Theatre from Northwestern University and a Certificate in Sexuality Education from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. www.alyssaveraramos.com
Why are you interested in this Teach-In Series?Sexuality can be a very personal and even private topic with which individuals have myriad experiences. Often, much of that experience - even, and sometimes especially, if that experience is based in learning - is steeped in shame. I do not wish to expect students to leave those experiences "at the door," yet quick class period-length sections of time are challenging spaces in which to begin to heal, or even manage, trauma and deep shame. My Scenarios USA Media Corps students have shared stories with the group about their friends who practice self-harm or have committed suicide; sisters who have experienced sexual violence in their relationships; families who actively do not support their non-"normative" gender expression or trans identities. My students act like "troopers," yet my relationship to them as a close adult ally and even chosen family leads me to want to serve them better if I can, especially as personal storytelling is involved in the program. One of my students at The Miracle Center was late because of culture wars - and they said, and meant, wars - that crackled and burst at their school one afternoon. With our play adaptation project, we are tackling violence that no young person has voiced having experience with; yet many are connected to sites of harm and trauma (whether that be gang violence, divorced parents, a parent in jail, etc). To me, treating the project solely as a play feels not only irresponsible and naive, but unjust to the students. I can articulate these truths, yet often come up short on ways or tools to help me support and meaningfully process these experiences with my students. As a teaching artist, though I work within larger organizations, there are few opportunities to spend substantial amounts of time with colleagues grappling with these questions. Addressing harm - whether interpersonal, historical, systematic - and engaging in a process of healing, can often slide into "lofty ideals we unfortunately must sacrifice." I hope that this Teach-In Series will offer me strategies and an engaged community network as I learn how to better support the young people I work with, and help them to support each other while finding their own paths.