Building a movement for health equity—fall at Peer Health Exchange Chicago

Dear Friends,

As we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month now through mid-October, we were delighted to learn that Miriam-Webster has officially added the word ‘Latinx’ to its dictionary. Like many young people, scholars, advocates, and journalists, Peer Health Exchange already uses the more inclusive term, having taken our lead from young LGBTQ+ Latin American descendants. The dictionary’s latest entry affirms that language—like the concept of identity—is always changing and evolving.

Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, class, ability, religion and all of the intersections of our selves shape our experiences in the world. At Peer Health Exchange, we believe every young person’s identity deserves to be acknowledged and affirmed.

With health equity top of mind, we are constantly striving for better health outcomes for young people by building more inclusive spaces for our students to feel safe and accepted. Through our rigorous training, near-peer educators build meaningful connections, lead open and candid conversations, and provide honest answers to ninth graders about their health. But we also know that to deliver a truly comprehensive health curriculum, recruiting and retaining a volunteer corps who share similar life experiences with students and can advocate for their unique cultural and linguistic needs is important.

In Chicago Public Schools, Latinx students make up nearly 47 percent of the student population, yet Latinx teachers only account for 21 percent of educators.

Having a wide breadth of identities and experiences in the classroom plays a crucial role in fostering connections, building trust and improving learning outcomes. At our partner universities in Chicago, we are working to proactively increase the number of Black and Latinx near-peer educators to better reflect the communities we serve—with the ultimate goal of having 50 percent of our volunteers identifying as Black or Latinx by 2021.

Join us this month and every month in honoring the many contributions and importance of Latinx young people in our classrooms. Also, please help us reach promising volunteers at our partner colleges—UIC, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern—and spread the word about our application process, which closes soon!

In Solidarity,

Danya Rosen
Chicago Executive Director

Dear Friends of PHE,

“I believe you. I am here for you.”

If a young person discloses they’ve survived sexual violence, we need to listen to them and help them access support. With the Kavanaugh hearings happening this week, young people across the country are disclosing and discussing their own experiences, and it’s as important a time as ever to make space for and empower them.

Young people ages 16 to 19 are 3 ½ times more likely to be sexually assaulted. Those numbers are even higher for LGBTQ+ youth and those from communities of color. Already more vulnerable than adults they navigate trauma uniquely. Regardless of age, the impact of sexual assault has lasting effects, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, “rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.”

Amidst all the conversation nationally, I’m reminded why we teach consent—a clear ‘yes’ at every step of sexual activity—to more than 17,000 young people in classrooms across the U.S. Every student has a right to have the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to make healthy decisions about their bodies—and how to treat each other with dignity and respect.

This fall, Peer Health Exchange will welcome hundreds of new college volunteers who join our shared movement towards health equity. By leading workshops in ninth grade classrooms, these near-peer health educators help reinforce each young person’s sense of agency, and build up skills in communication and decision-making. Understanding and supporting consent is essential to ensuring the health and safety of all young people.

Please join me in showing up for young people including survivors by sharing resources, letting them know they’re not alone, or simply listening without judgment.

Interested in learning more? Join us on a workshop visit, or connect with staff or volunteers to learn more.

With gratitude,

Louise Langheier
Co-Founder and CEO

 L-R clockwise: Sana Alnajjar; Claudia Lowe; Max Ackerman; Claudia Debruyn; Michael Martinez; Franc De Guzman; Isra Hasnain; Jyotsna Bitra; Tiff Besana; Angelika Kwak; Dyese Moody; Stella Udoetuk

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