Community: Meet the Gender-Oriented Violence Awareness & Advocacy Club

Interviewer: Ashley Liang & Freya Gulamali; August 22, 2020

Interviewees: Aakanksha Deb, Alessio Tosoloni, Tanvi Adhikari, Shreya Challa, & Aparna Krishnan

GOVAA works to spark students' interest in activism and set up essential products in schools (The Conversation).

Can you tell us a little bit about why yourself and why you decided to join GOVAA?

AAKANKSHA: Hi, I’m Aakanksha Deb. I’m a senior at Interlake High School and co-president of GOVAA. I decided to join GOVAA because I wanted to learn more about social activism and ways that I could make a difference in my community. I felt that GOVAA was an amazing way to not only educate myself but help to educate others about important social issues.

ALESSIO: My name is Alessio and I’m a rising senior at Interlake High School. I am currently the co-president of GOVAA and last year I was secretary. I first heard about GOVAA in 2018, a week or two after the Parkland Shooting. At that point, I was not involved in political activism in the slightest, but the shooting inspired me to start a letter drive. When looking for help, the principal referred me to GOVAA, so I decided to attend one of their meetings. I fell in love with the GOVAA community and the rest is history.

TANVI: I’m Tanvi Adhikari and I’m a senior at Interlake High School. I am the secretary of GOVAA. I joined GOVAA because I wanted to become more educated on social issues in my community and I wanted to learn how to be an ally to those who are most impacted by these issues. I learned a lot about significant social issues and how I could create an impact in the world around me.

SHREYA: My name is Shreya Challa and I’m a senior at Interlake High School and the treasurer of GOVAA. I decided to join GOVAA because I wanted to find more ways to inform myself about the issues happening in our community and how I could be involved in helping others. Through GOVAA, I was able to learn about issues that affected members of my community and also gave me a safe place to share my experiences as well.

APARNA: My name is Aparna and I’m a rising senior at Interlake High School. I am currently the Community Advocate for GOVAA. I heard about it in 2018 from a friend, and joined just to see what it was about. I wasn’t really into politics or activism at the time, but when I went there, it was a super welcoming environment and I learned so much! GOVAA definitely sparked my interest in activism, and I hope that it will have as much of an impact on others at it did on me!

I have seen your GoBoxes around school, and I found that to be such a valuable contribution to the Interlake Community. How does your organization seek to maintain support, both material and social, to the Interlake Community in the face of physical separation?

SHREYA: The GoBoxes help students throughout Interlake by providing them with a box full of essential products and resources without having to interact with any of the faculty or students. However, because of COVID we weren’t able to directly provide these resources to students who needed it. We are currently planning to conduct essential product/ food drives for students who need it. It is especially important during these difficult times that we help support each other within the community. Socially, we have just finished our annual summer training targeting high schoolers where we spoke on various topics affecting our communities ranging from microaggressions to ICE/ undocumented immigrant rights. We had a couple of speakers from local organizations, LifeWire and Seattle Against Slavery, come in and share their knowledge on domestic violence and human trafficking. Through summer training, we were able to educate ourselves and others and provide different ways high schoolers like ourselves can get involved and help out the community.

"It is especially important during these difficult times that we help support each other within the community."

Another interesting event I recall was the school-wide protest following the Parkland shooting. It is very easy for us as students living in Bellevue, a quite sheltered location, to shy away from controversies in other parts of the nation. What motivated you to rise up in the face of injustice?

ALESSIO: No place is fully sheltered. Although the Parkland shooting happened in Florida, its effects could be felt all over the United States. As a member of GOVAA, I learned that an issue is not about the individual. The injustice that happened in Florida could just as easily happen here. The students who I didn’t know whose lives were in danger could just as easily be my closest friends. By helping others, not only do I know that I’m making a change in the lives of other students, but I am also creating a better future for me and my friends.

I saw that GOVAA’s mission is to empower students to act as courageous bystanders in situations of violence. Previously, you held weekly meetings discussing gender-based violence and intersecting issues. Could you speak more to intersectionality and its role in how your organization carries out its mission as well as give insight into the different topics your organization addresses during weekly meetings?

TANVI: GOVAA’s main goal is to educate others on gender-based and domestic violence. However, there are many other issues that are connected to gender-based violence that we believe people need to learn about. We discuss topics such as sexism, racism, and homophobia in different contexts. We believe that social issues don’t exist independently of each other and that these issues impact each other, creating a complex intersection of oppression. By educating others on different relevant issues, we can work to make a change in our community and help prevent youth in our community from being victims of violence. We dedicated one day of this year’s Summer Training to teach our participants how to use their education to be an active bystander. We believe by starting in our own friend groups and family, we could start using our education to teach others how to be good allies.

"We believe that social issues don’t exist independently of each other and that these issues impact each other, creating a complex intersection of oppression."

When I look at the members of GOVAA and the events that you carry out, I see a student body composed of people from all sorts of backgrounds uniting for a significant impact. Can you speak to the community you found through GOVAA and how GOVAA has impacted you personally?

TANVI: GOVAA has an amazing close-knit community that is slowly growing. We try to create a safe place for people to share their own experiences and discuss their opinions on different social issues. We welcome differing perspectives and are respectful to everyone and their backgrounds. Our diversity makes us a more interesting group of people who have a lot of different experiences and ideas. Everyone is very driven and passionate about creating a difference in the world. Personally, I found a community of people that I feel comfortable being vulnerable around and I made some great friends.

What particularly caught my attention during COVID-19 was your recent and ongoing summer series. What lesson did you most enjoy planning and learning about? Do you think there was something especially important for members of our community to understand or take away from those lessons?

AAKANKSHA: One lesson that I enjoyed planning was the lesson on microaggressions. The lesson covered the different types of microaggressions, their effects on BIPOC, and various ways to address microaggressions when you see/hear them. I felt that this lesson was especially important because many times at Interlake and in my community, racism is presented in the form of microaggressions, rather than outright violent acts. Since microaggressions are small words or phrases, they’re extremely easy to sweep under the rug and cover up if need be. Although they seem small and easy to ignore, their impact on BIPOC is tremendous and causes many problems, such as mental illness and internalized racism, that people may not notice. That’s why it’s important to call them out and explain why the microaggression is not true or a harmful thing to say.

What is the greatest lesson that you have learned since becoming a member of GOVAA?

APARNA: One of the biggest lessons GOVAA taught me is to respect people as individuals, rather than as passing characters in my own story. Individual well-being is essential to help our community grow and thrive. To do this, we learned more about people’s identities, backgrounds, and experiences, even though they were different from mine (especially as a person from a fairly privileged background). It has made a huge difference in my thought process when I approach people, and was certainly an important lesson for me.

"It has made a huge difference in my thought process when I approach people, and was certainly an important lesson for me."

Are there any other messages you would like to share with our audience?

ALESSIO: Progress is not something which can happen overnight. I’m a much better person than I used to be, in large part because I wasn’t scared of making mistakes. GOVAA provided me a safe space to grow as an individual and I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for it. All of this is to say that you will not become a better person if you are scared of making mistakes. As long as you get started and take the first step in the right direction, you will be coming out on the other side a better person.