Emerald Waters is a 19 year old senior at The Met High School in Providence, RI. The Met is a Big Picture Learning school centered around project-based learning and internships tailored to each student’s unique interests. From the very beginning of her high school career, Emerald has always been deeply passionate about finding ways to educate her peers about sexual health and wellness. She generously agreed to talk with us to share some of her personal and educational experiences as a young Rhode Islander. When asked about her hobbies, Emerald said she enjoys, “…wandering around thrift stores, watching every episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race at least twice, and debunking sexual health myths in casual conversation.”
Going to an alternative high school like The Met School gives you a lot of flexibility in what you are learning and how you learn it. Emerald, could you please briefly explain the type of internships you’ve had and why you are interested in doing this type of work?
I started off freshman year with an interest in theater, but quickly realized that it was more of a hobby than my life passion. I had an interest in sexual/reproductive health since I was young enough to identify menstrual products, and always wanted to pursue it but didn’t know how. After taking the SHAPE program at the Met, that interest returned to the forefront of my attention again. Because this specific field often involves medical privacy matters and I was only a 9th grader, I had to really push to get an internship related to my passion. When I turned 18, I landed, not one but, two dream internships. I volunteered at the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health for their Spring semester and was able to learn from some of the most educated experts in the field of sexuality in our state. The other dream opportunity was becoming an education intern at Planned Parenthood. I have been interning with Planned Parenthood for almost two years now and I love every minute of it. Lately, I’ve been able to create my own lesson plans and give my input on how to make sex ed classes more accessible and relevant to students. I suppose the thing that really drove me to choose a career in sexual education and activism is that while I was growing up, I learned that I could help the people around me by addressing the topic of sexuality without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, and I wanted to use that power for good.
What have been some of your favorite real world learning experiences so far?
I’m blessed to have the connections I do, because without them none of the real world learning experiences I’ve had would be possible. I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is being a peer educator with the STARS (Students Teaching About Responsible Sexuality) program at Planned Parenthood. Not only do I get to pass out condoms and point people towards great sexual health resources, but I also get to go to the True Colors conference in Connecticut this March to facilitate a workshop. Last year, a few other STARS and I did a workshop on Consent, and this year I created my own workshop about LGBT History that I will be facilitating very soon!
In your opinion, what are the most difficult challenges for people your age who want to be socially or politically active? Has there been anything that has helped you overcome such challenges in your own experiences?
I believe that it is really difficult to realize that you have a voice, especially in our current political climate where no matter how much everyone seems to be pushing for change, we just keep falling back. On top of that, once you realize that you do have a voice, you haven’t been equipped with the knowledge on how to use it. However, we are lucky to be living in the rise of Social Media, which has made smartphones into megaphones essentially. I think the two most important things a young activist can have in their toolbox is the guts to speak their mind on social media, as well as find connections with peers, mentors, and organizations that are like-minded in order to propel yourself further.
How has working to educate your peers about sexual health and wellness influenced you personally?
What has been rewarding about doing your work?
I think I have really grown a sense of empowerment through this line of work. Over the years I’ve learned how to advocate for myself and not only stand up for my beliefs but be able to back them up, too! Even more importantly is realizing every now and then how my work impacts people. I’ve seen students become overcome with relief during a class I was teaching because they finally got answers to questions they’ve always had but were never able to ask. I remember when I started a GSA at my school that over 20 students showed up and 2 of them came out for the first time during the first meeting. If what I’m doing helps someone gain knowledge or comfort with themselves that they couldn’t find anywhere else, then I have to be doing something right.