AWARE helps students embrace their emotions

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Blaire Sellers (sophomore) and Brandilyn Tebo (senior) are empowering local students to confront their emotions through their new Affirming Workshops About Reclaiming Motions (AWARE) initiative. The program was developed by the two Occidental students in August as part of their interest in spreading emotional intelligence education.

Participants in the workshops learn about distinguishing thoughts from feelings, naming the three elements of emotions and identifying real versus imaginary threats. Tebo and Sellers receive feedback from the students in the program, as well as the administrators of the program, to find where they can improve their curriculum.

The roots of this program began when Tebo studied abroad to South Africa last semester through a service learning program with the Center for International Educational Exchange. In South Africa, Tebo had the opportunity to work in Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa’s highest-security prison, and in a primary school in one of the city’s surrounding townships.

The workshops that Tebo devised abroad centered on how to process negative emotional experience (e.g. shame, fear, guilt, etc.), and how to practice positive emotional practices (e.g. forgiveness, empathy, friendship, etc.) instead.

“Seeing the sort of impact that that had, and the difference on the participants, really inspired me to make the curriculum more available, in a wider context,” Tebo said.

When Tebo returned to the United States, Sellers quickly became interested in the messages her workshops conveyed. The two initially wanted to create a documentary on body image, but eventually decided to focus their efforts on developing a workshop instead. They still plan to make the documentary at a later point.

“Some of our conversations started with the question, ‘What conversations would you have benefited from having at age 15?'” Sellers said. “And we both had certain experiences that we thought would have turned out a lot differently had we had conversations about body image and learning how to deal with fear, guilt, shame. So we wanted to provide an empowering context of workshops to allow students insights into their emotions and empowering actions to deal with them.”

Sellers and Tebo hosted an on-campus workshop with Active Minds on Oct. 7 and are currently teaching weekly workshops to Hands for Hope, an after-school program in North Hollywood, as a pilot program. They have taught about four workshops so far this semester at the after-school program and have developed their own curriculum. According to Sellers, they hope to teach these workshops in middle schools or high schools next semester. Currently, they are looking to teach workshops at Star Academy, an alternative school in Culver City.

In the long-term, Tebo’s goal is to make these workshops and related conversations more broadly accessible.

“My goal is to create a web-based platform where all these workshops are housed, so all of the conversations and all of the corresponding workshops and creative therapy techniques can be accessed from this website,” Tebo said. “So anybody that wants to go in to a community and teach this emotional intelligence curriculum can access this off of the website and customize it to their needs.”