Hired as the new Prevention and Education Coordinator for Project for a Sexual Assault Free Environment (Project SAFE) in March, Joaquin Caro has already overseen huge changes. Formerly a peer educator at California State University Fullerton, a prevention educator with Strength United and an advocate with the LA LGBTQ Center, Caro said they want to shake up the department. To better understand the direction that Project SAFE is headed in, getting to know Joaquin Caro is a must.
Caro said that while they aren’t starting from scratch, their aim is to re-envision the way Project SAFE fulfills its role on campus. This includes changes to the college’s Empowerment Week, a week of programming designed by the Project SAFE office to draw attention to issues of sexual violence on campus.
“My core philosophy is more about care and healing, so a lot of Empowerment Week will be around that,” Caro said. “We’re going to do a workshop around healing with herbs; how can we lean on plants and herbal care as a means of healing. We’re planning for trauma informed yoga and empowerment self-defense as another form a healing as well. I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but I’m adding a new perspective.”
Caro said that they see themselves as holistic. While they appreciate the value that Western mental health practices can provide, they also want to incorporate non-Western practices as different but complimentary methods of healing. According to Caro, the needs of the community are what matter most.
Three months after they joined the college, Caro met Project SAFE’s other most recent hire, Stephani Candelaria. Candelaria said the first thing she noticed about Caro was their energy and passion.
“The summer was a lovely period of downtime for the program to re-envision the role of Project SAFE at Occidental,” Candelaria said. “They brought a lot of excitement and motivation for new ideas like expanding Project SAFE’s traditional programming into an ongoing, yearlong conversation. Since that first week it has been exciting to see a lot of that excitement come to fruition.”
Since Candelaria was hired, she and Caro have become close friends, and both have said they enjoy working with each other as they have gotten to know each other’s quirks.
“Stephani and I talk all the time, which I’m really grateful for. She’s been a really great coworker and friend,” Caro said. “Usually when we first meet in the office, we’re sharing how we’re doing and what’s going on with us generally. Sometimes I’m working in my office and sometimes I’m working at the desk across from Stephani. I just like to feel her near me. The synchronicity of working together is great.”
Caro often navigates a busy schedule, attending advocacy meetings, providing student support and crafting the college’s educational programming. Recently, this has included the expansion of mandatory prevention programs and education training for upperclassmen.
“Depending on the day, I may or may not have supervision with one of my programming assistants (PAs),” Caro said. “Right now, Stephani and I are doing advocacy services, so I may have a meeting with a student to provide advocacy support. From there I could have more meetings with PAs, students to do advocacy work, Devon Sakamoto, Campus Safety or Title IX.”
Devon Sakamoto, the Assistant Dean of Students and Caro’s current supervisor, was one of the first staff members to meet them. Sakamoto said she got to interview Caro and was instantly impressed.
“They brought a passion for the work that stood out in the interview,” Sakamoto said. “They stood out as a person who would really fit in well at Oxy, and also who had really great ideas for growing this department and the resources that they could offer.”
In addition to their work at Project SAFE, Caro has also joined the Bias Education Support Team (BEST), which the college formed to investigate instances of bias not covered by Title IX. According to Caro, an example of an issue covered by BEST would be hate speech: although such speech is protected by law, Caro says the community would still need to address it in order to make future prevention possible.
Sakamoto said that Caro’s views on prevention education struck a chord, as prevention education is a big part of her background as well.
“I am a health educator by trade and have over a decade of experience doing prevention work,” Sakamoto said. “I am a huge proponent of prevention and working on the back end of things to make sure that things don’t happen.”
When Caro can catch a break during the day, they said they love to create and dance to their own playlists. They said they also like to sit outside on the Stewie patio and enjoy their own company. Candelaria said that Caro enjoys walking around campus, familiarizing themselves with the plants and animals. Out of all the things Caro said they do to take care of themselves, they said they especially enjoy meditating.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect mediation experience and that’s why I love meditation,” Caro said. “The point is to remember me and that I’m a priority too. I provide support for everyone, but I need that for myself too. Meditation is my way of holding myself and feeling into what I need so I can address those needs.”
Sakamoto said she thinks Joaquin’s future at the college is bright and has high hopes for them.
“They are a strong leader, they understand the student body, and they understand the topic area of sexual assault prevention, education, and advocacy,” Sakamoto said. “They’re just always approachable, energetic, up for anything.”
Caro said they intend to stay with the college for the foreseeable future, and that they’re primarily focused on their growth.
“I feel like I have certain visions and goals in mind that will take years to do,” Caro said. “I want to see how much I can grow here.”