22 Sep Welcoming our newest BIPOC Faculty Liaison: Onika Henry
Our BIPOC Mentorship Program consists of several components, including one on one mentorship with our BIPOC faculty Liaison, a closed Facebook group specifically for BIPOC students to share their experiences, resources, and questions and twice monthly BIPOC Community of Practice Calls where small group discussion and support are available.
Recently, our creative admin tracy met with Onika to discuss her new position. I asked Onika:
Tell us a bit about you and your journey to SSE.
First there was no way in my wildest dreams that I could have predicted or seen myself working in the field of sexuality and sexual health. In fact, I didn’t even know that one could get a degree in the subject nor did I know it’s something that folx specialise in.
First, I’m not from North America. I live in Tobago, the smaller of the twin island states of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. Right after completing my B.A. in Theatre Arts with Psychology in 2006 at the University of the West Indies, I got a job in the field of Arts & Culture, but soon found myself extremely frustrated with my work environment and left. Knowing I was out of a job and looking for something more fulfilling, a friend referred me to the Tobago HIV & AIDS Secretariat. The position was for an Information, Education and Communications Officer, a far cry it seemed from my training.
However, I took the job, excelled at it and was hooked – helping people have healthy and enjoyable sex lives became my thing!
The more I learned, the more I wanted to know and armed with a thirst for knowledge yet bereft of the necessary financial resources, I went in search of education funding and saw something about the prestigious USA’s Fulbright Scholar Program. Long story short, I wrote my proposal, applied, got in, went to school and came back home with an M.Ed. Human Sexualty, and sexual health education became my life. I didn’t leave my theatre life behind though. I am the cofounder of a performing arts company (Tobago THETA Company) and I incorporate the arts in my sexology work.
In addition to being an educator, I really wanted to be able to do therapeutic and healing work around sexuality. With the help of my wonderful advisor at Widener University in the USA, I found the perfect solution: Sex Coaching with Sex Coach U, created by an icon and pioneer in the field of sexuality, Dr Patti Britton. I received my certification in 2016.
Since becoming a Sex Coach/Clinical Sexologist, I have never stopped looking for ways to make my work more effective and I really felt that I needed to go beyond using only “talked-based” approaches. In 2019, while searching online for body-based techniques to help a client I was having challenges with, I came across ISSSE and there was a course I could do online – Core Course 1. I was elated! I applied, got accepted and there was no turning back! This first course changed my own relationship with sexuality and my body, and turned out to be the missing piece for making my own and my clients’ experiences with sexual healing feel magickal. I just couldn’t stop at the first course.
I’m also planning to use the somatic techniques I have learned with the members of my performing arts company, to support better connections and team work for rehearsals and production as well as deeper understanding of characterisation.
How has the BIPOC mentorship program supported you?
In 2019, I began to focus more on decolonising and anti-colonial work in the field of sexuality. This means I had to address ways in which bodies and cultures of colour were harmed and experienced trauma from the legacy of colonialism. I knew of no one else in the field who was doing this work and having these very uncomfortable and hard conversations, and so the BIPOC programme is a haven for me. The BIPOC scholarship made sure that I had the financial ability to continue to do the training and that was such a relief! I could not have reached this far without it.
This is also a space that can hold so much of the concerns, fears and joys of the BIPOC community, and it is open to those who live beyond North America. Our wisdom, knowledge and skills are honoured and welcomed here. This is a healing and learning space for us, by us. I’m grateful to ISSSE for this.
What excites you about taking on the role of BIPOC faculty mentor?
mesI’m really excited to support and encourage racialised persons on their journey towards certification in Somatic Sex Education/Sexological Bodywork. The field is still dominated by white bodies. So we basically have an “edgy” field or controversial practice led by persons who are not able to create safe enough spaces for the BIPOC community. That feels like a double-edged sword. I’m looking forward to seeing more practitioners and leaders in this work who are persons of colour and by extension, I hope that these graduates are able to make positive changes within their communities and sphere of influence.
What challenges do you see?
I expect there will be differences of opinions and approaches to managing conflict and resolving issues that arise, especially as ISSSE expands globally and gains a more diverse population. The BIPOC community is not a monolith and this is even more so when we consider an international student and practitioner community. At the same time, this excites me, because I’m just learning about generative conflict and this concept fills me with hope about being able to facilitate cultural shifts in how we engage in disputes. I’m hopeful that we can enact restorative and transformative justice in meaningful ways.
How would you like to see the role of BIPOC faculty mentor and the BIPOC mentorship program evolve?
Personally, I would love it if this programme supports ‘research’ of racialised ancestral sexual or erotic practices and then allows BIPOC folx to contribute to curriculum expansion that includes these practices. I also don’t think this is a question I can or should answer at this time. For me, this depends on the needs, desires and wants of the BIPOC community at this time and so I would seek community input on this. I expect that like any great program, it will evolve over time, based on the priorities of the folx it serves.
I know you have been a TEDx Speaker. Tell us a little bit about that talk
I spoke at TEDx Port of Spain in September 2019, just before I discovered ISSSE in fact. My talk focused on recognising Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival (or Mas, as I prefer to call it) as a dynamic repository or container for knowledge, rituals, traditions, modalities, even values and beliefs that our enslaved ancestors left for us. I spoke about Mas as a space for communal and collective joy, that is abundant and overflowing with eroticism, as well as an opportunity for individuals to unfold into a free and authentic self. This communal joy practice allows us to repair damage and disconnections that have been passed on through the generations of people of colour (like dysfunctional patterns, and internalised phobias and isms). The body or embodiment is front and centre and very much celebrated and folx are allowed to be free and to experience catharsis in this event. For me this ‘Mas space’ is a wonderful opportunity to reintegrate and reclaim sexuality and eroticism as part of wholeness and wellness, not just for the individual but for communities. If you’re interested, have a look at this link:
TEDx Link: Reclaiming sexual identity through carnival. | Onika Henry | TEDxPortofSpain
Students can connect with Onika by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Attention: BIPOC Faculty Liaison’ in the subject line.