On “What’s Bahiyyih’s Title Again?” and Playing Well with Others

Bahiyyih Young serves as STSM's Underserved Survivor Advocate and Outreach Project Coordinator. In this post, Bahiyyih shares a little bit about her day to day work and what that long title really means. Bahiyyih studied psychology and theatre as an undergraduate at USC, holds an educational specialist’s graduate degree in Marriage, Couples, & Family Counseling from USC, and has experience serving youth in foster care, at-risk youth & families, students in higher education, and individuals with disabilities.
They call me the Underserved Survivor Advocate & Outreach Project Coordinator. While I provide crisis intervention services to any and all survivors, my job is to focus on serving what we here at STSM call underserved survivors. If you are a person living in Richland, Lexington, Sumter, or Newberry counties who could be identified as any color other than “white,” are financially struggling (like most of us), lives in the country, has a disability, are an LGBTQI person, are a military service person, and/or are male, you are, statistically speaking, underserved. It’s also my job to plan and execute trainings about serving underserved survivors of sexual trauma for other service providers in the area and to do outreach to underserved communities to connect them with our services, provide education, and serve as a resource.

Simple, right?

I’ll be honest—it was overwhelming to think about when I first started here at STSM. It continues to be overwhelming. Frankly, the Midlands community is quite diverse, and part of my role here at STSM is to strive to be sure that we are reaching all residents of the Midlands—ALL of them—and providing our services in a culturally competent way.

“What do you mean ‘culturally competent’?” you might ask.

Google will give you 2 definitions of the word culture in its noun form. The first one is the one you’re probably thinking of right now. Culture is, “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” I think that the second definition is actually more illustrative. It comes from biology. Culture is also, “the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients.”

I can hear you from here. “What the heck do bacteria and tissue cells have to do with interacting with different people, Bahiyyih?!”

Everyone knows about the first definition. Visit any cultural fair ever, and you can eat delicious foods, see beautiful pieces of art, and enjoy the music and maybe even dancing of people from around the world. Certainly these aspects of culture are important and to be appreciated, but they do not, however, tell you much—if anything—about how to understand where someone else is coming from, let alone how to interact with them, especially when they are healing from trauma.

Let me explain. I talked to my mother on the phone almost every day of her life. I didn’t do this because she made me or because I couldn’t make decisions about my life without her. I did this because I liked talking with her, because that level of closeness felt normal. She was not a “helicopter parent.” She was a Middle Eastern mother. In her culture, and in many other cultures around the world (including some folks right here in Columbia), this kind of pattern is normal. It was nothing for me to share the most intimate details of my life with my mother. I was never good at keeping secrets from her, and I'm serious. We talked ALL. THE. TIME.

I know Middle Eastern families in which adult children live in their parents’ homes, never moving out even when they marry and begin to raise families of their own. Western culture would say that the kids were clingy, unwilling to grow up, and dependent on their parents. They would describe the parents as domineering, overly indulgent, or stifling. These families, like all other families, are not perfect, but it is culturally appropriate for them to stay close to home and maintain the close family ties that many who, for example, grew up in the Shandon neighborhood in Columbia, SC may feel are inappropriately close. These children work jobs, live lives, make decisions, and do so with a culturally acceptable level of independence. It's not that other families aren't close or that only the children of Middle Eastern moms call their moms every day. It's just that close doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.

Cliché as it might be, people are different.

Let’s go back to our bacteria and tissue cells.

I like that definition of culture because it tells you more about what culture really is. We are each a bunch of cells grown in a medium—or, defined loosely, an environment—of nutrients. We didn’t all grow in the same medium. Some mediums were louder, darker, smaller, more dangerous, more openly affectionate, more respectful, had more money or less money… the list could go on and on. The point is that the medium effects how the bunch of cells develops. Each of us was raised in a different culture, and our culture not only shapes who we are and what we expect from the world, it determines what feels “normal” to us. Your medium is different from my medium. What feels normal for me doesn’t necessarily feel normal for you. It’s not better. It’s just different.

So that’s really my job. If you have survived a sexual assault, STSM should do everything that it can to help you heal, and that includes making sure that resources are available in a language that you can understand, that we communicate our respect for you by letting you make choices about how you begin to heal from your assault, and that we encourage you to have your family and friends as close to you as feels good to you. It’s important that we try to understand where you’re coming from and meet you where you are.

You and your medium, whatever it is, are important.

Underserved Survivor Advocate & Outreach Project Coordinator out…

#trysayingthat5timesfast #phew