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Inclusivity in Health Education: Adelle White

Above all else, Adelle White (Public Allies Milwaukee ‘11) wants to provide a pathway for universities to assist in increasing visibility for educators with shared identities in public grade schools, starting with sex education. 

Through her experience as a Health Education Manager at CommunityHealth Chicago, the largest volunteer-based health center in the nation, Adelle has been able to reflect on her positionality and how she can use her privilege to help make a positive impact in underserved communities around the country. Her service and professional endeavors brought her to the idea that health and sex education as we know it needs to change. 

“Young people should really be involved in writing and re-writing sex-ed curriculum because we can’t be leaving it the same [as it’s been],” Adelle says. “I want to [recruit] people who represent diversity in their sexual identity and gender orientation. I want students to be able to see themselves in their educators because that is something that is super helpful, and [also] something I haven’t been able to offer for most of the young people of color that I have worked with.”

Living in both Louisiana and Wisconsin as a child, Adelle grew up in a family of educators. But even then, the idea of white privilege and how one can use it for good was foreign to her.

“It made sense, but I had never heard that term,” she says. “In Public Allies, [I learned] that the way to really get things done, is to let the people who are facing issues or being oppressed in some way, be the important speakers and have the loudest voice. I can use my privilege to amplify someone else’s voice.”

Public Allies exposed Adelle to the ever-growing field of anti-oppression work and its role in activism, advocacy, and social justice.

“[Prior to] Public Allies..  I didn’t understand how I as a person could help anything. And that is what Public Allies is really good at, taking young people and teaching them, giving them the tools, and letting them speak, and turning them into [leaders] that can actually take concrete steps towards true equity.”

Her passions eventually led her to an Ally placement with Secure Futures (previously Make a Difference Wisconsin), whose mission is to provide teens with empowerment through mentorship. 

“Public Allies leads you to believe that you can be a part of the action to dismantle [systems] as well,” she says.

Throughout her time of service, Adelle found support through her cohort, a diverse team of people that all shared a passion for Public Allies’ core values and desire for effective leadership. In this space, the cohort fostered an environment where each Ally could really learn and thrive, all while supporting each other along their journeys and understandings of oppression.

“If I didn’t go through Public Allies, I probably would have never gone down this path,” Adelle says as she reflects on her experience. “I want to be creating little social justice warriors, with sex-ed as the reason they join. [With this program] not only would [these educators] have a positive impact on high school and middle school students in that area.. But students who are in college get to experience a world that is not their own.” 

As a current graduate student at Marquette University studying education policy, foundations, and leadership, Adelle is making strides towards making this dream of inclusive health education a reality for minoritized students in the public school system. She plans to propose this program to a variety of universities in large cities, to bridge the gap between representation and learning. 

“Sex-ed in some places, like Chicago, has gotten very good. It’s very gender identity and sexual orientation inclusive. The one piece that’s missing is that there is not a lot of representation of different body types and people with disabilities,” Adelle says. “I want to develop a program that takes the ideas and strategies of college students to make the reproductive health and sex-ed [learning] experience better for young people in schools. [And] to train students who are interested in education, health, public health, nursing… To be health educators and teach sex-ed to high school students and middle school students.”

Adelle recognizes that this educational program can also be a way for public universities to give back to the communities they reside in. 

“This is a chance to try to mend that relationship and to invite [those] who may not have heard anything positive about the university, to see it doing something good. It will make [university students] care about things that they didn’t know they should care about,” she says. 

As she recounts her Public Allies experience, Adelle continues to find joy in the seemingly small moments that represented a pivotal moment in how the communities she served, namely young children of color, developed their relationships with health and nutrition. Today, she lets those memories of what can be accomplished drive her passions for equitable health and sex education. 

“I’m grateful for Public Allies,” she says. “I really don’t really know what I would be doing if I hadn’t had that experience to show me what was possible. The pivotal part [of my experience] was seeing health education in action and seeing kids be excited. And seeing all of our hard work being reflected in active learning for young people.”