Spotlight on GWS Alumni Jaya Kolisetty
By Jacque Kahn, GWS Academic Advisor
Many of us think of volunteer work as a way to give back to our communities; for students it’s also become a necessary credential on their college applications or their job resume. For some GWS students and alumni, like Jaya Kolisetty, volunteering has been the first step toward a rewarding career. Jaya graduated in 2009 with a degree in gender and women’s studies and went on to earn an M.A. in public policy and women’s studies at George Washington University. When she returned to Champaign-Urbana in 2013, she underwent the extensive training required to volunteer at Rape Advocacy, Counseling, & Education Services (RACES). But what began as volunteer work quickly became a calling. Within the year Jaya had accepted a position at RACES as a Prevention Educator. In this role she provided age appropriate sexual violence prevention education to audiences of all ages, including middle school and high school students. She served four counties, driving to various schools districts and developing individualized curricula to fit the needs of their students.
Jaya loved the work of education, but she also had many other skills that are vital to a non-profit like RACES. It wasn’t long before she became the Training and Education Coordinator for RACES, and from there moved into management as Interim Assistant Director, and then Associate Director. As Associate Director she was responsible for fiscal management and grant writing, as well as supervising and training volunteers and representing RACES throughout the community.
During her term as Interim Assistant Director, Jaya helped the agency survive the state’s budget impasse. In fact, for six months she was the only paid employee. It’s hard to imagine just one person trying to keep the entire center going, but that was the challenge Jaya accepted. During that time RACES had no choice but to cut services, but with the help of volunteers and a dedicated board of directors Jaya kept the medical advocacy and hotline available 24/7. Thanks to her heroic efforts and to the leadership of the current Executive Director, RACES has emerged from this crisis stronger than ever, and more financially prepared to meet future setbacks.
Last summer Jaya took a job as the Associate Director at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) here at the University of Illinois. One reason Jaya is excited about her career move is that that she has returned to the frontline of educating students about sexual violence prevention. One of Jaya’s many responsibilities is to oversee FYCARE (First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education), a required prevention program for all incoming students. Jaya points out that over the past 20 years FYCARE has done a great deal to address sexual assault on this campus, but in her new position she wants to update the program to meet the needs of current students, including a more diverse and more international student body. She also wants to use a trauma-informed approach to make the work of sexual prevention more survivor-centered.
Currently Jaya co-chairs the Rape Awareness and Prevention Committee on campus. One of their projects is to establish more consistent use of language to talk about sexual violence. They are also interested in taking a public health approach to sexual violence prevention by addressing the problem on multiple fronts, not just at the level of the individual. Policy changes are needed on the campus as well as in the community, and the Women’s Resources Center is one of many stakeholders active in making those changes.
When I asked Jaya how her degree in GWS has influenced her professional life, she told me she brings a critical and intersectional lens to everything she does. As she reworked the CARE Class (CHLH 199B) syllabus, reviewing readings and films, she considered who is conveying the information and who has been excluded. In GWS she learned to think about what’s missing from conversations, and about the power dynamics reflected in discourses around sexual assault. Thanks to her GWS background, Jaya is constantly intent on making sure everyone has access to the services provided by organizations like RACES and the WRC. Overall, she says, GWS has helped her develop a more critical, expansive way of thinking that she now passes along to her facilitators and students.
More practically, Jaya says her GWS degree served her well as a student and intern. Her degree was instrumental in her acceptance to the George Washington University, and also a factor in the extraordinary experiences she’s had so far, from her original hotline work at RACES, to interning at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, to volunteering at the Asian/Pacific Domestic Violence Resource Project. All of these experiences, along with her GWS education, have helped her succeed in a career she truly loves.
You can learn more about the WRC and volunteer opportunities at their website: https://oiir.illinois.edu/womens-center or by attending one of their Dish it Up/Lunch on Us Series every 2nd and 4th Monday. The WRC serves students of all genders and can provide workshops upon request to RSO’s, residence halls, fraternities and sororities and other campus units on a variety of topics.