MAP Alum Creates Podcast on Sexual Identity and Gender

May 20, 2024
Lena Vallianatou

Before Lena Vallianatou '23 started her MA in International Peacebuilding, she recounts being unaware of some of her emotions, such as anger and sadness. She learned about trauma in an HIU class and how to recognize it in herself and others. “It was like therapy,” Lena says. Getting that skill inspired her to create a podcast for her capstone project. The podcast raises awareness and educates about trauma around sexual identity and gender.  

Lena is a teacher who believes that peacebuilding and teaching complement each other. She knew she wanted her capstone project to be related to education from the very beginning of the program. Her initial idea for her capstone had to do with interreligious relationships. She thought the topic would be helpful in Greece, where there are refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Iran and where bullying and racism are prevalent in the schools. “I know some groups of trainers and educators in Greece that work on democracy in schools, intercultural relationships, and interreligious relationships, so I wanted to continue that.”

Her focus changed when, within the MAP program’s cohort, she realized that in religious communities, there is a fear of talking about sexuality. Also, she had discussions with her friends about the need for equality in sexual life and gender. “I realized that gender equals women. Whenever we hear [gender], it means women. And sexuality equals LGBTQ community, and gender and sexuality are for all of us.” 

Her capstone project ultimately combined personal and social needs and was titled “Find Your Peace from Your Broken Pieces.” The podcast combined her teaching skills and what she learned about trauma during the MAP program. “I wanted to work with different genders and sexual identities because I wanted to show that these issues refer to all of us, and if we realize that, that is the first step for equality to exist.”

Lena says the title of her capstone stems from the notion that the first step to getting better after trauma is to accept the broken pieces as part of oneself and work on them until one finds inner peace. 

Lena is working on creating an Instagram profile to promote her podcast. She plans to interview more people ages 20 to 66 using the same format and questions she used for her capstone project.

The main focus of her podcast is to share authentic experiences. “Usually we tend to hear only women and LGBTQ people talking about gender. I want to have a straight male person talking about gender and his difficulties during his school year,” Lena says. “It concerns all of us.”

During the interviews, she used skills learned in the MAP program, such as active listening, asking authentic questions and guiding the interviewee in sharing authentic answers. She also paraphrased for mutual understanding and used a trauma-informed approach to identify when someone being interviewed needed to stop. 

Lena is also working on a project with alum Anastasia Nikitara '22 to train teachers and schools in Greece on an alternative to the commonly used punishment and reward method. Lena says the method can cause a lot of trauma, and it trains people to be good only because they will be rewarded. Their training program is based on the restorative justice theory they learned at the MAP program. The result is a 5-day training using an interactive approach to teaching. Lena and Anastasia believe that interaction is essential during the learning process. 

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