The Nagoya Action Heroes is a service action group at Nagoya International School, inspired and affiliated with Blank Noise, an organization based in India that advocates for the elimination of the culture of victim-blaming and making public spaces safe and inclusive for all.
Although an NIS student organization, their work crosses into the local and national community in a way that demonstrates the impact students can have on affecting change, and NIS is grateful for their work to improve the community for everyone.
Their work goes beyond the immediate school community to spark meaningful conversations on the themes of gender, sexuality, identity, and privilege. They aim to facilitate dialogue that questions the notion of shame and challenges perspectives on gender and sexuality through an intersectional, rights-based approach.
One key issue for the Nagoya Action Heroes is to raise awareness on topics that society often neglects, and they are not afraid to face them head-on. They have participated in conferences all over Japan to address issues surrounding gender and sexuality, and close to home they conducted their first workshop at Nagoya University (NU) in 2018, where they talked about consent and its importance, one of their main topics of discourse. The NU workshop helped clarify their message to have more of an impact with consent workshops held with classmates at NIS.
Further opportunities found the group heading to Kyoto Sangyo University for a conference on diversity and inclusion to address topics such as gender and sexuality, including the challenges of being a woman and being part of the LGBTQ+ community in Japan. More recently, the Heroes were invited to speak at Kita-Kyushu University, where, despite presenting to university students and adults, they were able to help their audience learn how to advocate for new programs by sharing what they did to create a comprehensive sexuality education program at NIS (see below). Through outreach like this, the Nagoya Action Heroes hope to inspire others to take initiative and build more Action Heroes clubs around Japan.
The Nagoya Action Heroes are not just all talk. As one of the most active student organizations at NIS, they are quick to advocate for causes for which they are passionate, with advisor Tulika Bathija. One of the first projects they tackled was fundraising for #StopTransBill. The #StopTransBill was a protest against the oppression of transgender people in India and students were able to raise 36,120 yen for the cause. They then took part in an online protest to show support for Caster Semenya, a South African runner, who was born with a higher level of testosterone, causing her competitors and the IAAF to push for her to be banned from competing. The Heroes went all out to make her case known by making posters and posting on social media to protest the unfair treatment. And in April 2019, they took part in the Tokyo Pride March to show support for the LGBT+ community in Japan, something personal for some club members as they identify with this community.
But arguably, one of their most significant impacts happened at home on the campus of NIS, where they brought to light the need for a comprehensive sexuality education program. Prior to their work, NIS had limited sexuality education that only included lessons about puberty. As a club, the Heroes firmly believe that education about your body and identity can influence your life not only at school but, more importantly, out in the world. In most schools, sex education has traditionally been “fear-based” and often takes a purely biological approach. Comprehensive sexuality education is pleasure-based and focuses on how to express ourselves. Sex education is almost always hetero-normative, but the program the Heroes advocated for is diverse. According to advisor Bathija and the Nagoya Action Heroes, “withholding information from young people is a fear tactic. Advocating for pleasure-based, rather than fear-based sexuality education is at the heart of our work.”
To campaign for this system, they made a proposal to the school administration that included data from a whole-school survey and their own experiences at NIS. It also included examples of successful programs from around the world. After the proposal was submitted, the administrative team responded by sending topics they wanted homeroom teachers to discuss. However, many of the teachers were uncomfortable with the idea because they were reluctant to teach sexuality education to young people without training. The Heroes then decided to run consent workshops to show what an ideal lesson would look like. They took the workshops from grade to grade, demonstrating just how it could be done. After witnessing the results of the workshops, the school decided to hire a teacher to teach the course - one that would emphasize pleasure-based, rather than fear-based, knowledge.
The Heroes report that there are many issues in the community they still want to tackle, including gender-based separation during school camping trips when assigning rooms. This norm pushes the idea that gender is binary to students, and the Heroes believe it is worth discussing how the format for ‘lounging’ can be better adapted to fit all identities. There is also hope to participate in annual events such as Nagoya Pride and the Creating Connections Conference, held at Nagoya International School.
The Nagoya Action Heroes choose to advocate for global issues involving the power structures society is built upon, and they always strive to question how power structures within any community are affecting different groups of people. This type of advocacy is crucial in ensuring that the NIS community can truly be a safe place for students of all backgrounds and beliefs, and we are grateful for the opportunity to have a group of students who can help us shape what it means to be a caring and inclusive community.