Labor studies student brings mindfulness skills training to her internship at SEIU-USWW’s Ya Basta Center

Iliana “Ili” Levine discusses her experiences as an intern at the Ya Basta Center.

Labor studies and gender studies student Iliana “Ili” Levine

Vanessa Codilla | April 18, 2022

Opened in 2019, the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West’s (SEIU-USWW) Ya Basta Center develops worker leaders known as promotoras in providing peer-to-peer training with employees in the janitorial industry on preventing and reporting sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

The opening of the Ya Basta Center was a milestone for the movement to strengthen protections against sexual violence in the janitorial industry, which has increased in momentum within the last few years. 

In 2016, workers came together to successful push the passage of the bill, referred to as AB 1978, which would establish protections against harassment and sexual violence for custodial staff in the workplace. By the start of January 2020, these protections required that all janitorial service contractors be registered by the Labor Commissioner annually and that janitorial employers undergo sexual harassment training. 

Now, groups that are part of the Ya Basta! Coalition continue to uplift survivor voices and build worker power through a promotora training program that is prevention-focused and trauma-informed. 

When 1st year transfer student Iliana “Ili” Levine learned about the center during a guest presentation in her Labor Studies 168 class, she emailed every address she could find in the UCLA Labor Studies faculty directory in hopes of contributing to the Ya Basta Center’s work. 

This eventually led Levine, a labor studies and gender studies double major, to labor studies faculty member Victor Narro who shares her interests in mindfulness and social justice activism. Narro introduced Levine with members from the Ya Basta Center and offered his guidance as a faculty mentor throughout her internship experience. 

Now, Levine integrates her knowledge of mindfulness practices into the training curriculum development for Ya Basta Center’s promotoras. Levine discusses her experiences as an intern at the Ya Basta Center below. 

Can you tell us about the Ya Basta Center and your internship? 

The Ya Basta Center is a division of the SEIU-USWW labor organization that addresses the dangers that specifically immigrant women janitors face on the night shift. They raised awareness for a documentary called “Rape on the Night Shift” that was impactful for me.

At my internship, I asked how I can incorporate my mindfulness background into their work, and they saw a point there because the training can grapple with very heavy stuff. I’m currently more in the research stage and immersing myself in the center. I’m meeting people, doing online training and listening to promotoras as they practice for their audiences. I hope that [in spring quarter], I’ll be ready to impart what I learned. 

Why do you think it’s important to incorporate mindfulness practices into the worker training curriculum? 

Some people who are taking this curriculum have experienced some abhorrent things, and so it can be a very personal and emotional time for them. What I hope for adding mindfulness practices in the training is to provide a way [for participants] to stay present and focused. 

Recently there was also talk of incorporating a mindfulness bell at the start of each session, because studies show that it helps you anchor yourself to a location better, as well as initiating break periods where you could get up and get a drink of water. 

What skills have helped you to be successful in this internship?

I think that flexibility and eagerness are really important. I don’t think that I would have found as much success in this project if I had just tried to take control and do only what I wanted to do.

I’m really grateful that I’m able to feel the experiences that [the workers] are talking about. So empathy is also important. It’s very clear that every single person that I’ve worked with at Ya Basta understands the importance of what they’re doing, and doesn’t take [their work] lightly.

Any key takeaways from your internship experience?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and ask for support. I even Zoomed several people who I didn’t end up working with, but who were really interesting. They suggested, “You should talk to this person,” or “You should read this.” And then I would do it. It’s like, in going and finding something for yourself, the support is there. You just have to ask for what you want.

How do you think this internship helps your overall career journey?

It equips me with the knowledge, tools and grassroots organizing [skills] that I really just want to do for the rest of my life. The connections I’ve made are invaluable and the people I’ve met are so knowledgeable and effective leaders in a really inspiring way. 

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Vanessa Codilla

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