Esrea Sandon Perez-Bill is a research project coordinator at Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, who, like her evaluation work, tries to be as fluid and flexible as possible, while always working toward radical change.
With a background in gender and sexuality studies, Perez-Bill — who uses she/her or they/them pronouns — made her way to evaluation through an interest in changing systems and implementing radical change through education. They are currently enrolled in a master’s degree program at Northwestern, studying public health. Though public health was never in their plans, they are now excited about and invested in this important work.
“I stumbled into evaluation and ended up really loving it,” says Perez-Bill,
Having always had an interest in political pedagogy and adult education, she’s found evaluation to be a very powerful tool for making real change.
“In evaluation,” Perez-Bill says, “you have opportunities to think beyond the bounds of what’s possible. We’re able to use our imaginations as tools, and the important question is how do we do that together — that’s what’s really powerful about what we do. It allows us to implement critical pedagogies. It allows for coalition building. It can be such a broad field, so to an extent, it can be flexible. There is a lot of room for growth.”
That flexibility is the thing Perez-Bill most wishes people understood about evaluation. “It sounds static but it’s doesn’t have to be — it’s dynamic. It evolves. It’s highly contextual. It’s influenced by our sociopolitical realities. It has the potential to be so much more than maybe it was yesterday.”
The ever-changing nature of evaluation has kept Perez-Bill drawn to the field. “There is so much you can do with it, from adult education to increasing the capacity for systems change, it’s a space to truly apply theory to practice.”
This also makes the job a very interesting amalgam of different experiences. “It changes day to day,” Esrea says, “But I enjoy that it’s a space where we can bring in theory, pedagogy etc. We can participate in curriculum design, shaping spaces of inquiry for stakeholders, and creating systems of support.”
Projects that she is working on range from internally supporting capacity building efforts, to external-facing dissemination projects, and contextualizing this work in a justice framework.
“Right now,” they say, “I have the opportunity to coordinate and present training opportunities, assist other project coordinators in their technical assistance needs, and find out what stakeholders really value. I’m holding myself to the expectation to be as supportive as I can in all areas of work that I perform. A large piece of that is making sure I’m reading more about pedagogies and theories we are trying to use, explore and learn, and ask critical questions.”
Being a part of the work towards liberation is especially important for Perez-Bill. Working collectively towards liberation is crucial for evaluation, she argues.
“Evaluation is a political space no matter what,” They say. “There is an assumption that it’s neutral and objective but nothing really is — everything has context.”
And this work is a priority. The issues Perez-Bill sees as most pressing in evaluation are abolition, LGBTQ liberation, and community building, and these are critical — and evaluation is a perfect way to address these.
“Experimenting is vital for justice,” Perez-Bill says, “and evaluation can be a highly experimental field, if you let it be, which is also why I love it. One thing we are socialized to believe is that our world is fixed, and that any change we fight for is elastic at most, something that snaps back into its original form no matter what you do to it. You see this a lot in academia, but I think we can do more. Evaluation is a space of inquiry where we can push the boundary of what we are told is possible.”
Perez-Bill has wanted to work in the context of creating radical change all her life, which in the past has been contextualized by their background in gender and sexuality studies and the arts, such as theater of the oppressed. In her personal life, they practice movement daily.
“The thing I really value in my down time is being active,” she says, “I really love weightlifting at this point in my life, I love walking and running, and after I wake up, I try to focus on being present in my body. Exploring and learning are also really important to me — going to grad school, even though it’s challenging, is really important to fulfill my desire to constantly learn.
“Although much is new to me right now,” they say, “finding community with others who have similar belief systems has been the most rewarding aspect of my work and school career. Building coalition with others, and being a part of a growing movement of emerging evaluators and students who want to see change. We don’t have to do it alone.”
Written by Rosemary Sissel