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Western Oregon University – A Students Fight Back First!
I watched through the window of my rehearsal room as hundreds of students began winding through campus en masse and excitedly filing into the gym. These were brand new students- freshmen- gearing up for their first year at Western Oregon University. This was Student Orientation Week and Students Fight Back was invited by the Student Health & Counseling Center and Student Leadership & Activities to give these young folks some options and tools for their toolboxes for their exciting new college experience. After everyone was seated (all 1100 of them) I felt the electricity in the air and knew we were going to have a great time together.
The show opened with a presentation by Abby’s House, Women’s Center on campus. We watched the hilariously awesome “Tea Consent” video. If you haven’t seen this, watch it now! They announced Students Fight Back and I could see that this crowd was ready to bring the house down with their awesomeness! I loved that there was such a wide demographic of students represented: athletes, women, men, LGBTQ, disabled…there was even a sign language interpreter!
We went over the importance of why fighting back is a personal choice and that victim blaming is always wrong and unacceptable. We clarified that a creeper can be ANYONE and is not necessarily a stranger. Heck, most of the time (57% to be exact) assaults are committed by someone we know which is why it’s important to use our awareness to make decisions for ourselves. We watched the bystander video and everyone applauded the folks who stepped up in the clip. Nothing like hearing 1100 people cheer and recognize when others are being true bystanders and making a difference! Empowering!
When it was time to practice our physical skills and I had the pleasure of both a male and female volunteer…a Students Fight Back first! Let’s face it, women can be creepers too and it’s important to remember that all humans have the hotspots we discussed. We practiced our verbal strategies and the thunder of hearing over a thousand voices scream out “NO. BACK UP, I DON’T WANT ANY PROBLEMS” gave me the chills. Their voices echoed throughout the gym and I felt the power all the way to my bones. Watching them practicing the badass ballet was a blast because everyone seemed to be having a super fun time kicking the crap out of their invisible creeper. Way to go Western!
I opened it up to Q&A and got such thoughtful, honest, probing questions. It warmed my heart to see that everyone was really absorbing the information and figuring things out in their own minds. Here are some of the questions that stood out to me:
Q: What if you have disabilities…how do you fight?
A: Fighting is always a personal choice, and if you choose to fight you can modify the badass ballet depending on your situation ie: a heel palm to the groin instead of the face.
Q: I’ve heard that women should wear their hair back in a ponytail if they go out so that no one can grab their hair to abduct them. What do you think?
A: We think you should wear your hair however you want! We will never teach you that you can’t go where you want, wear want you want or do what you want. The skills we taught you today will enable you to live how you choose and have options should you ever need them.
Q: Can men take self-defense classes?
A: Absolutely! There are co-ed classes and men can also choose to take a men’s only class if they’d prefer.
Q: What are your thoughts on how someone dresses in relation to rape?
A: How someone dresses has absolutely NOTHING to do with rape or sexual assault. Sexual assault is not about sex even though sexual organs are involved. It is about a perpetrator having power, control and domination over someone else and objectifying and humiliating them. This is called power arousal and is very different from sexual arousal. Sexual arousal is based on respect and mutual attraction. Predators are looking for vulnerable targets they can have power over and are not concerned with how someone dresses or how they look. That is why survivors of sexual assault range in age from infants to the elderly. No one is EVER to blame for violence perpetrated against them.
We practiced the bad ass ballet one more time and I asked if they felt powerful. I wasn’t surprised when I saw smiles and joy on the faces of the group when they answered back with a powerful YES! Thank you Western, for being such an engaged, attentive audience. I enjoyed our time together and I hope you learned some skills that will give you confidence in knowing that you have a choice if you ever need to fight back. You are all badasses. Go forward peacefully!