Empowerment Week focuses on healing through movement

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Project S.A.F.E. hosted its annual Empowerment Week, in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, last week. Coordinators this year emphasized healing from trauma through physical movement and body empowerment, in addition to the more traditional psychological talk therapy, according to Project S.A.F.E. Programming Assistant (PA) Rebecca Reese (junior).

The purpose of Empowerment Week was to raise awareness on campus of dating and domestic violence, Project S.A.F.E. PA Brian Erickson (senior) said. According to Erickson, last year’s Empowerment Week focused primarily on prevention; this year’s event also placed emphasis on physical healing exercises and individual survivors.

Project S.A.F.E. kicked off Empowerment Week Oct. 19 with an informational event in the quad, where students met with the Project S.A.F.E. staff and learned about the resources available to students.

“One never knows when they are going to need the support of a survivor advocate, counselor or medical practitioner,” Sara Semal, senior director of Emmons Wellness Center, said. “Having these resources accessible to students for whenever they need them is invaluable for a college.”

Students were also encouraged to become part of the Oxy Upstander campaign by taking a picture of themselves with a message on why they are committed to ending sexual, dating and domestic violence.

“Our educational objective is to spread the importance of being an Upstander, to encourage and facilitate a community that cares for each other,” Marianne Frapwell, Project S.A.F.E. program coordinator and prevention education specialist, said via email. “Sexual violence is not just a campus issue, of course; it’s a much larger societal problem. But we hope that how students decide to care for their neighbors and friends here on campus will eventually influence and inspire their families, coworkers, friends and everyone else they meet outside of Oxy.”

Oct. 20, Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) co-sponsored a chalk display on the quad that dispelled domestic violence myths.

Students came together again later that day, this time for the week’s keynote panel discussion featuring New York City-based dance troupe Gibney Dance. The discussion centered on the ways in which physical movement can be healing for trauma survivors. Other speakers in the panel included Kinesiology Professor Marcella Raney and Emmons Assistant Director of Psychological Services Jennifer Heetderks.

During the panel discussion, the speakers discussed the idea of traditional psychological talk therapy and the transition toward new methods that involve movement and the body as a mechanism to heal. This panel provided information from a physiological standpoint, with an emphasis on the notion that physical activity and movement can be used as a form of medicine, according to Raney. Student organizations such as Dance Production and Hyper Xpressions co-sponsored the keynote event by assisting with the planning and organization.

Gibney Dance returned Oct. 21 to lead a movement workshop for students and to teach them about some of the ways in which the dance company provides healing for trauma survivors.

Throughout Empowerment Week, athletic teams including football, cross country, water polo, men’s soccer and women’s volleyball showed their support by wearing purple during their competitions, according to Reese. In addition, the women’s lacrosse team co-sponsored a clothing drive for the Downtown Women’s Center.

The student body came together last Thursday to create a piece of art called the Community Canvas, a massive piece of paper filled with written messages of hope and strength for survivors, according to Frapwell. Zabie Yamasaki, assistant director of the University of California, Los Angeles’s Campus Assault Resources and Education program, instructed a trauma-informed yoga workshop later that day.

At the week’s culminating event last Friday, students wore purple in order to raise awareness of and show support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, according to Frapwell. Erickson believed the event was successful.

“We were able to get a good number of people in purple on Friday,” he said via email. “Basically, the goal was to get people to ask why there were so many people wearing purple, hopefully prompting conversations about dating and domestic violence that extend well beyond this week.”

Erickson hoped that as a result of Empowerment Week, the Occidental community will see more clearly how important these issues really are.

“Healing from any type of trauma is possible and doable, and we as a community should support that healing process for survivors,” Erickson said.