Project SAFE hosts annual Empowerment Week

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Students gather around the Project Safe tent located in the Academic Quad to make purple tie dye shirts at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 28, 2021. Gray Davidson/The Occidental

Occidental’s Project SAFE hosted their annual Empowerment Week Oct. 25–29 during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to Project SAFE Manager and Survivor Advocate Tirzah Blanche, Empowerment Week is a week of programming focused on domestic and dating violence, including educational events and healing spaces for survivors. According to Blanche, issues surrounding dating and domestic violence are not always widely discussed on college campuses, making Empowerment Week an opportunity for the Occidental community to acknowledge these issues.

“With Empowerment Week, we really want to highlight the survivors of dating violence and domestic violence, and also uplift healthy relationships and healthy communication as an antidote to a lot of the dating violence that college students experience,” Blanche said.

Project SAFE programming assistant Mia Villegas (senior) said Empowerment Week provides an opportunity for college students to be open with each other and discuss what a healthy relationship looks like.

“A lot of times there are toxic relationships that people are in or abusive relationships that are maybe familial, or with friends, or more loosely defined,” Villegas said. “I think that part of combating that is actually learning how to have healthy relationships in all aspects of life. That’s what I really love about Empowerment Week — also talking about the healthy side of relationships.”

The week consisted of five different events and activities, with one event each day.

On Monday, Project SAFE programming assistants Juno Raphael (junior), Dominic Rios (junior) and Villegas hosted a craft circuit that consisted of three different craft projects focused on teaching participants about healthy relationships and healing.

According to Blanche, on Tuesday, Project SAFE hosted a night of self-care for survivors. The event was co-hosted with the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC), a student-run coalition that works to support survivors and raise awareness about sexual assault on campus.

“We had a survivor self care night last night,” Blanche said. “We got ice and there was ice smashing as a cathartic way to release frustration and tensions.”

Certified sex educator Jayda Shuavarnnasri speaks about the influence of compulsory heteronormativity and capitalism on relationships in Choi Auditorium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 27, 2021. Gray Davidson/The Occidental

Jayda Shauvarnnasri, a certified sex educator, joined Empowerment Week to host a workshop and a keynote on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

Shauvarnnasri’s workshop, titled “Jumping Off the Relationship Escalator” focused on how traditional societal expectations for relationships may be harmful for some people, especially those who do not adhere to heteronormative standards. Her keynote on Thursday, titled “Rewriting your Sexual Story,” was about creating a narrative for oneself in order to embrace one’s sexuality.

“I [was] invited to facilitate a workshop and present a keynote during Empowerment Week in hopes of sharing my experience, perspective, knowledge about what it means to be in healthy relationships with other people and also what it means to have healthy relationships with our sexuality,” Shauvarnnasri said. “It [Empowerment Week] was one of those situations of, ‘Wow, I wish I had this in college.’”

Lastly, on Friday, students were encouraged to wear purple to spread awareness for domestic violence survivors, Villegas said. Throughout the week, the programming assistants tabled in the Academic Quad with materials for students to make purple tie-dye shirts and ask questions.

In addition to providing direct support and resources for survivors throughout the year, Project SAFE programming assistants also conduct presentations focused on countering rape culture and teaching people how to be upstanders when it comes to sexual assault, Rios said. These trainings also teach definitions surrounding sexual assault and consent, and how to have healthy relationships, Raphael said. Trainings are available for Greek organizations and athletic teams, in addition to any clubs that may request training.

“We do trainings for the first-year class at the beginning of the year. This year we also did whole class trainings for the sophomore class, given that it’s their first semester on campus here,” Raphael said.

According to Rios, Empowerment Week is an important opportunity to address issues, such as intimate partner violence, that have not always been widely addressed.

“The narrative has changed. And people are speaking up about the fact that it’s [domestic violence] not okay,” Rios said. “Being there for everyone else can really benefit them, especially for topics like these.”

 

Students at the Project Safe tent make tie dye shirts in support of Empowerment Week at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 28, 2021. Gray Davidson/The Occidental

Blanche oversees Project SAFE and takes on a variety of responsibilities in order to assist survivors. They provide support to students who have been impacted by sexual assault or interpersonal violence. Blanche also helps students access resources, both inside and outside of Occidental, they said.

Project SAFE is one of the four confidential resources on Occidental’s campus, in addition to the clergy in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, counseling staff at Emmons Wellness Center and the 24/7 Helpline. Confidential resources do not share information with anyone unless there is a risk of harm to oneself or others. Blanche’s role is separate from the Title IX Office, and their role requires an individual’s consent in order to share information with the Title IX Office.

“Everything that they share with me will stay between the two of us. Confidentiality is a legal definition,” Blanche said. “As the Survivor Advocate, I don’t have any agenda … My role is often talking through what someone’s options are and what is coming up for that person that they’re dealing with, that they could use some support around.”

Emmons 24/7 Confidential Hotline : (323) 341-4141

The Project SAFE/Survivor Advocate office located on the bottom floor of Stewart-Cleland Hall

Survivor Advocate: survivoradvocate@oxy.edu

Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition: oxysexualassaultcoalition1@gmail.com