The divide was made clear at a forum held April 6 in the Muenster University Center Ballroom that discussed rape culture and how it’s shaping today’s society.
On one board was a list of synonyms for men who are womanizers. On another, the audience of about 30 students named words directed mainly toward women. As a group, the room decided the second list was much more negative.
“There’s a high-five in there somewhere,” Kelley Ristow, educator for Catharsis Productions, said about the men’s board.
Catharsis Productions, a Chicago-based organization that promotes social awareness on a variety of topics, hosted the event about rape culture. Ristow was the night’s speaker and brought a lighter mood to an otherwise serious subject, using references to pop culture and other means of lightening the mood in the room.
In an event
titled “Hook-Up: When It’s Hot and When It’s Not,” Ristow spoke about how the use of derogatory language has become the social norm and can obscure people’s view of what constitutes sexual assault. Ristow also pointed out the divide between consent and rape.
In the past, Catharsis has focused on education for the military, but she said the organization is expanding to the college audience.
“This is a class we’ve been doing all over the country and sometimes the world,” Ristow said.
Ristow said the idea of the lecture is to spread awareness of what exactly constitutes sexual assault.
“I think the idea being what are the influences in our culture and our environment that would make a community friendly towards this issue, because no one individually wants to be friendly towards this issue,” Ristow said. “We know that people are not at all sure exactly how to address the sexual assault— in any environment.”
Ristow said even though all training is valuable, Catharsis itself is unique from other organizations that spread awareness.
“We use humor, which is a unique tool in this subject matter,” Ristow explained. “We have another program that uses sketch comedy and acting to engage a little better around the subject matter. So it’s a combination (of) social justice (and) arts training organization.”
Ristow said the organization not only uses these methods to educate the youth, but it also draws from real-world data.
“It’s also research based, so I think that’s a really unique combination of things, to be artistically innovative but also grounded in research,” Ristow said. “I think a lot of the artistic innovative pieces around this become about people’s opinions, individual experiences, and that’s all very valuable, but we also need to stay grounded in what the data is telling us is happening on this subject matter.”
First-year Tiffiny Fouss said despite the subject matter, the talk was not uncomfortable, and she would be interested in attending a similar event in the future.
“Even though it was an awkward subject, she had a fun personality,” Fouss said. “It seemed like she knew what she was talking about, and she made it not awkward.”
First-year Amy Vertullo said Ristow was attuned to her audience.
“She made it into an environment where it was more friendly, and she was more engaged with the audience,” Vertullo said.
Ristow said she hopes similar training events will become mainstream on campuses around the world.
“My hope for universities is that this class and classes like this become the kind of thing that are not only mandatory in an orientation session but are mandatory in any kind of on-boarding, freshman comp, those sort of entry-level freshman year sessions that are as much about learning about how to be a new young adult in the world as they are about actual academic skills,” Ristow said. “I think these kind of classes have to become mandatory.”
Fouss said she wishes more people would have attended because the subject is something that should be brought to light.
“There should’ve been more people here, just because it’s a campus, and we overlook rape on campus, it seems like,” Fouss said. “Yeah, we know that it happens, but a lot of people don’t know the statistics, and more people should’ve actually been here so they know statistics and know what’s going on on campus.”
Though she said our society has a tendency to say otherwise, Ristow said she hopes young adults will become more confident in addressing this issue.
“What really has to happen in any classroom or environment is to start to empower third-party people to feel confident about just stepping in and checking in on each other,” Ristow said. “We’re very worried about whether it’s our business or not our business, we have a lot of shaming names for people who step in and maybe even stop something from happening between two people, when in reality, if we have even an inkling that something might be trouble or someone’s intentions might not be good, we should feel super empowered to step in.”
(Photo: Kelley Ristow speaks with an audience April 6 about the role derogatory terms play in rape culture. Megan Street / The Volante)