It’s On Us Hosts Regional Summit

It's On Us Coalition
(Brooke Parrett/The Observer).

By ELIZABETH LANDRY
News Co-Editor

Following a Week of Action, the Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) It’s On Us (IOU) Coalition hosted a regional summit for the eponymous national organization on Saturday, April 8. A series of student-led events focused on educating the community about sexual violence and its prevention ranged in topic from comedy to toxic masculinity and even witchcraft.

The Week of Action included events from Monday to Friday, which were often facilitated by members of other clubs on campus. “Punching Up (How to Write Inclusive Comedy)” was a panel discussion which featured Claire Holmes, FCLC ’19 and president-elect of the Feminist Alliance, Chandler Dean, FCLC ’18 and president of campus comedy club Stove’s Cabin Crew, Stove’s members Cristina Pardo, FCLC ’19 and Jason Irukulapati, FCLC ’18, and as moderator, Shannon Constantine, FCLC ’19 and Vice President of Stove’s. They discussed how offensive jokes are often developed and how to steer away from that, as well as how to talk about sensitive subjects in non-offensive ways in general.

“I think that when you hear the phrase ‘just a joke,’ it’s generally used immediately after a joke has not worked,” Dean said. “Typically it’s after someone’s been hurt. If you have to say it’s just a joke you probably didn’t construct it well in the first place… If they’re part of a marginalized group and you’re making fun of them using a stereotype, that is not only hacky but is wrong and perpetuates whatever ill-conceived ideas society has about those groups.”

Of friends who make offensive jokes, the panelists agreed that a blunt rejection is the best way to expose the joker’s hurtful thinking. “Just keep asking them why it’s funny and eventually they’re going to have to explain,” Holmes said. “‘Just keep asking why… and eventually either you’re going to get it like ‘oh, this is a really funny joke,’ or they’ll have to realize it’s something problematic.”

Wednesday’s event was entitled “Potions, Sigils and Love.” “Learn about the history of witchcraft and how its epicenter is full of powerful womxn,” the Facebook page advertised. “Even if you know nothing, practice another religion, or practice this spirituality yourself, you are welcome to come make some self healing/loving/reassuring sigils.”

On Saturday, approximately 45 IOU members from colleges like Syracuse University, Hunter College and Sarah Lawrence College came to campus for the It’s On Us Northeast Summit 2017, which featured a full day of talks by students and faculty as well as officials from the city. Guest speakers included Domestic Violence Bureau Chief of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Michelle Kaminsky and West Point Academy Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program Manager Samantha Ross, as well as IOU Deputy Director Alex Zeitz-Moskin.

Throughout the day, the group participated in panels and discussions on topics like digital organizing, sensitive term defining and utilizing New York City resources. IOU Coalition heads from the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill chapters, Lexi McMenamin and Monica Sobrin, led the group from one session into the next, as well as introduced more campus leaders like Northeast Regional IOU Leader Samantha Skaller, Syracuse University ’17.

Associate Professor of History Dr. Kirsten Swinth spoke on the evolution of terms’ definitions, such as those of sexual assault, abuse and harassment, and hostile environments. She also spoke on the history of anti-rape and anti-sexual harassment movements in the United States, touching on the National Association of Colored Women, the Anti-Mashers campaign and the resurgence of the women’s movement in the 1970s. More recent developments like Title IX battles, Take Back the Night and “slut walks” were also discussed.

“Although of course there’s a lot of policy that needs to be changed, there needs to be a change in culture,” said Zeitz-Moskin. The group asked sensitive questions for discussion such as “How do you create safe spaces in a potentially triggering environment?” and “How do you define nontraditional allies in order to reach out to them?”

The afternoon breakout panel on toxic masculinity featured Dr. Margaret Schwartz of the communications and media studies department, United Student Government (USG) President Leighton Magoon, FCLC ’17 and President Pro Tempore Yint Hmu, FCLC ’17, as well as Martin Nunez-Bonilla, FCLC ’18.

Hmu described his discovery of the masculine conditioning young men are pressured into, and Nunez-Bonilla related the struggle of bringing a “machismo”-influenced mentality into a majority-women college campus. Magoon described struggling to unpack his position as USG President, saying “I fit that societal stereotype of what a president, especially in the United States, is supposed to be…but [being student body president] doesn’t give you a token to take up space in a room or take an issue and make that my prerogative.” He also recommended that attendees watch “The Mask You Live In,” a film on toxic masculinity. The film had been scheduled as a Week of Action screening before a mix-up resulted in the club failing to get showing rights to the film in time.

Schwartz said that even as a tenured professional, she has had experiences of discrimination. “I have… had encounters with men that were very triggering and very frightening for me,” she disclosed. “Where men closed doors and spoke to me like I was a child, and even raised their voices. And the fact that when I attempted to try to institutionally cope with that situation… it was surprising to me how silencing the experience was.”

Other sessions focused on overarching themes drawn on a compass for considering goals on campus community and city levels. The axes of “support” and “power” balanced on a field labeled “most” and “least” influential for the action’s objective, and “strongly support” and “strongly oppose” the action’s objective. Each individual brought their leadership experience to the fore and offered anecdotes from their campuses’ organizing histories.

The day closed out with an open forum for discussion and meditation on the day’s lessons, as well as what the students would bring back to their campuses. Although a number of visiting students had had to leave early to catch transportation, several Fordham club members stayed behind to continue the conversation after the last session ended.

Additional reporting by Staff Writer, Colin Sheeley.

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