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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Aug. 14, 2008

Theatrical approach designed to educate audience about gender violence

by Anne Krapfl

As part of their back-to-school orientation next week, incoming freshmen living on campus will attend a one-hour theatrical experience intended to educate about gender violence. The "Picture It Project" is one component of a federally funded training and education effort at Iowa's three regent universities. The performance will be offered seven times Aug. 20-24; members of the campus community are invited to attend any of the performances as well.

Women's center director Penny Rice, who is helping produce the performance, said gender violence runs the gamut from catcalling to murder, as occurred in an Ames Casey's store earlier this month. In between are behaviors such as harassment, stalking, relationship violence and sexual assault.

"Personal safety is something our students ask about and one way we've addressed that is workshops in self defense, " Rice said. "But we need to prevent the behavior to begin with. Let's talk about what causes the behavior."

The Picture It Project was developed and written during spring semester by about 20 students in a designated section of the university's one-credit University Studies course on gender violence. Sarah Zwick-Tapley, a member of the theater faculty, was assigned to teach this section of students. Val Erwin, graduate assistant in the women's center, is assisting. They studied the interactive techniques of forum theater and wrote five vignettes -- focused on fairly common student experiences -- that will be used in the performance. About 10 of the students will perform.

In forum theater, the actors stop and engage the audience in a discussion about what just occurred on the stage. Rice said the discussion will consider positive behavior and solutions, miscommunication that occurs, as well as advice or options for bystanders or third-party individuals involved in a situation.

"The research shows that this theater format is effective on the topic of gender violence," Rice said.

Sally Deters, a residence life coordinator in the department of residence, said the department's hall and floor leaders will take their new students to a performance.

"We hope this will get students to identify issues in their lives -- or their friends' lives -- and give them ideas on positive things to do that can send the outcome in the right direction," she said.

Larger effort

Iowa State partnered with the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa and received a three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Northern Iowa, which has received Justice department funding since 2000, received most of the funding. About an eighth of the grant is coming to Iowa State.

Other education and training components to be funded by the grant include:

  • A gender violence prevention task force (regent-wide)
  • A gender violence prevention institute for men (regent-wide)
  • An institute on victim services (regent-wide)
  • Training on gender violence issues for law enforcement staff, judicial affairs staff and other targeted staff groups
  • Review of existing sexual assault policies at all three universities to ensure that post-incident practices are as good as possible and that students understand their options

Rice said Iowa State will continue the partnership with the regent universities and explore opportunities to seek individual grants from the Justice department to continue and expand services to the ISU community.


Picture It Project


Aug. 20, 4 and 7 p.m., MU Great Hall

Aug. 22, 4 and 7 p.m., 2055 Hoover

Aug. 23, 4:30 p.m., 2055 Hoover

Aug. 24, 4 and 7 p.m., MU Great Hall