Gender split retreat fails to empower all seniors

Cartoon: Web Lehmann

Cartoon: Web Lehmann

Ellie Findell, Production Manager

“We don’t want to teach the future assaulters your secrets.”

This was the response by the program speaker to a female member of the senior class who asked why the men in our grade were not getting a similar program.

As a cumulative point in the year, I had hoped that the retreat would be filled with empowering moments and an equal celebration of work by all members of the community. The Senior Retreat failed to allow the female members of the community to be equally heard and enforced the idea through scare tactics that men, in our grade and in our future, are never to be trusted.

The first part of the senior retreat was split by gender and occurred after lunch. Female identifying seniors and several faculty members went to Driscoll Commons to spend three hours with an organization called Not Me!. The presentation was led by two women, one of which would interrupt the other every couple of minutes to bring up a real life abduction or rape story. She would tell it like a murder mystery podcast and it seemed like the end goal was to make us scared of going anywhere without paying for defense tools. In between the scare tactics and random baseball game abduction stories we learned how to do various defensive cat moves and how to run when one woman held up a water gun.

I was left with the notion that unless I follow their exact instructions I am inviting sexual assault and that all men are the enemy unless proven otherwise

The name of the organization also troubles me because “Not Me!” denotes an individualist, survival of the fittest rhetoric that movements like #Metoo are actively working against. It is impossible to fight against sexual assault through an individualist mindset because it is a systematic pattern that demands communities work together and recognize their collective fault in its continuation.

The two women acted like they were serious about their work when they were showing the presentation and telling horror stories but couldn’t stop laughing when we were practicing our moves and running from the water gun.

They were inept at deciding whether the three hours were going to be a time to scare us for college or a time to make us laugh about all the different ways we could scratch a man’s eyes out.

I did not feel empowered leaving the presentation.

I and many others felt scared and not prepared to defend ourselves next year in college. The 15 minutes of video where numerous women failed to escape from their assailant was the worst thing that they could have done to end the program. A better way to end the two and a half hours would have been videos and articles about women who were successful in their escape and who shared their stories. Only after we practiced our self defense cat moves did they tell us that many of us did them incorrectly as “jazz hands”. They then promptly showed us their website as a marketing solution where we could buy $40 tasers and pepper spray because we had clearly failed at cat hands.

The gender split program took up at least two and a half hours of the retreat; it was by far the longest portion. As the cumulative retreat of the last four years, I expected that the retreat would have an empowering feel that both left us knowledgeable about next year and excited. I instead was left with the notion that unless I follow their exact instructions I am inviting sexual assault and that all men are the enemy unless proven otherwise. It is important for all people to be able to defend themselves and in the future, the school needs to find a program that can stress the dangers of college life and empower us to overcome them.