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Creating ‘A Positive Space’ at UCI

As the 2013-2014 school year commenced, activists for respect and gender equality reached out to clubs on campus that helped defend and empower people of all gender identities. These three UC Irvine students wanted to share with the campus their positive outlook and support of each person’s individual strength.

Courtesy of Tess Andrea
Courtesy of Tess Andrea

Together, Tess Andrea, a third-year literary journalism and French double major, Laura Baker, a fifth-year psychology & social behavior and global cultures double major, and Robert Garcia, a psychology graduate student, teamed up to create UCI’s first student-run feminist organization: A Positive Space for Women (APS). They founded APS in September 2013 as “an environment free of hostility and the oppression that is tantamount to social convention.”

“We create an empowered space for women by way of improving self-confidence and self-sufficiency. We present on a groovy platter: invaluable life skills for individual improvement, and growth through collective support,” Andrea said.

The founding trio, advised by Criminology, Law and Society professor Donna Schuele, reached out to other clubs on campus to expand its borders of influence since its start in September.

Courtesy of Tess Andrea
Courtesy of Tess Andrea

Since its first quarter, APS has led a strong path for women by hosting workshops that support gender equality, leading discussions that help women value themselves as individuals, and inspiring women to become activists.

Each club meeting begins with an introduction to the topic of the night involving statistics that give rise to an open discussion of issues with gender equality.

This past Wednesday, Jan. 29, Andrea and Baker opened the floor to Ashley Wright, a fourth-year sociology and psychology & social behavior double major, and Kate Ligad, a first-year biology major, to present a lecture on Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence.

“It’s sensitive material, but the more we talk about it, the more comfortable we will be with fighting the issue. It takes a few voices to have these major concerns heard,” Baker said.

Coordinating with groups like the American Association of University Women (AAUW), A Positive Space focuses on gathering UC Irvine’s community resources to lead women toward self-empowerment.

“I saw this quote that sums up our outlook: ‘Misandry does not equal feminism,’” Baker said. Misandry, the female equivalent of misogyny, the hatred of females often acted out in physical and emotional abuse.

A Positive Space’s goal is to shape an open environment in which all genders can maintain an open line of communication, understanding each gender’s strength and limitations to better respect one another.

The club hosts “Can Do” events that help break the barriers that gendered jobs and activities can stifle in women.  They have led events like a self-defense class at the ARC, a night of outdoor barbequing, a lesson on how to change a car’s motor oil and more.

“We are working to change the culture of women, starting at the college level. If you think about where it really starts, we want to eventually be able to expand our outreach to young women in high school where girls start to tear each other down, whether it be at school or online,” Baker said.

The club also holds community service programs like their most recent Boundaries and Assertiveness Program, which taught lessons that will resonate with the year’s following topics.

“We recognize that the negativity women have against one another or against men is stemming from insecurity. We want to help women feel confident in themselves,” Baker said.

APS co-founders are teaming up with the Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) office, collaborating with UCI alumna, Zabie Khorakiwala, CARE’s violence prevention coordinator, to plan workshops for UCI students to better learn about ways to enlist self respect and achieve their potential, regardless of gender.

“CARE is a natural group for us to work with to expand our activism and learning,” Andrea said.

APS keeps its doors open for all genders, making it a safe space for LGBTQI involvement as well. While the club is unofficially a safe zone, meaning it is culturally aware and supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex (LGBTQQI) individuals, its leaders are training to become Safe Zone certified so the club can identify as an informed, supportive and affirming ally to the LGBTQQI community at UCI.

Last week, APS leaders met with Dali Lama Fellow, Elizabeth Koppe, a leader for Students for Global Peacebuilding (SGP) –– a student club affiliated with UCI’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding through the Social Sciences department –– to discuss topics which they can introduce at their respective club meetings to help promote influential conversations.

At last week’s Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence meeting in the Cross Cultural Center, the presenters gave a well-rounded discourse about physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse leading to psychological abuse.

“Emotional abuse is not really talked about. For those that experience emotional abuse, it becomes normalized because you do not know there is anything else out there until you step back from your environment. Emotional abuse is undermining what the person thinks about themselves,” Wright said.

Wright and Ligad shared their own experiences to make the other members feel comfortable in the intimate space.

“This affects people from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds, love and abuse can go hand in hand,” Ligad said.

Ligad read that APS was voted the club of the month in December and believed that this was the club for her.

“This is the stuff I talk about with my friends. It is a valuable club that I wanted to be part of,” Ligad said.

Adam Espindola, third-year sociology major, a dedicated club member, helped guide the conversation as well, presenting the sexual and emotional abuse.

“Variations of abuse have happened to many of us. You don’t realize it is happening until you are so emotionally high and all of a sudden you fall so low and you don’t know how you got there,” Baker said.

After outlining the effects of domestic abuse, Wright and Ligad talked about the warning signs that the club members in attendance can notice in themselves or friends to better prevent abuse in the future or stop abuse in its tracks.

“The abuser can charm you into thinking they are kind and once he or she isolates you, then they start the abuse. Once a victim is separated from their family and friends, they feel alone and unable to get away from the abusive environment,” Wright said.

They discussed how to prevent abuse by watching for signs in new partners such as their own low self-esteem exhibited in pathological jealousy.

“When you are on a first date and you are getting to the subject of domestic violence, don’t make it taboo. Maybe if conversations were going on more, maybe it won’t happen as much,” Baker concluded.

The last part of the meeting involved a roundtable discussion in which members discuss their ideas for how to improve the situation, usually involving spreading awareness about the issue to promote prevention.

“Domestic violence is not always seen, with abuse in general  invisible, even if we come from it, we need more communication about the warning signs,” Andrea said.

The group decided to host a domestic and intimate partner violence workshop in order to spread awareness outside the APS meeting room and to a full campus level.

The workshop will deal with emotional abuse, teaching UCI students to become stronger and identify the signs of abuse.

“We are hopefully empowering one another to take that next step, to learn that you can achieve your goals. The glass ceiling for women has technically shattered in most places in the workplace. There are still a lot of men in politics and I believe it is one area where there are not enough women, but it is still something that can improve,” Jack Azatwan, a fourth-year sociology major, said.

The club will focus its next few meetings on women’s sexual health, feminism for women of color and how women are perceived in the media.

“I hope this is a place you can feel like you’ve started to make a difference. This is a place for everyone to step up and share. Our goal is to inspire empowerment on an individual level. It would be so great if everyone gave themselves a couple more words of affirmation each day,” Baker said.

If you are interested in attending a meeting, A Positive Space for Women meets every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Cross Cultural Center.