A surge of discussion hoping to curb bigotry and sexual assault has been occurring across college campuses all around America. Programs have been enacted to support those affected and discussions raised in refining the semantics behind trauma and its vernacular. Millions of dollars are funneled into systems aimed to support the aftermath — what (and what not) to say, how survivors and those involved can report, as well as the reasons why survivors are often coerced not to.
But an excess of “practical” prevention and aftermath resources often overlook the shaky foundation precipitating the rooted problem at hand: Why do sexual assault, homophobia, xenophobia, trans violence, etc. even happen to begin with?
Hosted by the Gender Equity Center (GEC) on campus, Gender Equity Movement (GEM) Training is a program dedicated to the rooted discussion of gender, positive masculinity, feminism and social justice, and how they contribute to and perpetuate systemic forms of oppression and maltreatment.
Beginning this Friday, Jan. 22, GEM Training runs for five weeks, and is open to all students. A certificate is awarded at the end of the training for those who complete at least four of the five sessions.
Headed by Gender Equity Center coordinator Tammie Velasquez and recent history graduate Mady Aitchison, the training began before the formation of the Cross Cultural Centers — of which the GEC is a branch — mainly in attempts to bridge the gap in communication between the GEC and the rest of campus.
“One of my goals was to start creating a community to make sure people knew this was a resource, and that we were here to support underrepresented populations, as well as the campus as a whole,” Velasquez said.
Velasquez then reached out to Aitchison, who was a student assistant volunteer for the center at the time. The two collaborated in developing the training curriculum. Designed in the context of discussion, the program functions more as a seminar. Its objective is to discuss the systematic structures that govern over our everyday lives — how gender roles play into how we behave, think, act, etc.
In comparison to other similar programs, GEM Training focuses on precursors to assault — how and why we’re conditioned to think and act the way we do — and how our faulty beliefs can often lay the groundwork for muddied ideas of consent and limited concepts of gender.
Even more so, a focus of GEM Training is within intersectionality; students are encouraged to discuss gender in the context of the non-binary, which could mean not only the conceptions of feminism, but how it relates to women of color and/or of low socioeconomic status.
Often, the trainings’ content can be heavy, and beginning these conversations isn’t easy. For Cal Poly, groups like this are sparse; however, Aitchison said, those who enter the training are almost always open-minded and willing to learn.
Recognizing privilege and respecting others’ experiences and identities are at the core of GEM Training, Aitchison said.
“It’s about learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Aithcinson said. “And that’s a hard thing to learn — it’s something you have to foster.”
Velasquez said privilege is not only a matter of discomfort, but also a level to which we don’t realize how much of it we have, or the way in which it manifests itself to our advantage.
“I don’t think a lot of people are comfortable with learning about these systems that surround us or want to talk about it because they are comfortable,” Aitchison said. “They don’t want to be shaken out of it.”
Though this kind of rigid comfort zone is found on campus, a lot of students who identify within the majority may have lived within their own bubbles long before college.
“These kinds of conversations aren’t a newsflash,” Velasquez said. “And for a lot of people, that uncomfortable feeling has been around forever.”
Students are only now using their voices as tools to talk about topics that were overlooked for far too long, Velasquez said.
“Being uncomfortable has always been an issue but nobody talked about it,” she said.
Examining privileges and asking questions, however, are important and effective methods to jumpstart change.
“There’s definitely been a positive shift,” Velasquez said. “I never thought I would see the shift that has happened, and I’m really proud of the students who are bringing it to light.
Students interested in signing up for training can email firstname.lastname@example.org.