September, 2012 Issue

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Real Life On Campus - Yes, Please


Yes, Please

Director of Community Engagement,
Catharsis Productions

"Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." Remember the first time you heard those words? Or maybe you first saw them with the funky triangular arrows graphic on the bottom of a gallon of milk? Perhaps it was the grade school project on Earth Day where you learned about the letter R and saving the planet at the same time? Regardless, that simple phrase has become a part of how we operate as a society. It's straight forward, clear and catchy. Its' message is proactive, simple, and everywhere. It's stamped on nearly all recyclables, thrown around whenever anyone is talking about sustainability efforts. I can't even imagine having a conversation about "Saving Mother Earth" without muttering that phrase in some form. It's been ingrained in our brains and our language.

We rarely think twice about the power behind those words because, by now, most of us believe that recycling isn't that hard and we should just do it. It's the right thing to do. We should just do it because we're thinking about our future as a world community and the future of our children. We should just do it because each one of us has an impact. We don't need to be environmentalists to do it; we just need to care about our communities and our space.

We also do it because we remember that simple, eye-catching phrase. There is a reason "Hey idiot, pick up after yourself when you make trash" didn't catch on. No one wants to be called an idiot, and nobody responds well (or remembers) a clunky phrase.

So how do we spread other messages that way? How do they become part of our cultural framework and identities? On our campuses, there are the usual suspects: issue specific programming, poster campaigns, free t-shirts, and other awareness raising outlets. These have been done, and these have been good, but lately I'm plagued by questions surrounding the intentional messaging and the atmosphere of our programming. Not only is there the need to fill the room, but more importantly, what is our reason behind having that group of students together? How do we activate our listeners to create the personal changes in behavior that are necessary for a society to shift? How do we make sure that these activities become conversations and these conversations lead to actively aware students and citizens?

Historically this has been done in a number of ways. Besides the Earth Day recycling ads that inspired folks to recycle, anti-smoking ads have effectively challenged the 'coolness' of smoking, and thus decreased the number of tobacco users in the United States. "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" dramatically changed the landscape of driving while under the influence and placed a responsibility on each of us to keep our friends from driving when intoxicated. These campaigns have helped shift any notion that being cool is more important than being healthy or safe. Or alternatively, that the cool thing to do is to help each other out and be safe together.

So how do we do that with our programming on our campuses? At Catharsis Productions, our mission is to reduce interpersonal violence by producing artistically innovative and research-supported programming. With our sexual assault prevention program, Sex Signals, we hope to galvanize our audiences to take a more active stand against sexual violence, but how do we do this after the show has left the campus? As the Director of Community Engagement, I am constantly enamored with creative and insightful programming and ideas that not only incite action, but also incite excitement. Excitement denotes not only waking up in the morning, but gladly jumping out of bed to take on the day - it's pro-active, it's imperative, and it's a choice. It's bright eyed and bushy-tailed, but straight forward and direct. Excitement is infectious; it catches on quickly.

One of the flagship programs under the Community Engagement initiative was the creation and execution of a new bi-annual program called, Yes, Please! The two words: Yes, Please! were chosen intentionally because they spread the message of an enthusiastic, supportive culture of consent and respect- the kind of culture we're working toward with all our programming. In April, the event debuted to a packed coffee house and night of performances that celebrated consent and community. This was done with comedy, poetry, and some amazing original songs, that contained wit, irreverence, and truth. All left not only entertained, but inspired. In September, it will be even larger - a bigger space for the performances and a national contest with great prizes open to anyone who friends us on Facebook.

The idea is to preach the gospel of consent and community through many avenues: our local community here in Chicago, our social media friends and followers, and through the audiences at the different schools and military installations we visit so often.

The intention behind the programming, and thus the message is to be catchy, bold, and authentic. I am truly excited about the possibility of living in a world where active and enthusiastic consent is practiced in every situation. Do I think it's going to happen tomorrow, or even in my life time? Probably not. However, that fact incites me even more to think of creative and thought-provoking ways to invite others to join our cause. When individuals are empowered within a community to change a culture and the attitudes that surround it, change can and does happen. Oppressive cultural norms and attitudes become outdated and uncool. It takes that sort of community connection to the issue and to each other. We all owe it to each other to be more sustainably excited and pro-active community members and to try out new and exciting ways to share our important messages of social change.

For more information about our Yes, Please! event on September 27 or to participate, visit us at or Like us at