Praxis Labs, a program within the University of Utah’s Honors College aimed at “drawing students from all disciplines to collaborate on innovative project-based solutions to pressing societal challenges.” The 2018-19 lab, “Family Violence Across the Life Course: Child, Partner and Elder Abuse” held a seminar titled “Interpersonal Abuse and U” on April 2, 2019. The seminar saw four expert panelists in relevant fields discuss their work revolving around interpersonal abuse and violence. The topics ranged from corporal punishment in childhood, lack of resources for Utah domestic violence victims, to even the messages of movies such as “Beauty and the Beast.”
Dr. Sonia Salari, associate professor of Family and Consumer studies at the U, was one of the panelists. She spoke about the social learning theory, which theorizes how things like entertainment mediums can affect violence. The theory essentially explains how entertainment for children may contain messages that could potentially lead women to yield to violent and unstable qualities in their partner. Her example of “Beauty and the Beast” shed light on this notion. “Women are expected to be perfect, and give a pass to bad behavior,” Salari said.
Salari also discussed how in “Beauty and the Beast,” the abductee grows to love her captor. “Developing brains incorporate that message [of learning to love your abductor] of what constitutes romance into their relations,” Salari continued. She quipped of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Young girls need to know first of all, it’s not okay to be kidnapped.” She spoke on other entertainment mediums that contain and condone unacceptable messages. The immutable 80s hit “Every Step You Take” by The Police, for example. She argues that this song is the “most well-known stalker song of all time.”
One of the speakers, Jennifer Campbell, the executive director of South Valley Services, chairs a non-profit coalition called the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition which is aimed at addressing domestic violence in our communities. Campbell presented the data that one in three Utah women in our state have experienced domestic violence. Campbell stressed that the resources required for this problem are not sufficient. She described domestic violence as “purposeful plus deliberate behavior equals gain power and control.” Her group seeks to “educate, collaborate and advocate” for survivors of domestic violence victims. Another startling fact brought up during the seminar is that only in the year 2000 did the U.S. Legislature pass a law on human trafficking.
The Daily Utah Chronicle spoke with some student members of the Praxis Lab team about how and why this event was created. Ayana Amaechi, a sophomore biology major, said, “This event was organized for the sole idea to inform students on campus about interpersonal violence. We thought the biggest thing missing on campus is the lack of information on the topic of interpersonal violence. There was a lot of planning that went into this, even just setting up the event in terms of venue and tabling, it was a lot of work, but it paid off.”
Michelle Valdes, a sophomore writing and rhetoric major, spoke of how the team decided on the panelists. “They were all people we thought were knowledgeable on each of the differences in age gaps when it comes to interpersonal violence, from child abuse to adult abuse, and then elder abuse. We were looking to have a panelist from every stage of life,” Valdes said.
Sophomore Natalie Van Orden, a pre-law student at the U, said, “We decided to host this event because family violence is not a topic people want to discuss — it’s scary. We usually say, when we hear about it, ‘It’s their business, I shouldn’t get involved.’” Van Orden saw the event as a way to get the ball rolling on increasing the dialogue about violence. She spoke of how bracelets were created in order to raise awareness and show solidarity with victims.
The Chronicle asked presenters how science and data, the fulcrum of the presentations, could win “hearts and minds” in terms of influencing actual societal change. Does science really move the needle for corporeal punishment of children? “Like Dr. Lasky said, we do have this science showing corporal punishment does not work and in fact works against the concept of improving a child’s behavior, but why do people still do it? It’s cultural — and until we have a culture where we are open and discuss these issues more broadly, then only professor types will have this information when it’s such a big issue we need the public engaged.”
This Praxis Lab will continue to host events, and will continue to use their $5000 budget to further its cause. One participant said, “For me, it was the death of our peer” when asked what sparked the idea for the “Interpersonal Abuse and U” panel. At the U, interpersonal violence has never been more important. The “Family Violence Across the Life Course: Child, Partner and Elder Abuse” Praxis Lab is using awareness to avoid tragedy — and awareness is just another word for empowerment.