Project Update #2: I’m With You: Empowering Young AAPI Women to Stop Sexual Violence

As her U.S. Alumni TIES Small Grant project draws to its conclusion, Gilman alumna Amy Tran shares her reflections on the “I’m With You” reunion weekend in Bloomington, Minnesota. Empowering young AAPI girls to build confidence and challenge sexual violence, Amy’s reunion ties together healthy relationship-building and skills development in a unique program targeting AAPI youth.

You can read more about Amy’s first phase here, and about other U.S. Alumni TIES Small Grant winners in our previous post here.

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Despite the rain that Saturday, the September 16th follow-up reunion to June’s teen retreat ended on the sunny side as our Girl Scouts participants kicked their way through the self-defense seminar in Bloomington, Minnesota. The follow-up reunion complemented the workshops presented in St. Cloud by addressing the results of the post-surveys from the teen retreat in June. Hosted in Minneapolis, MN, the participants reunited for a full day of workshops that included self-defense, bystander training, media analysis on Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, and strategies to recognize coercive control and victim blaming. The girls also participated in an incentivized focus group and filled out qualitative reflections at the end of the reunion.

In addition to the other workshops, participants created glitter jars and colored in mandala pages as part of a stress relief activity.

The reunion reinforced the participants’ confidence in themselves and their ability to address pertinent issues in their communities. I have chosen to highlight three notable quotations from the participants’ evaluations that illustrate the more powerful moments of the reunion.

“I learned that it’s not your fault, even when you know these self defense moves.”

The facilitator (in purple) demonstrates a self defense technique with her partner (in yellow).

The morning started with a rotation of three mini-workshops — private focus group discussion, stress relief activity, and the self defense seminar. In the self defense seminar, the participants not only learned to break out of unwanted physical contact, but also reflected on the cultural expectation of women putting others before themselves, even if it might endanger them. Participants were encouraged to stay alert to their surroundings and to draw attention to themselves if they suspected they were in danger. The facilitator also emphasized that knowing self defense methods is different than practicing self defense when necessary; sexual and physical assault was never the fault of the victim, no matter what she learned previously. Many participants had never learned about the various pressure points of the body, nor knew about the varying strengths of each part of their bodies. The participants were excited to go home and share these methods with their sisters and friends.

“I might talk [to] my sister about this information because she’s married to someone and it seems like they are in a mentally abusive relationship.”

Participants demonstrate a type of monitoring behavior in a controlling relationship.

During the afternoon, the participants split into small groups to create short skits that illustrated typical behaviors in controlling relationships. The facilitator referenced the “Controlling Relationship Assessment” found in Lisa Aronson Fontes’ Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, which focused on different aspects of a partner’s life, including mental, social, and financial aspects, in addition to health and safety. One type of behavior many participants were surprised about was “monitoring” — one group of participants illustrated a trip to the “mall” that was monitored by their partner (who was at “home”) via phone calls from a friend who followed them around. Another group juxtaposed a healthy relationship and a more controlling one via simple questions — ie. “How does this dress make me look?”, “I’m making plans to go out with my friends,” and “I really want ice cream tonight.” Each group gave a great performance, and it clearly resonated with the participants; one wrote in her evaluation, “The short skits…gave a visual demonstration about what these things are and how they can happen in everyday lives.”

“I want to be able to stand for who I am and the race I am.”

The facilitator leads a discussion on the negative stereotypes of Asian women in the film industry.

The day ended with a media analysis workshop, in which the facilitator had stations set up where participants could discuss each station with a smaller cohort. Stations ranged from watching a short clip from PBS’s “Seeking Asian Female” to searching Google with the term “Asian woman” or discussing Asian-American actresses and their roles in major motion films. Through this workshop, the participants learned about the negative stereotypes of Asian women (“geisha/china doll,” dragon lady, etc.), and also the overly-sexualized nature of Asian women online. Specifically, the facilitator had the participants compare the results of the search term “Asian woman” to the results of “White woman” and “African American woman.” The participants were dismayed to see that “good” results — politics, leadership roles, entrepreneurship, etc. — were primarily associated with white women while “bad” results — dating sites, pornography, etc. — were primarily associated with AAPI women. The workshop concluded with a brainstorm on ways the participants would be able to combat the negative images associated with AAPI women. One participant noted, “The challenge is being able to help people speak out…[but] I want to apply what I learned to help other people who can’t get their voices out.”

A participant poses next to the red “stop” sign during a walk-through of a consensual situation.

We believe this program is incredibly valuable to the Asian-American community in the Twin Cities area because of our approach to the sensitive nature of these topics — our encouragement of differing viewpoints allowed for an open dialogue in a safe space for our participants about topics they could not openly discuss otherwise. The participants also found the retreat to be of great value. Though some said they had not yet had the opportunity to put what they learned into action, they believed they would in the future. More importantly, some said it had helped them value themselves more and inspired to put greater emphasis on self-care and stress relief. With this, we believe the “I’m With You: Empowering Young AAPI Women to Stop Sexual Violence” retreat and reunion were successfully implemented thanks to the U.S. Alumni TIES small grant opportunity. As for next steps, the committee is hoping to continue working with Girl Scouts to stay in touch with the participants. We hope to continue meeting to expand on the knowledge they have learned over the summer and fall.

Written and contributed by Amy Tran.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.