The following piece is part of the Quest’s new series featuring final projects of Minerva students. This piece was written by Anna Mukhlaeva, Eiza Naveed and Marcelle Iten, Minerva Class of 2021. To view more final projects, click here. If you are a Minerva student and would like to have your final project published,  fill out this form

Research question:​ How can we curate an event catered to the Minerva class of 2021 that raises awareness about intimate partner violence and encourages joyful relationships within the community?

Proposal: ​A domestic violence awareness session, called “Joyful Relationships”, that targets Minerva Students specifically through the consideration of their cultural and personal beliefs and predispositions.

1. Domestic violence and why it is a relevant topic

Domestic violence (DV) is a pattern of abusive behavior in an intimate relationship where one partner gains or maintains control over the other (Powell & Smith, 2011). However, it is not necessary for DV to occur only within an intimate partner relationship as 43% of domestic violence cases reported in the U.S. from 1973-1981 involved violence from non-partners i.e. parents, siblings, and other relatives (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1981). Domestic violence can consist of any physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person (The U.S Department of Justice, 2017). The term domestic violence comprises several subcategories, including abusive relationships (Fig 1).

Offenders can be of any gender, but women are more likely to be victims (Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence – NNADV, 2010). 85% of domestic violence victims are women (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, approximately 1.5 million women in the United States are physically assaulted and/or raped by their current or former husbands, partners, or boyfriends each year (‘Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence,’ 2001). However, these statistics do not consider unreported cases. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that most incidents of intimate partner violence are not reported to the police possibly due to the victim’s fear of reprisal (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 2000).

Domestic Violence can be approached from many angles. Therefore, we chose to narrow our research question to: How can we curate an event catered to the Minerva class of 2021 that raises awareness about intimate partner violence and encourages joyful relationships within the community?

Figure 1. This figure illustrates the many angles of domestic violence and describes the types of abuse.

2. Redefining the scope

Reducing the scope to a specific community, such as the Minerva class of 2021, allows for targeted solutions and reduces the complexity of the problem. Minerva has had two events, a Sex-Ed session and a mandatory online course called Haven on EVERFI, that dealt with similar topics. These were analyzed to determine which aspects were effective and which could use refinement. Through the implementation of two surveys and information from the student affairs team of the institution (Lindo, 2018) we were able to determine that the Minerva class of 2021 would benefit from an increased level of awareness  regarding domestic violence. Thus, we have designed an event with the purpose of curating an engaging and helpful experience that will raise awareness for DV and provide M2021 students with the tools necessary to identify red flags in an abusive relationship.

The first survey was conducted on a random sample of 100 M21 students. We were unable to access the number of recorded complaints about sexual assault at Minerva, as this information cannot be revealed to the students for a number of reasons (Naveed & Lindo, 2018). However, we tried to get approximated answers using survey A.

Table 1. ​The results of the survey A.

The second survey asked 36 random students about the two previous events that addressed similar topics (Appendix B). Each student was asked to rate how helpful each event (Sex-ed and Haven) was on a scale of 0-10. The data collected demonstrated the following results:

Table 2 ​. Answers to the survey B.

In a follow up survey (Mukhlaeva et al., 2018), respondents who scored the two events 5 and below were asked about their choices. For Sex-ed, 58.6% of the respondents said “the presentation was disengaging” followed by 27.9% saying that they “found the style of the presentation not interesting/boring/disengaging.” For EVERFI, 44.8% responded saying “The presentation was disengaging” followed by 24.1% saying that they “found the style of the presentation not interesting/boring/disengaging.” Also, 79.4% of the respondents answered that they would prefer fine arts, stand-up poetry, and storytelling. When asked about improvements, respondents chose from a list of predetermined ideas, (which may have introduced bias as students did not come up with improvements themselves).

We have chosen to focus upon intimate partner violence because most students are away from their homes (families and friends) and will be in contact with fellow Minervans in their dormitories for the most part. These students may serve as future/current partners for some of the Minervans for casual sexual contact or for intimate relationships. Moreover, the Minerva cohort of 2021 is a tight knit community; with only 197 students who share common spaces, rooms, classes, projects, and co-curriculars on a daily basis, one is bound to interact with the, one is bound to interact with their peers.

Due to limited information about the Minerva student body (Naveed & Jason, 2018), data from other US colleges has also been evaluated. Minerva is similar to traditional colleges in one key way ; students stay in residential houses. According to Patrick, Murray, and Heffernan (2012) who analyzed 10,965 cases of rape and sexual assault reported by medical providers for universities in Massachusetts, the highest number of campus rapes and sexual assaults took place in a dormitory (81%). This trend is seen across five other universities in other states, where 47% of the registered sexual assault complaints took place in a dormitory (Shukman, 2017). Other top tier universities have also witnessed cases of sexual assault occurring in dormitories (Raguso, 2018; Brooklyn College, 2016). Since Minervans live in dormitories for Freshman and Junior years (Lindo, 2018), it is possible for them to experience sexual assault.

43% of dating college women report experiencing abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, verbal, financial, or emotional abuse (Knowledge Networks, Inc. 2011); nearly 29% of college women say they have been in an abusive dating relationship ( Claiborne, 2011 ). 52% of college women report knowing a friend who has experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2018). However, 58% of college students say they don’t know how to help a victim of dating abuse (Knowledge Networks, Inc. 2011). 38% of college students say they don’t know how to get help for themselves if they were a victim of dating abuse (Knowledge Networks, Inc. 2011), and more than half of all college students (57%) say it is difficult to identify dating abuse (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2018).

Although an overwhelming percentage of dating college women have experienced abusive dating behavior, a majority of college students lack the knowledge and skills needed to to mitigate or identify abuse. Thus, we aim to raise awareness and develop these skill-sets in college students. Although Minerva students have a mandatory Sex-Ed session and online safety course (Haven), both were ineffective in helping increase one’s knowledge of similar topic, as shown in Table 2.

Ultimately, the Minerva community currently has little awareness of DV. The goal state is an increased level of awareness regarding intimate partner violence and a desire to engage in joyful relationships for M2021 students.

3. The role of diversity

Diversity challenges the approach to our goal: Minerva is a highly diverse community with differing views regarding relationships. For instance, women from the Middle East and  Western Europe would need different approaches due to cultural differences within them. It is unfair to overrule some culture’s beliefs to emphasize others. Thus, the introduction of art would allow everyone to express themselves as they wish – individually or according to their cultural beliefs – and extract different meanings from the same piece. It serves as a bridge between cultures by allowing everyone to induce and create meaning individually and share it in a way that enables everyone to focus on the aspects that unite their beliefs rather than those that divide them.

Different cultures have different ways of approaching relationships, and acknowledging the context of the student body is crucial. It is important to recognize differing cultural concepts and attitudes. Several concepts in world cultures shape people’s attitudes towards DV (Danis et al., 2010). For example, a common cultural concept in Asian countries (a very broad range of countries from Afghanistan to South Korea) is shame and “saving face”. Women are pressured into protecting their own, and their family’s reputations. Therefore, reporting or speaking up about domestic violence might threaten their reputation. Similarly, collectivism, which is common in Asia, differs from individualism, which is predominant in the United States. According to collectivist beliefs, women should seek help within their communities and not rush to report the abuser (Danis et al., 2010). As for Slavic countries, domestic/dating violence is deeply rooted in the history of their culture, and women perceive it as something normal (Post, 2010).

Religion strongly influences diversity in Minerva. There are many cultural sensitivities, and approaching the issue from the Western World perspective to relationships will be ineffective. In fact, it was one of the problems of the Sex-Ed session and Haven course – they were not culturally sensitive. Teaching Muslim girls who wear hijab about doing research on their bodies and having casual sex contradicts their religious beliefs, and leads to defensiveness, subsequently failing to teach them about healthy relationships. Therefore, common ground and
encouragement of mutual respect should be highlighted to address potential conflicts. Consequently, the “Joyful Relationships” session will respect the context of the diverse Minerva community by emphasizing respect, tolerance, and the importance of recognizing and exercising boundaries.

4. The values, goals, and principles of the project

The purpose of the “Joyful Relationship” session is to raise awareness about intimate partner violence and give M2021 students the necessary tools to spot red flags and engage in healthy relationships. The event is focused on integrating respect, compassion, and empathy into Minerva’s core values. Compassion stumps indifference, while respect ensures that one does not violate another’s rights. The underlying goal of the project is to nurture the stated values within the Minerva community, where victims of dating violence/harassment will not be judged or looked down upon, but instead be treated with respect and compassion. This is inspired by what most domestic violence shelters do once a victim is with them i.e. treat her with love and respect (Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, 2018). Moreover, we want to encourage action and prevent others from being perpetrators or victims of intimate partner violence.

The guiding principles of this project are as follows: firstly, respect the audience. It is easy to act in the affected people’s best interest without directly referring to them, but it deprives the audience of expression. Therefore, we conducted extensive surveys and a few private interviews to understand the needs and wants of our audience. In doing so, we, as the curators of Joyful Relationships, practice empathy. Secondly, the campaign cannot promote any message that contradicts factual truth. The guiding principles, the goal, and the values braid together to thoroughly construct Joyful Relationships.

5. The “Joyful Relationships” session

The event will last 2 hours and the schedule is as follows:

Table 3. ​ Schedule of the event.

As the survey showed, the Haven course and the Sex-Ed were not effective. By making the event interactive, the audience can engage with the topic meaningfully. Before the event, we will ask Minervans to share their artwork (photography, painting, etc) expressing their views on domestic violence, joyful relationships, or intimate partner violence etc. We will incentivize them by showcasing their art at the event during the Art Walk, with the creator’s name, lest they choose to stay anonymous.

The Welcome Note will be a brief speech welcoming the audience and inviting them to the Art Walk. Students who were unable to present, or chose not to, will be given a chance to express themselves by making art during the walk (pieces of paper, coloured markers, and crayons will be provided). This will ensure that if anyone feels inspired by their peers’ art, they can create some of their own.

Next comes Story Sharing. Storytelling is a powerful tool of cognitive persuasion; here, its goal would be to persuade the audience to stay alert and provide them with tools to recognize healthy/unhealthy relationships based on others’ experiences. Storytelling aligns with the narrative paradigm theory of persuasion, which states that humans are creatures driven to tell stories (Fisher, 1987). The narrative paradigm theory is the most appropriate tool for the event because violence is a sensitive topic, and approaching it with cognitive dissonance or social judgement theory might cause negative feelings to emerge, distancing the audience from the takeaway message.

Fisher argued that emotions, values, and preferences shape our actions, so the stories should evoke emotions of compassion for the stories to be more powerful. Additionally, Fisher argued that stories should be believable and rely on good reasons as opposed to sound logic. Thus, we will present real stories of real people, and let them stay anonymous (Mukhlaeva, Naveed, and Iten will present and other M2021 students will be given a chance to share). There is a contrast between narrative and the rational world paradigm (Dainton & Zelley, 2010). Humans, as storytellers, base their rationality on the consistency and truthfulness of the story, and the appeal of coherent stories is as strong as the appeal of sound arguments (Dainton & Zelley, 2010). Thus, we will open the discussion for the audience to share their stories in small equally numbered groups. Each group will be moderated by an expert and/or one of the three main speakers (Mukhaeva, Iten, Naveed) and additional helpers recruited and trained before the event.

Narratives and logos are hard to argue against unless the stories seem implausible (which will be avoided through the promise of uttermost sincerity and display of appropriate confidence and vulnerability). Potential counterarguments are weak. For example, the audience may oppose story-tellers by raising points about the integrity of the family and the “normality of the conflict” between romantic partners. Nevertheless, these arguments can be easily addressed through the appeal to basic human rights, as defined by the United Nations (United Nations, 2018), and sound logic.

After the discussion in breakout groups, the students will watch the Talent Show. Poetry and music performers will be recruited from the Minerva class of 2021, and will demonstrate how art can inspire social change, in this case, about intimate partner violence. This sequence of events will keep the audience interested and will ensure deep engagement. The length of the event (2 hours) and the level of engagement required (cognitive effort) are appropriate.While 25 minutes seems like a short time for discussing such a sensitive matter, this will ensure that students will continue to engage in conversations about the topic, after the event is over. Poetry and music performers will be asked to cater their pieces to the nature of the event. This will involve the alignment of topics. All works of art (including fine arts, poetry, and music) must be approved by the main speakers before they are presented.

6. Why it works

The science of learning techniques and principles were implemented in the design of the event as the surveys demonstrated why previous attempts at addressing similar topics were ineffective. The Haven course and Sex-ed session implemented lecture-based approaches. However, lectures are ineffective ways to acquire knowledge (Kosslyn & Nelson, 2017). Through a meta-analysis of 225 studies gauging how well students were able to learn from lectures and further introspection, it was concluded that active learning was more beneficial than passively listening to lectures (Kosslyn & Nelson, 2017). Therefore, “Joyful Relationships” will be a form of active learning : our main source of transmitting knowledge about healthy relationships comes from a 25 minute long seminar-style discussion.

The audience will elaborately interrogate the differences between healthy and abusive relationships. Elaborative interrogation will allow the information to sink in more effectively (Dunlosky et al., 2013). When the audience creates art to express their ideas about DV during the Art Walk, they are engaging in self-explanation. Also, the discussion will alternate with the artistic activities. A mixture of storytelling, seminar style teaching, and engaging with art will create “interleaving,” which will help the audience draw from what they learned long after the session is over (Dunlosky et al., 2013).

7. Marketing approach

Although the content of our event will target abusive relationships, the redflags of abuse, and domestic violence (i.e. by targeting its subcategories as discussed in unit 1), we will market the event as “the creation of Joyful Relationships” rather than the prevention of abusive ones. This is because there is a negative connotation attached with the word “abusive” and due to the stigma around it, “Abusive Relationships” might discourage people from attending. “Joyful Relationships”, on the other hand, has a more positive connotation and the word “joyful” may be less likely to have a stigma around it.

This event will not be mandatory as we do not want to force students, and because we want to create a special atmosphere of respect, nurture, and freedom of choice. Instead, we will encourage people to come, by advertising with broad framing. If students engaged in narrow framing, they would not attend the session because they can spend these 2 hours doing their assignments or readings. This might create short term relief and urgent productivity. To them, utilizing these two hours by doing work/extra activities will prevent immediate time wastage. This is narrow framing. However, these students may not be equipped with the skills to identify red flags, or curate healthier relationships which will add to their overall happiness. So although they saved two hours, in the long term, they may lose many hours to painful experiences that can be avoided (i.e. fights with a partner). However, by thinking long term and applying broad framing, they would realize that they will be better equipped with the knowledge and skill-set needed to deal with this topic, and it will save hours of painful experiences. Therefore, by highlighting the long term benefits in our advertisements, we would encourage more students to attend.

8. Limitations

There is some uncertainty given that we have not chosen a venue in Seoul where the event would take place. Additionally, the event has been designed under the assumption that students will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on intimate relationships and creating pieces of art that express them, which may not be the case. These uncertainties, however, can be mitigated by further research, exploration of the city, and by guaranteeing student participation by requiring them to submit their artwork for revision before the session takes place. This way we would also allocate enough time to include feedback and allow for corrections and re-submissions. Another source of potential complications is turn up and participation. Nonetheless, these can be assigned probabilities through the frequentist approach. Therefore, these limitations can be categorized as risks. Evaluating the previous sessions and Minerva-sponsored activities showed us ways to deal with the issues that may arise.

9. Impact

We strongly believe that upon further iteration and implementation, our proposed session would successfully raise awareness about intimate partner violence and encourage joyful relationships within the Minerva community. Furthermore, we trust our peers to graduate, have their families, and become highly influential people across a variety of fields, which makes their deep engagement with boundaries and nuanced understanding of respectful intimate relationships one of utmost importance.