WU Counseling Services to host Healthy Relationships Workshop

Katie Wade

WU Counseling Services partnered with WU Residential Living and the YWCA’s Center for Safety and Empowerment to create a Healthy Relationships Workshop Series, which will begin with its first session at 7 p.m. Sept. 21, in the Blair Seminar Room inside the Living Learning Center.

The interactive workshop series consists of four stand-alone sessions on separate days focusing on the topics of self-esteem, values and beliefs, assertiveness and a culture of change. Students who attend all four sessions will receive a certificate of completion. The full series will run twice this fall semester, once beginning on Sept. 21 and again on Oct. 29.

The workshop was first held in the spring of 2015 at the sorority houses on campus, where the workshop’s team was able to go on location to meet with some of the students they aimed to help. Now the team is taking the next step by opening the workshop up to all students of any age and gender, regardless of whether they live on campus or off.

While the workshop covers healthy relationships of all types from family to friends to the workplace, it does emphasize how to have healthy relationships in the context of dating.

“We’re trying to get out in front of the problem of sexual assault and sexual violence, but really the spin we took was healthy relationships,” said Christina Seeley, senior human services major.  “That can be with anybody, roommates for students just coming in on campus, or with parents, siblings or with romantic partners. So I really hope that they would come away with a sense of what consent is and hopefully actively create a culture of enthusiastic consent.”

Seeley has been working on the project as a part of her internship, coming up with the content for the workshop and putting the materials together in preparation for the event. She and Shari LaGrange, a psychology graduate student, will work together to facilitate discussion during the event and make sure the event runs smoothly.

The event is intended to be interactive, creating an open and safe space for discussion through large and small group work. Those small groups will include residential assistants as co-facilitators.

“It’s the RAs who live with the students on campus,” said Jamie Olsen, director of WU Counseling Services. “So they will be the people who see red flags with their residents and they see the relationships that students have. We know that if someone did experience sexual assault or an abusive relationship they are more likely to talk to a peer or friend before it comes to a professional. So we can give the RAs some sort of training. They are the boots on the ground.”

Seeley hopes this discussion will allow attendees to define their own boundaries of comfort, learn how to talk about them and learn how to be assertive with them.

“We want to present them with a lot of questions,” Seeley said. “Especially for those just coming into the dorms who maybe haven’t spent a lot of time examining where their boundaries are at and what they feel okay with and what they don’t. And even how to speak up when something uncomfortable comes up.”

Olsen did warn that the workshop could bring up emotions and discomfort for attendees, but assured that there will be professionals on hand to assist anyone who should feel triggered.

The event aims to present a much more positive way of talking about the prevention of sexual assault as it turns away from the fear based message that most women receive and instead looks at a message of hope and empowerment. Olsen said that her favorite topic in the series is covered in session four: equality and a culture of change.

“It’s on you guys right now as the young generation coming out of college,” Olsen said. “You guys are the ones going out there to create this culture of change. And how do you do that? Well you need assertiveness, boundaries [and] self-esteem. Then you can go out and say I’m not okay with this shirt that Target made, I’m not okay with these music videos, I’m not okay with this lyric. And you guys as this whole culture outnumber the rest of us. So go out and make that change.”

It starts with a message as simple as self-esteem. Olsen and Seeley agreed that they hope this workshop will give students a chance to introspect and examine their own relationships.

“I think that this is such a great way to enhance all aspects of your life,” Seeley said. “Those healthy relationships can ripple out into being a better worker, being a better roommate, being a better friend, even. Listening, knowing yourself, and being self-assured in the decisions that you make can really benefit every area of your life, honestly.”

For more information and a full schedule of the workshop’s sessions, students may visit the event’s page online at http://www.washburn.edu/current-students/services/counseling/Healthy%20Relationships.html.