Students revisit Essential NU for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Stephanie Haines

The “Student Body” ensemble returned Friday and Saturday to perform a play about sexual health and violence for the Northwestern community after originally performing it as an Essential NU for the 2011 Wildcat Welcome Week.

Co-sponsored by Sexual Health & Assault Peer Educators and Take Back the Night 2012 as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the performance was held in the Louis Theater at the request of Dean of Students Burgwell Howard. A discussion with the audience followed.

Nikki Zaleski (Comm ’08), who wrote and directed the play with Prof. Michael Rohd, said the play garnered “quite positive” feedback from the freshman students in the fall.

“This play does not talk down to freshmen,” Zaleski said. “It engages them in the complex question.”

Zaleski said Howard asked to open the show to the entire student body because of its success during 2011 Wildcat Welcome Week.

To devise the script, Zaleski said she and Rohd co-instructed a Spring 2011 course entitled “Devising Orientation.” Zaleski said the class consisted of seven NU performers and eight researchers. These researchers included representatives from various student groups such as SHAPE, peer advisors and different cultural groups, who were interested in the topic of sexual health and violence, Zaleski said. The researchers conducted interviews within the Evanston and NU communities and conducted interactive art projects that encouraged students to respond to certain conversational questions concerning sex culture. Using these responses, Zaleski said the researchers and performers worked together to come up with script ideas.

“This play was written by and for Northwestern students,” Zaleski said. “I think because it is location-specific, that’s why it had such a good response in the fall. It shows a lot of love from the upperclassmen by saying that we care about a safer campus culture for the freshmen.”

Communication sophomore and “Student Body” performer Kyra Jones said she remembered the 2010 Essential NU presentation about sexual health and violence, and it was “really bad.”

“There was a lot of victim-blaming, some of my friends were crying, and it did not ask productive questions,” Jones said. “Hearing the way people talk about sex after it was not like it was this year.”

Weinberg freshman Rex Tai said this was his second time seeing the performance since 2011 Wildcat Welcome Week. He said he wanted to see it again because his Gender and Society class increased his interest in the subject.

“It was good like how I remembered it was, but the message got lost after I saw it,” Tai said. “Seeing it again, I understood it better. I can see how it makes people question things.”

About 50 people attended the Saturday night performance, and about 25 of those stayed for the discussion.

“It got right to the heart of the issue,” said Philip Markle (Comm ’08), who also came to see the play. “It made me think about this in a new way. The performance was both challenging and funny.”

[email protected]