Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Brain Food: Karrine Steffans

The day finally arrived. After the outrage, on line petition, surveys, etc., Karrine Steffans made it to Dillard, and amazingly, one week later, the place is still standing! Definitely a lot I could say, and will another time. But for now, I want to focus on what was a powerful day. We began with a visit to my PHI444 class (hip hop, sex, gender and ethical behavior). Hip Hop is a great vehicle to discuss this because this is an industry where women are routinely exploited.
Karrine is the outlier in that she flipped the script. One of the main questions in the class was her thoughts about it being right (ethically) for her to name names. She questioned why she is attacked for doing what the rappers do in their songs, providing real examples. Her point was that she too was giving them hip hop- just without a beat.
Our special guest was Miss Louisiana 2015, Candice Bennatt. Candice set the tone for the evening quickly since domestic violence was her platform. She shared that she was a victim of teen dating violence. At 16 she suffered a broken jaw and busted ear drum. You could feel the impact of her words in the standing room only crowd. I was pleased she was able to spend a few minutes with us- she is a second year law student at Loyola.

Karrine then came up for the keynote. She broken down violence as a language and started with how judgment is a language that she is all too familiar with. She openly referenced the opposition to her visit, sharing candidly how could those who attacked her by judging her and through social media, trying to tear her down, were essentially too late- her mother had done far worse to her when she was 6. She learned that language early.

But she indicates that when we tear people down we create cracks for predators to enter their lives. So every time we tell people they aren't good enough, or don't look good a certain way, we are using a judgment language that can aid abusers.

She wondered out loud why people instead don't ask her, "What happened to you? Who said what to make you who you are today?"

In a speech that kept a packed room eerily quiet, she recounted the abuse she endured in relationships, but understanding now that the abusers spoke her language. She offered that when people saw why didn't you just leave, is like telling someone to go to Germany and start speaking German- it is not your language. But she asked us to remember that abusers are victims too; it is the language that they learned as kids.

Her warning to us was to be careful what you say to others. Many reckless things were said about her (and me too) after it was announced she would be visiting. But I am thankful for that experience because it helped me to understand why domestic violence is so prevalent in our communities. Our willingness to freely demonize people without knowing their stories sets predators up to do what they do. Hopefully some folks will be slow to judge going forward.

After we finished, Karrine spoke to individuals another 90 minutes, many whispering their shared stories.

And this is why Karrine Steffans came to Dillard, and can come back whenever she likes.

The Prez