According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest and National Network (RAINN), each year there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault, but only 32 percent report the incident to the police.
When three sexual assaults on Keene State College women were reported in the Keene Sentinel in the fall of 2009, there was immense pressure on the college to do something to prevent further assaults.
Employees of the counseling center worked together to come up with the idea of “No Zebras, No Excuses” (commonly known as No Zebras). The play, put on by Mentors in Violence Prevention and the counseling center, is about what sexual violence is and how to properly prevent it and is now known widely across campus.
According to the Assistant Director of emotional health, programming and outreach at KSC and the coordinator of sexual violence and prevention, Forrest Seymour, No Zebras fits into the sexual violence strategy at KSC by introducing all of our incoming students to very specific ideas about what sexual violence looks like and how to be an active bystander.
“The whole active bystander thing is our major tool for sexual violence prevention,” Seymour said. He continued, “No Zebras introduces vocabulary and scenes on stage that help people better understand what sexual violence looks like.”
Seymour explained that the script changes every year, and before adjusting the script the coordinators of the show always get student input from the previous year’s performance.
“It’s hard work and in some ways it’s very moving for them, particularly for the ones who play the perpetrators, because they have to embody this aggressive person and it is so difficult,” Seymour said.
KSC sophomore and performer in this year’s production, Ariel Freedman, explained that working on the production gave her a different point of view than when she watched it as a first-year student.
This is Freedman’s first year being a performer and she stated she did not fully understand what she was getting herself into at the time of her audition.
“I mean it was really intense when I first saw it as a freshman, but being in it, it’s just so real,” Freedman stated. She continued,“We all have to do things that we don’t want to do and act as people that we aren’t, and it didn’t hit me until I was involved in it just how real it was. We’re giving people a voice by putting ourselves in these emotionally intense states, and I really didn’t understand that until I was actually involved. It’s much more difficult than watching it in my opinion.”
Freedman shared that by being involved with No Zebras, she is now confident that she could depend on any one of the cast members to help if she was in a dangerous situation. Not only is the material emotionally demanding, but this production is vastly different from others.
Instead of having months to rehearse and truly embody the role you are given, the cast of No Zebras only has five days before their first performance to rehearse all-together, which means that the cast has five days of 12-hour rehearsals from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“You go in with the script memorized so that you can work on the more important things
like projection and body language and understanding the character,” Freedman stated. She explained, “It’s actually a lot of work, but it pays off once we do the show. This year actually, we did a performance for the RA’s and Orientation leaders after only two days of rehearsing.”
Not only was the performance emotionally intense for the actors, but it was just as eye-opening for the audience members.
First-year student CJ Klem was unsure of what to think when walking into the theater. “It’s a really serious subject and I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. After the first few scenes though, everyone in the audience seemed to be captured by the performance,” Klem stated.
Because the play acted out real life situations, Klem explained that it showed everyone how to stay safe and watch out for one another, which was comforting.
“The performance really opened my eyes to how real sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape are,” Klem stated, “If I hadn’t seen it, I would have a harder time being an active bystander. I now feel like it is my responsibility to get involved in a situation that looks like someone is going to get taken advantage of.”
This sort of positive response from first-year students is what the goal of No Zebras was six years ago, and still is. Seymour stated that he would love to be able to show it to students of all grade levels every year, but because of limited space it is difficult to do so.
“There is not really another time where everyone is around and available,” Seymour said, “Unfortunately there is not enough space or a perfect time where every class could go to this event every year.”
According to Seymour, reaching out to the students at least once about sexual violence prevention should be an awakening of what to do when these situations arise and prevent future ones from surfacing. If this performance was not readily available for incoming students each year, Seymour said that he feels the amount of sexual violence and ignorance about sexual violence would go up drastically.
Olivia Belanger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org