While most new student orientations cover topics ranging from scheduling classes to navigating campus, not all delve into how to best avoid the Freshman 15 or stay safe at a college party.
It’s a void the “Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself” interactive workshop in Chicago is looking to fill by teaching high school and college-aged women (and their moms) the skills they need to prepare for safe and healthy college career.
The workshop is brainchild of Susan Scanlon, a gynecologist from Chicago, and covers topics like consent, healthy eating and self-defense – all with the help of experts in those fields.
“Often times I talk to patients in my office about these topics, but I find they tune out the information,” Scanlon says. “A lot of times they will learn better by interacting.”
Scanlon’s book, The Gyne’s Guide for College Women, preceded her workshop. She says she was inspired to write it after struggling to find a comprehensive college guide for her two then-high school daughters. Then, after also not being able to find any kind of event or workshop, Scanlon decided to start her own.
The inaugural workshop took place Jan. 10, which sold out and had some 50 attendees. The second is scheduled for April 24 – strategic timing given that it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It costs $30 per person to attend, and Scanlon plans to offer two more during the summer.
While incoming college women can find each of the services offered at the workshop on their own – a nutritionist, exercise instructor and self-defense coach, to name a few – the workshop is a one-stop-shop service, making it one of a kind, Scanlon says.
Experts teach sessions on “the dorm room workout,” healthy eating and self-defense, among others, at the workshop. In the “Fight Like a Girl” segment, Michelle Delarosa, a certified self-defense instructor, teaches young women and their mothers the best techniques to escape an attacker.
“Nobody has a right to harm you, every person in this room has the right and responsibility to protect themselves,” Delarosa told the Jan. 10 workshop attendees.
Scanlon also teaches attendees about “the power of the word ‘no.’” Another unique feature: Scanlon invites male college students to the workshop as guests, and they discuss hypothetical situations on how women can avoid dangerous situations.
“So many young women find themselves in situations they don’t know how to handle, they don’t know how to say no,” Scanlon says. “First college party, first boyfriend, the first time in the college dorms … I give them go-to responses, and they get to chose what’s right for them.”
While the workshops are currently only held in Chicago, Scanlon says she hopes to see them expand into the nationwide program in the future.
“Women everywhere need this information,” Scanlon says. “All girls would benefit from attending this workshop.”