Students at Minnesota State Mankato are continuing their pursuit to educate their peers on recognizing and handling unhealthy relationships.
PEACE, which stands for Peer Educators Acting for Change and Equality, is a student organization at the MNSU Women’s Center that was initiated through the Violence Aware Response Program (VARP). They are a theatre troupe that advocates for change and increased awareness on topics such as: by-stander intervention, inclusive language, victim blaming, violent behavior, violent language used to describe sex and sexual behavior, and responding to someone who’s been sexually assaulted.
PEACE members meet every other week to practice skits that incorporate the above situations. During practices, members run through scenes, play improvisational games and get comfortable with the different roles that need to be cast. Upon professors’ requests, these interactive performance are then acted out in front of classrooms to demonstrate both correct and incorrect ways of handling situations, as well as ask questions to the audience to generate feedback and get students to think about what is being performed.
“The scenes are very realistic about what is happening,” said Emily Euerle, the Graduate Assistant for PEACE. She facilitates the scenes, prompts questions, and talks about what went on in the scene. “We ask [the audience], well, how could we respond better?”
Emily Roiger, a junior majoring in social work and gender and women’s studies, says that the underlining theme of all the scenes is consent.
“In each scene, we address what consent is in a way,” she said. “What’s not consent, what it means, different ways to ask for it, and when you can’t give consent. Each scene relate[s] back to consent.”
The idea behind PEACE came in 2011 from another graduate assistant. Peer education, in combination with theatre, was, and still is, a relatively new concept in terms of best practices for reducing sexual violence, according to Laura Schultz, the Violence Awareness Response Assistant Director.
As more and more articles came out about it, many schools turned their focus to interactive theatre as a way to increase awareness.
“Ultimately, the reason we started PEACE was to reduce sexual violence on our campus and grow more awareness and education around those topics,” said Schultz.
The responsibilities of maintaining the group is included in the job description of the graduate assistant as a way to make the organization sustainable in the long-term without the need for direct faculty involvement.
“I think that the way it’s presented as peer education—students on our campus are presenting this information, and often times we hear peers in a different way—I think that’s one of the primary reasons for its success,” said Schultz.
The organization is managed and produced by students. You don’t have to be a theatre or social science major to get involved.
“You just have to be passionate about advocating for change, really,” said Roiger. “I was not an actor. I’m still not, but it helps with public speaking skills for anyone wanting to work on that.”
PEACE is based loosely off of a style of theatre that is, literally, referred to as “acting for the non-actor,” says Schultz.
“So this is very much accessible for people who have never acted at all,” Schultz said.
PEACE is an open group and so new people can stop by any practice to check it out.
“Coming to one practice does not mean you are committed,” said Euerle. “It just means you get a feel for it; you can make that decision from there.”
Their next meeting is on March 2 at 6 p.m. in the Women’s Center, CSU 218. Feel free to stop by and check it out, or get in contact with Laura Schultz or Emily Euerle for more information.