Gender dynamics vary widely around the globe with each individual culture or community possessing their own unique set of beliefs, laws, and inequalities concerning gender and sexuality. For instance, there is the extreme case of India, where women are subjected to daily verbal and sexual harassment. Bystanders of these events don’t take action because these occurrences are the norm in their society. To make it worse, the women are unable to stand up for themselves for fear of causing the perpetrator to become violent. These victims are forced to decide between their pride and their life.
Most who do not reside in or have not visited India are unaware of the dire situation there. However, in December of 2012, a case of gang rape in India resulting in the death of the victim was enough to spark widespread protest and capture the attention of the rest of the world.
The fight against these injustices was finally able to gain some ground as anti-rape laws began to be implemented and the perpetrators of this case were all found guilty, four being sentenced to death this past December and a minor to three years in a juvenile reform facility.
The impact didn’t stop in India. Two exceedingly passionate students here at St. Olaf who closely followed this event felt compelled to do something. Connected through a political science class called Courageous Resistance, Apoorva Pasricha and Lauren Hagen started brainstorming ways in which they could raise awareness about this issue and give aid to those affected by it in India. The two came together with very different links to the topic, Apoorva having experienced the gender dynamics in India firsthand and Lauren an advocate of combatting gender expectations on a broad scale. This combination of a more general goal with a specific frame proved to be the perfect mix, culminating in the creation of the Ole Color Run.
Apoorva and Lauren to decided to utilizing a 5K based on a recently popular form of race called a paint race that involves throwing color powder on the runners, who end up covered from head to toe in different colors, in the hopes of framing the cause in a fun manner to maximize attendance and thus, maximize the impact they could make. Working to fighting injustices based in gender violence, the event will act as a fundraiser for two NGOs in India to provide money to directly support victims of gang rape and their families. A challenge the coordinators have recognized is that some Indian organizations are corrupt and money is not always utilized ethically. One of the NGOs they plan to donate to is a college where St. Olaf students go to study at on a handful of abroad programs. This formerly established connection eliminates any worry about the money being used inappropriately or being lost in administrative costs. On the other hand, the second NGO being donated to will receive the funds in increments so Apoorva and Lauren ensure that their hard work is being used in the manner they intended without attempting to control the functioning of the organization.
Although participants of the run will be informed about the issue through emails and speakers at the event, the coordinators also held a panel about gender identity, sexual assault, and masculinity beforehand. Sexual violence is a specific case of the negative repercussions of how masculinity is defined and is something that people everywhere encounter. Fighting for a cause is initially all about awareness. To ensure that the St. Olaf student body knew about this issue, a panel used as an effective way to let a large group of people focus on learning about the topic in depth. Additionally, the panel gave the audience a context of the issue, offering a more personal connection.
With these events, Apoorva and Lauren aim to, in Lauren’s terms,
“…not only go out of our existing network and reach out to these NGOs in India to help victims directly, but also to cause people to reach in. We want people to be conscious of how they view and respond to their own gender and others’, to be conscious of the way gender stereotypes affect expression of gender, and to be conscious of how masculinity is represented in our society.”
She noted that raising funds for gender violence victims is a huge part of being an advocate for this issue, but introspection is also key because gender inequality and sexual harassment need to be addressed on all fronts, not just the extreme cases.
In the true activist fashion, Lauren and Apoorva hope to perpetuate the discussion about gender injustices by making the Ole Color Run the first of many. Further, Apoorva expressed that as a long term goal,
“We’d like to create a more dynamic awareness and involvement among the student body by engaging them once a year in the event. This year, we’ll expose the crowd to gang rape and, in the years to come, we’ll expose them to other pressing issues that the run will be held for.”
While using the medium of a fun 5K does garner a larger crowd, it also blurs the line between participants who are there to fight for the cause and those who are there to do the Color Run. This concern is intensified by a growing form of social activism among our society named slacktivism. Discussed in Apoorva and Lauren’s class, slacktivism is the act of performing an easy and convenient action for a cause that makes the actor walk away feeling proud of their contribution. Oftentimes, they have accomplished nothing and never take action or even give thought to the issue in a meaningful way again.
Taking on a seemingly impossible task for two students at a small liberal arts college, Lauren and Apoorva set an admirable example with their empathy and passion. They are successfully working to fight gender injustices while simultaneously focusing on the civic engagement itself, fighting the awful trend that is slacktivism.