By Olivia Scalet/AS Publicity Center

As a precursor to the Vagina Memoirs, the AS Women’s Center is hosting V-Week, a series of free events and workshops that will encourage women to speak out and explore female empowerment.

V-Week will open with a Spoken Word and Heart Workshop, facilitated by Ishle Yi Park at 4 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8 in Viking Union 462. This writing workshop is for people interested in expressing themselves creatively and is open to people with any level of experience with writing and spoken word.

A former poet laureate of Queens, N.Y., Park has performed her poetry and songs in the United States, Cuba, New Zealand, Singapore, Korea, Jamaica and South Africa. Her first book, “The Temperature of This Water,” is the winner of three literary awards.

“This workshop is an incredible chance to learn about, write and participate in spoken word,” ROP Women’s Center Coordinator Devin Majkut said.

Park will take the stage with performance poet Andrea Gibson at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9 in the VU Multipurpose Room. In their first performance together, Gibson and Park will take turns performing spoken word poetry in what Majkut expects to be the largest event of the week.

“We decided to bring Andrea Gibson and Ishle Yi Park for the same night … because their styles and identities are vastly different but both represent and honor women’s voices and experiences, which is our theme for V-Week,” Majkut said. “It is not a lecture or a song, but a powerful collection of words and stories that compels the audience.”

Gibson will be conducting a workshop on poetry, gender and gender identity at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 in VU 462. Majkut described Gibson as a powerful poet and activist who consistently rocks stages, coffeehouses and colleges with her beautiful words and workshops. Gibson also performed at Western last year with Salt Lines, a tour group of spoken word artists. Majkut said this is a powerful chance to explore personal gender identity through spoken word poetry and performance.

Both workshops are about the chance to explore one’s own voice and any experience level is welcome, especially if you are committed to self-exploration, Majkut said. Women who are interested in attending the workshops but are worried about sharing personal thoughts should still attend, Majkut said.

“For women who did not make it into [Vagina] Memoirs, this is a chance for everyone to take amazing workshops,” Majkut said.

V-Week will continue with advocates from the Northwest Network who will speak at the discussion Violence in Queer Relationships at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11 in VU 462. This presentation, co-sponsored by the ROP Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA), will address the history, images, dynamics and implications of violence in LGBTQ relationships.

“We need a discussion, especially in Bellingham, because no resources are available—we have to bring someone from Seattle to speak,” LGBTA Programs Coordinator Kooper Wynkoop said.

Wynkoop pointed out that although Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS) supports individuals affected by domestic violence, the organization is not specific to queer relationships. In addition to DVSAS, the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center offers conflict prevention and intervention services; however, these services are not specific to queer relationships, either.

The Northwest Network was chosen because they can address violence in queer relationships and they have staff dedicated to leading discussions on the topic, Wynkoop said.
“The whole way we look at relationships is through a hetero-normative mindset,” Wynkoop said. “We need to change the entire social framework, not just within one community.”

The event is not a support group or the place to share personal stories; it’s more about being educated about resources available if you want or need help, Wynkoop said.

Seattle-based organization Home Alive will conclude V-Week with a self defense workshop at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12 in Bond Hall 217. The workshop will address ways to stay healthy and safe both physically and emotionally.

Home Alive is an anti-violence project run by women. According to the Home Alive Web site, their work in self defense encourages everyone to recognize that they are entitled to the basic human right to live free from violence and hate.  Home Alive’s goal is to build a cultural and social movement that puts violence in context of political, economic and social oppression and frames safety as a human right.

The workshops are open to all students and community members who RSVP in advance. Each workshop has 30 spots available and requires an RSVP by the day of event, which should be sent to as.rop.women@wwu.edu.