“Swallow This!” cast members Steven Luna, Renoka Singh, Kristin Clark, Nicolette Margiotta, Abdul-Ganiy Okanlawon, Samantha Coyle and Jun Zhang (L-R) pose for a picture following their Staller Center debut on Nov. 10, 2015. Photo by Lauren Fetter.
By Lauren Fetter
“Do you even care about us?” a male voice echoes through the air inside Stony Brook University’s Staller Center, disdain and venom clinging onto his every word. “It’s like you don’t even value what we have.
A lack of communication. Consistent anger. Sloppy behavior. An undefined relationship.
“What we have?” a female voice snaps back. “Wait, what did I do exactly?” Her voice begins to tremble, overcome by anguish and confusion.
The young man stands with his arms crossed in front of him, contemplating what he should say next, as he looks down at the ground and turns away from the young woman. Though the couple is standing close together, they couldn’t be any further apart.
Within seconds the two are caught in the crossfire of a tear-filled screaming match laced with an exchange of words that can never be taken back.
The young woman grows tired of the situation before her and begins to walk toward the open door, saying “good-bye” to her lover one last time. Her move is met with thunderous applause.
The theatrical scene laid out before the couple is nothing more than just that: a performance. The young man, played by Stony Brook University sophomore Jun Zhang, accompanied by his on-stage counterpart, junior Kristin Clark, make their way to the sides of Theater 3, Staller’s smallest black-box, and wait for the next scene to begin.
Zhang and Clark are two of eight members in “Swallow This!,” a theater troupe at Stony Brook University that focuses on educating students about domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assault, among others, through the performing arts.
Formed in conjunction with the Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO), “Swallow This!,” as well as the university’s Red Watch Band program, are just some of the many educational tools and initiatives university members have created to help students spot troubling situations and keep themselves and their peers safe while in college.
Swallow This, Swallow That
For two hours every Monday and Wednesday morning, the cast of “Swallow This!” meets in Theater 3 to compile a script for their next scheduled performance, whether it be for an on-campus event held by a university club or organization, like CPO’s “Take a Stand, Walk with Me” campus march to stop domestic violence, or one of their own.
Offered as a two-part class through the Department of Theatre Arts beginning in the fall semester of every academic year and concluding in the spring, only two members of the 2015-2016 “Swallow This!” cast are theater majors. Students like Kristin Clark, a psychology major, auditioned for the theater troupe last semester as a way to creatively express themselves on a campus heavily influenced by the sciences.
“I’m an artist and I love performing,” Clark said. “‘Swallow This!’ seemed to be the only arena for me to adequately express myself in the company of others.”
With the help of instructors Margarita Espada, of the Department of Theatre Arts, and Lara Hunter, the coordinator of Alcohol and Drug Clinical Services at Stony Brook University, the “Swallow This!” cast compiles a running script of skits, monologues, song parodies and factoids that can be rehearsed and prepared as needed, with each scene ending with the spoken phrase, “Swallow That.”
— Lauren Fetter (@Lauren_Fettah) November 2, 2015
Most of the material used by the cast members comes from students who submit stories about their struggles with substances like drugs and alcohol, as well as issues they may be experiencing with body image, sexual assault and depression, on the Center for Prevention and Outreach website. Cast members also write skits and monologues based off of their own experiences in order to shed light on the problems college students face every day.
Cast member and Stony Brook University senior Nicolette Margiotta, who wrote and performed a monologue about the struggles of body image at a Nov. 10 “Swallow This!” performance, said that the topics the cast illustrates need to be understood by students so they can identify the gravity of hazardous situations.
“These are real issues that are happening every day, on and off our campus, and they need to be discussed in order to start a conversation and educate,” Margiotta, a biology major and theater minor, said. “So many people are provided false information and we promote the facts.”
Though the “Swallow This!” cast is small in number, they have the ability to inform the campus community of their mission and goals at the start of every fall semester when they perform at freshmen and new student orientation during move-in weekend. This exposure allows students to learn the different outlets and services the university offers for students who may seek guidance for substance abuse and sexual assault right as they begin their careers at Stony Brook.
As students begin their college experience and continue through their time at the university, more often than not, they will encounter situations in which drugs and alcohol are involved. Though it is up to them to decide how to handle the circumstances, education through university programs can help students make better choices.
“It’s a real challenge to be on a college campus where socialization, unfortunately, often revolves around drinking and drug use,” Lara Hunter said in a Stony Brook University press release. “Students are left with very few options if they’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Hunter, who works in the Center for Prevention and Outreach, is also the national coordinator of the university’s Red Watch Band program. With a mission to “provide campus community members with the knowledge, awareness and skills to prevent student toxic drinking deaths,” according to the program’s website, the Red Watch Band and “Swallow This!” go hand-in-hand with giving students the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.
Students like Rob Maloney, a Stony Brook University senior and president of the Men’s Rugby Team, have become ambassadors for the Red Watch Band movement, and are spreading awareness to the campus through the creation of the“Red Watch Band Challenge.”
Are You Up For the Challenge?
In June 2008, Northwestern University freshman Matthew Sunshine lost consciousness and died after a night of binge drinking on campus, according to a 2009 NBC News article. If only his friends had been watching out for him, he might have still been alive today.
The Chicago death forever changed Stony Brook, as Sunshine was the child of Suzanne Fields, MD, a professor of medicine at the university. Her son’s untimely and preventable death was the driving force behind the creation of the Red Watch Band program on March 15, 2009 to educate students about the dangers of binge drinking. Since then, the program has launched nationally and been implemented on more than 60 college campuses, including Northwestern University.
“Rather than trying to promote prohibition, the Red Watch Band acknowledges that there are going to be students who engage in binge drinking, and it’s important to realize that we are not trying to stop that,” Maloney said in an email. “We are, however, educating and preparing students to be responsible, active bystanders so that they can prevent harm caused by alcohol.”
Every semester, students at Stony Brook University have the opportunity to participate in training sessions to become Red Watch Band-certified. The four hour training courses include role playing to understand how to intervene in situations, as well as CPR training and other educational tools and practices. Upon completion of the training, students receive a red watch, which symbolizes “the ‘band’ of students who are trained to ‘watch’ over one another when ‘every second counts,’” according to the program’s website.
With the desire to engage fellow clubs and organizations in giving back to the Stony Brook community, Maloney and the Men’s Rugby Team created the “Red Watch Band Challenge” in the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester. After the entire team was certified and trained in the program, they nominated three more clubs, teams and organizations to take the challenge and get certified themselves. Once those teams participated, they, too, would nominate other organizations to do the same.
As a result of the challenge, the program more than doubled last semester from roughly 230 students participating in Fall 2014, to 470 students participating in Spring 2015, according to the Red Watch Band. The challenge has extended to residence halls and is expected to have more than 700 people involved in the movement by the end of the semester.
“It is incredible to see how much the community has come together for such a critical issue,” Maloney said. “The continued work of the Red Watch Band Care team, the challenge started by the Rugby team and Red Watch Band certified members everywhere is making a difference in the lives of students at Stony Brook and beyond.”
Both the Red Watch Band and “Swallow This!” CPO programs continue to spark change and educate students both on campus and nationwide. Preventative measures can make all the difference when it comes to saving a person’s life.
Photos by Lauren Fetter