Tim Churchard, professor of Women’s Studies 403, Gender Issues in College Sports, invited his students to get out of their seats last Monday night and practice martial arts. Students formed pairs and began to try and punch or block shots from their partner in slow motion.
“This is a metaphor for fighting, disagreement, arguing, war, everything. I’m going to punch and block the punch,” Churchard explained to his students. “It’s how we manage conflict.”
Then, Churchard invited his students to try something else. He told them to pivot off of the force of their partner’s punch, and then take control of the situation. He said that this was another metaphor for conflict.
“Why would I block it and absorb the shot, when I can just side step it and use his energy against him?” Churchard asked. “Instead of resisting the force, which we all do, I just side step the negative energy by turning.”
Churchard said that when a person resists this force and turns their body, they can see the world from their opponent’s point of view.
“That’s when we start to learn about this person,” he said. “This is one of the key ingredients in eradicating violence. Violence is when we don’t understand what we are doing. Males need to understand what females feel when they are violated, and men who have been violated will attest to that.”
Churchard has studied martial arts for 50 years and has been a teacher or professor for just as long. Today, he works as a sports psychology coach at UNH and teaches Gender Issues in College Sports, a class that he created himself last semester. The class focuses on violence, sexual assault and racism, all of which are important components of growing up as an athlete immersed in American culture.
When Churchard attended UNH 50 years ago, he was on both the UNH football and hockey teams. He said that compared to when he played college sports and witnessed a coach “run out” a black player who walked onto the UNH football team, there is much less racism in UNH sports today.
“We are leaders in this,” he said.
Last Monday, he invited the 10 students in his class to discuss their own experiences with or observations of racism thus far in their lives. According to Churchard, a main focus of the class is to start discussions like these.
“I really like discussion-based classes,” Lizzie Silvio, a senior communication major in Churchard’s class, said. “[Churchard] makes it so it’s intimate, he does small groups, lots of interaction with one another, he likes to not have kids sit in their seat the entire class, which is great… Because it’s discussion, you can’t be wrong… you just have to be able to be open-minded… it’s so crucial to be able to keep your ears open and be able to listen to others…. A lot of courses don’t offer that.”
“These topics really interest me,” another student in the class, Zoe Zeller, said. “Coming to a small class and having it be very discussion based is really enjoyable… I wish everyone had to take a class like this because it’s so important and interesting to think about where [these issues] are stemming from and why people in our society are doing the things that they are doing.”
Zeller, a senior human development and family studies major, said that she feels like the class and the discussions that it encourages lets students realize where others are coming from.
“We put on these faces and want to appear a certain way, and we forget how similar we all are,” Zeller said.
Other conversations in class last Monday included those about normalized rape jokes on television shows like Family Guy, and how they are unequally enjoyed by men and women. The class also watched a video about how men learn to see sexual assault as a joke, and how men learn through media that women want to be constantly sexualized.
Zeller thinks that a course like this may make a difference in the UNH community because it helps in opening people’s minds to important issues, and gives people a safe place to have an open discussion.
“[This course] tries to make people understand that these things are happening,” she said. “I feel like for a lot of people, they know that women are sexualized, but they don’t take the step beyond that and wonder why this is happening and how we can change it…. Having a place like this for open discussion is huge.”
Although the class focuses broadly on the issues of racism, violence and sexual assault, it also focuses on how these things tie into college athletics. After reading “Missoula”, a book written by John Krakauer about rape culture in college football, Churchard knew that he needed to teach a class revolving around these issues.
The class is taken by some college athletes, but is also open to all other students at the university. The class has no prerequisites, meets once a week on Mondays in the Field House from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and is a two-credit course. Churchard encourages any student who is interested in the material to take the course next semester.
“Athletics have always led social change,” Churchard said. “We want to be in front of the social issues that are going on at the university.”
Although the class is not rigorous academically according to Churchard, he feels that it suffices in getting the word out about important issues. He said that one of the main purposes of the course is to face these issues and decide to leave the world better that people have found it.
“This damn violence keeps growing,” he said. “[These issues] are falling in your laps and hopefully you will make it better.”