Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice grew up in a bubble. As the daughter of an Air Force colonel, she lived the itinerant military life on various bases where she rarely saw men misbehave. But after leaving for college, Rice learned the true meaning of her mother’s advice on dealing with men: You can’t let them know how smart you are; men can get easily threatened.
Unfortunately for Rice, she learned the hard way.
It was her first year at Harvard when a male acquaintance asked her to meet him in the kitchen of their coed dormitory. Thinking he needed help with homework, she went. Instead, the man made advances on Rice, which she quickly rejected.
Rice matter-of-factly told him that she was not interested and if he ever wanted a chance with her, he would have to overcome his self-esteem issues and develop a bit more confidence. His response surprised her.
“He snapped,” she said.
Rice was hospitalized with a broken nose and fractured ribs.
Rice, the second cousin of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, shared her story with students, faculty and staff at the USC School of Social Work’s annual All School Day event on Feb. 11. The educational forum, started in 1992 after simmering racial tensions sparked the Los Angeles riots, is co-led by students and faculty to encourage an exchange of ideas about diversity and matters of human conflict. This year’s theme was Women and Violence in a Diverse Community.
Rice, who has received more than 60 awards for advancing multiracial democracy and has successfully co-litigated cases winning more than $1.6 billion in policy changes and remedies, delivered the keynote address. She was followed by a community panel featuring Colleen Friend, Lora Luczywo, Heather Moore and Nancy Reyes-Rubi, all of whom work in the area of women, family and community violence, as well as the Rev. Cecil Murray, holder of the Tanzy Chair of Christian Ethics at the USC Center for Religion.
Rice told the audience that she does not excuse violence against women. But, she said, people need to understand the image of masculinity and why it is so fragile.
“For men, the threat is humiliation; the threat is embarrassment, which leads to feelings of emasculation,” Rice said. “For women, the threat is violence. The threat is death.”
Rice spoke about her work as counsel to gang members in Watts as they devised a truce in the early 1990s. She initially got involved to help the women in the community. It was from them that she learned in order to help women, she had to help their men.
The men involved in the gangs were some of the most violent men she had ever worked with, she said. “They were not just a threat to the women but to the entire ecosystem,” Rice said.
There were no jobs and no infrastructure set up to help them. “No way out or up.”
The only thing they did have control over, was their home, which includes their women and children. And when that is threatened, the violence can intensify, Rice added.
“Unless we understand how to create a healthy community without men feeling that we are emasculating them … we will never solve this problem,” Rice said.
Rice received a standing ovation for her address. Students, moved by her words and her work, lined up to meet her.
“She was inspirational,” said Anasheh Abramiyan, a first-year MSW student. “I never thought about helping men in order to help the women. It makes sense. It is one of the most important things I’ve heard this year.”
Members of the panel also shared their personal and professional stories, and tried to impart how important social workers are to helping the victims of violence.
Luczywo, a volunteer with Peace Over Violence, was raped when she was 19. The most important thing a counselor, social worker or anybody working with a rape victim can tell them is they are not to blame, Luczywo said.
“It is not the victim’s fault,” she said.
Reyes-Rubi, an attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, has helped hundreds of domestic violence victims achieve safety through the Violence Against Women Act and other remedies. She said she could not do her job without social workers.
“I need social workers,” Reyes-Rubi said. “We need someone to help our clients get through the process.”
Panel moderator Rose Monteiro, an adjunct professor at the USC School of Social Work, ended the event with a strong message herself.
“Violence is preventable,” she said.