Strength training for resiliency building

As recent research finds Wisconsin incarcerates people of color at some of the highest rates in the nation, an interdisciplinary team of Marquette researchers is investigating how an empowerment program might positively impact women adversely affected by these incarceration numbers.

“Women in Milwaukee experience trauma when they or family members are part of the incarceration system, and the way that trauma is carried in women’s bodies has a lifelong negative impact on their health,” says Dr. Jennifer Ohlendorf, assistant professor, who along with Dr. Abir Bekhet, professor, represent the College of Nursing in the Restorative Justice in Movement project.

This pilot empowerment program consists of workshops to engage women in power-based physical activity; Jiujitsu, powerlifting, self-defense and rock-climbing activities aim to help women find a way to reconnect with their bodies through exercise, according to Ohlendorf, Nurs ’00, Grad ’14. Researchers also anticipate that participants will build a community through their shared athletic pursuits, participate in an oral history project and assist in developing the research and programming for future iterations of the program.

“Together, with our participants, we are co-creating knowledge of how strength work can be a form of resistance and resilience,” Ohlendorf says. “This work is ultimately meant to allow women to build internal capacity to get strong and heal from the trauma of how high levels of incarceration affect their communities.”

The program, funded by Marquette’s Institute for Women’s Leadership and the President’s Challenge for Racial Justice and Equity Response, is a collaboration with the nonprofit Milwaukee Turners that not only connects the researchers to families impacted by incarceration but also provides the necessary athletic facilities located in its historic Turner Hall. The pilot will conclude this spring.

— Sarah Koziol, Arts ’92