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Washington State University Graduate School

Graduate Students in the News

Mitigating the Impact of Sexual Violence

By Cheryl Reed

Amber Morczek could be the poster child for doing something better with your life in spite of the fetters of family history. In 2011, prompted by a father who nurtured in her a love for education, Amber uprooted herself from a New York family tree pocked with poverty, trauma, criminality, and addiction–and replanted herself at Washington State University Pullman to pursue a Ph.D. in criminal justice and criminology.

Since arriving at WSU, Amber has won a number of awards and become a gender scholar and content expert on rape culture and sexual violence. She has also been involved in correctional education at a local prison and become a sought-after speaker, receiving invitations from prominent institutions. Her dissertation examines the elements of rape culture within Internet pornography and its relationship to violence towards women. The connection between pornography and violence toward women is a topic most find thought-provoking, but few know how to approach. Amber hopes to change this by creating a safe space for dialog to make change. Her engaging and educational presentations are delivered with passion and humor.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to present information to the public in a palatable way where attendees feel comfortable discussing issues that may fall slightly outside their comfort zones,” says Amber, who has 10 speaking engagements scheduled from June, 2016 through February, 2017.

Delivering the Message

Amber was recently invited to speak at Syracuse University, not far from where she grew up—an invitation particularly meaningful to her. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in criminal justice from SUNY College at Buffalo, she had always viewed Syracuse enviously from afar.

“After growing up the way I did, it felt like a very big deal to be contacted to speak at a prominent institution like Syracuse University,” she says. Amber will be speaking at SUNY Polytechnic Institute on October 3 and Syracuse University on October 4 on pornography and normalizing the relationship between violence and sex.

Moreover, it was partially because of her history that Amber became interested in corrections and now volunteers at prisons across Washington State, presenting at places like the Washington State Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. She says that her life experiences prepared her to interact well with those behind the walls.

“I often preface my presentations by telling the inmates that we probably have a lot more in common than they may think,” she says.

Having been invited to present more than 20 keynote addresses, webinars, and presentations since 2014, Amber’s most recent surge in invitations actually began at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Washington, where she participated in a Prison Debate Project. The program took WSU criminal justice undergraduate students and partnered them with students getting AA degrees at Coyote Ridge. The benefits were two-fold: WSU undergraduates were able to get hands-on experience within a prison setting, and inmate students were able to extend their education by working with those going to college on the outside.

“The impetus for the program was to help inmates learn and actually practice skills that would help them integrate back into society,” says Amber. “After all, it’s well documented that prison-based education benefits inmates both while in prison and upon release.” In June, Amber volunteered to speak to the inmates about overcoming adversity to achieve success—and has since begun filling her calendar with speaking engagements, including a recent talk here on the WSU Pullman campus for the Common Reading Program.

Serving the Local Community

On September 7, Amber presented the inaugural lecture for the Common Reading program’s year-long consideration of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir I am Malala. Her talk, titled, “The Synergistic Connection Between Rape Culture and Violence Toward Women,” garnered positive responses from students such as, “I LOVED THIS! So good. I love her, she is AMAZING. This was so great I’m glad we talked about real world issues. I wish I had classes like this.”

Karen Weathermon, co-chair of the Common Reading Program, said in a letter to Amber, “You struck a chord with the students who attended your presentation. The material you presented was excellent and an important perspective to bring to the issues of gender violence in our book—but it was your skill in presenting that pushed your presentation way above the ordinary. That you so completely engaged students around a difficult topic speaks volumes about your strengths as a presenter and teacher.”

Amber generally begins her presentations with a brief overview of the rape culture that normalizes, condones, minimizes, satirizes, and eroticizes violence toward women. Her talks are sex positive, candid, and interactive discussions on what mainstream pornography teaches about sexual violence and what we can do to mitigate the impact.

“Research indicates that viewing pornography has measurable effects on both attitudes and behaviors,” says Amber. “But unfortunately there are very few safe spaces with which to have a candid discussion about the impact – especially via a sex positive lens.”

Not only is Amber a prominent speaker, she is widely published and the recipient of numerous awards. Her research is published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Family & Intimate Partner Violence Quarterly, the International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Sexuality & Culture, and 3 front page manuscripts in The Sexual Assault Report. Her 2016 awards include the President’s Award for Leadership, the Outstanding Student Award from the Division of Student Affairs, the Arnold & Julia Greenwell Memorial Scholarship for Social Sciences and Humanities from the Graduate School, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award. Prior awards include the 2015 Outstanding Service Award from her department, the 2014 Karen P. DePauw Leadership Award from the Graduate School, the 2014 Women of Recognition Award from the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award from her Department and the 2009 Morgan Graduate Award from SUNY College at Buffalo.

“Every aspect of Amber’s existence is dedicated to making the world a better place for men and women,” says Faith Lutze, associate professor in criminal justice and criminology, and Amber’s faculty advisor. “She encourages people to act when they may have turned away.”

Amber is a transplant. From a broken family to a new life with purpose planted in the rivers of education and research, she is now directed toward giving, leading, educating, and creating a better world. Amber’s research and work at Washington State University is advancing social justice and improving education, and her life is a testament to the hope that change is always possible, no matter your roots.

Find out more about graduate programs at Washington State University at gradschool.wsu.edu