Gabriel Kwarteng posed with his girlfriend over FaceTime to take their photo for the Bruin Consent Coalition’s latest photo gallery.
Kwarteng and Paulette Orhii, a second-year human biology and society student, are one of the couples whose photographs will line the Kerckhoff Art Gallery walls for the new campaign “#Relationshipgoals,” a photo gallery featuring 20 UCLA couples that will run from Monday to Friday.
Ayane Tsutsumi, a third-year anthropology student and the coalition’s co-director, said she hopes the exhibit will open up dialogue surrounding partner violence on campus in a positive and engaging manner during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“When people hear of domestic violence they think, ‘I’m not part of that since I’m not married,’ because media has stigmatized abuse with older couples,” Tsutsumi said. “By framing the subject with college students celebrating healthy relationships, people will learn what’s unhealthy in contrast and will recognize that abuse can also affect people our age.”
The coalition circulated applications for the photo campaign among campus organizations such as the LGBT Campus Resource Center and shared it on various student pages to reach a wide range of applicants.
“We didn’t want to have a white heteronormative portrayal of healthy relationships. We really wanted to be inclusive with this campaign because all relationships are valued,” she said. “Domestic violence can be manifest itself in many communities and that needs to be expressed.”
Tsutsumi said the subject of domestic violence can be heavy and difficult to approach. However, she added the photo campaign is one way to begin a conversation about partner abuse.
Orhii said she hopes the display of her relationship with Kwarteng, a student at Houston Community College, will show other students that long-distance relationships can be healthy.
“There’s so much stigma against long distance because the media portrays trust issues that might stem from lack of communication,” Orhii said. “Long-distance relationships can be just as healthy as those within the same state and time zones.”
Orhii said she disagrees with the notion that physical separation can negatively affect relationships, and added that even short-distance relationships can still be unhealthy. The media glorifies short-distance relationships in shows such as “Empire” and “Sex and the City,” but these depictions actually feature couples with unhealthy power dynamics, she said.
“(Short-distance relationships) are modeled as the iconic relationships but there is this constant push and pull by the men and a submissiveness by the women in the couples,” she said. “There’s just a very uneven dynamic in these shows and that’s unfortunately widespread,”
Orhii said she and Kwarteng prevent an imbalance of power in their relationship by quickly resolving any issues that may arise, like deciding who will pay for meals on dates after they have finished eating.
Kwarteng said prior to applying for the campaign, he and Orhii had a conversation over the phone in which they defined what makes their relationship healthy. He said Orhii’s persistence about communication is one of her strongest contributions to the relationship.
“She’ll give me a rundown of everything she does for clubs and school and that makes me feel (like) I’m really involved in her life at UCLA,” he said. “Seeing her pursue her passions really pushes me and inspires me, so it makes me realize that we can conquer anything together.”
Although Orhii and Kwarteng recognize their relationship is not a perfect model, they said they hope students at UCLA will look at their photo and see that trust and affection are necessary in any healthy relationship.
“I hope everyone can look at love and learn how to recognize it,” she said. “I didn’t have a model of real love growing up, and I’d want to be that for someone else.”
Tsutsumi added that while displaying photos of couples like Orhii and Kwarteng’s may be a fun and cute campaign, each photo serves a bigger purpose. The couples featured in the campaign can help people avoid domestic abuse by identifying what characteristics build healthy relationships, she added.
“My motive in life is to help survivors, and this (campaign) helps others,” Tsutsumi said. “In seeing the campaign, students can become informed and recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships to avoid becoming potential survivors in the future.”