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Scholarship Winner

UC Riverside Junior Wins $10,000 Public Service Scholarship

Jessica Yamane will use the Strauss foundation award to create a martial arts program for rape survivors, UCR students and middle-school girls in Riverside.

(May 21, 2009)

Jessica YamaneEnlarge

Jessica Yamane

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – UC Riverside junior Jessica Yamane has been awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation to fund a martial arts program for rape survivors, UCR students and middle-school girls in Riverside during her senior year.

Yamane is from Arcadia, and is an honors student with a double major in political science and women’s studies.

She will use the scholarship to develop InHer Strength, a student-led organization that will offer Kenpo Karate programs and peer mentors during the 2009-10 academic year.

“Violence against women is perpetrated around the world, from verbal abuse to rape,” said Yamane. “I want to help women realize that their bodies are their own. The confidence that women learn from martial arts transfers into other aspects of their lives.”

Typically the martial arts are viewed solely as a method of self-defense, Yamane said.

“But the reality is that they can also be used as a means for self-expression, as an artistic and powerful outlet to express feelings and experience,” she said. “This project hinges on my belief that a woman who can dually cultivate a healthy respect and appreciation for her mind and body is an empowered woman. On a personal level, practicing Kenpo Karate as an Asian-American woman is a deeply rewarding experience because the art reconnects me with an aspect of my culture that is rooted in both beauty and strength.”

Yamane, a second-degree black belt, will spend the summer developing a training video at the Arcadia martial arts studio where she has studied for a dozen years. She also will teach Kenpo Karate – an Asian-American martial art –to students participating in a youth leadership project in India developed by another UCR student.

In the fall, Yamane hopes to initiate a three-pronged program: Kenpo Karate classes for Riverside rape survivors, particularly those from underserved ethnic groups; martial arts classes for students at a Riverside middle school and after-school program; and self-defense classes for students at UC Riverside.

“Karate is a bridging language that can serve as the foundation for friendships and mentorships between women and girls from all walks of life,” she said. “In the process of becoming a proficient martial artist, I gained self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Likewise, I believe that this project has the innate potential to change the lives of the girls and women who will participate.”

Yamane also hopes to sponsor seminars that would encourage rape survivors to convey their experiences through artistic mediums such as dance, spoken word, music and photography; an art contest for elementary and middle-school students on the theme of “What karate means to me”; and presentations by UCR fine arts students who submit or perform works on the theme “Re-empowering the feminine.”

“Jessica’s project re-energizes self-defense strategies used by women to empower them against violence in innovative ways,” said Piya Chatterjee, associate professor of women’s studies and Yamane’s faculty adviser. “She wants to use her own mastery of Kenpo Karate to create a curriculum that helps survivors – especially women from underrepresented and underserved communities – both heal and empower themselves, through their own bodies and selves. I am really thrilled that she is planning to do this collaboratively with her peers, with faculty in the Center for Women in Coalition, dance and theater – as well as create community partnerships with agencies like the Riverside Area Rape Crisis Center.”

Yamane also plans to make “transnational connections and trainings, to create a ‘module’ that can be replicated locally and globally,” Chatterjee said. “This is a bold and smart project and exemplifies the best kind of bridge-building that can happen between community and university around a social issue of global importance and urgency: violence against women.”

The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation, established as a memorial to the late Don Strauss of Newport Beach, awards $10,000 scholarships to at least 14 California college juniors annually. The scholarships fund public-service projects that students have proposed and will carry out during their senior year.

Donald Strauss served 10 years on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board and 12 years on the Newport Beach City Council, including one as mayor. He died in 1995 at the age of 79.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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