Nov. 2, 2011
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine
Programs re-affirm proactive stance against domestic violence
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Thursday’s Community Alliance Clothesline Project along with ongoing programs, guest speakers and student workshops underscore Slippery Rock University’s proactive approach to preventing emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse, said campus women leaders.
Like the University’s commitment to multiculturalism, the anti-violence message must be engrained in curriculum, orientation programs, the social life of the institution and online culture. New students now receive a letter about SRU’s zero-tolerance of violence against others, the Code of Conduct and must take a 30-minute, online workshop that addresses interpersonal violence and other topics.
Alleged incidents of abuse involving students in recent weeks have brought the issues of violence and student safety to the forefront. SRU offers many programs combating violence. The Clothesline Project, founded in 1994, was the most visible program this week but not the only one. A “Get Out” of bad relationships program took place in the University Union Thursday. Last week the University community rallied to “Take Back the Night.”
Professors are infusing their classes and activities with awareness and advocacy. Cindy LaCom, professor of English and director of the Women Studies Program, said she has been outreaching and building partnership with several groups traditionally associated with the social construction of masculinity as aggressive. They include Army ROTC, athletics, the criminology program and the Greek system.
LaCom said SRU has been making progress and believes the vast majority of students want to be proponents of change and tolerance. Much of the effort involves countering the perception of violence in society, the media, entertainment and faulty notions of masculinity, she said.
“Because we have the resources here, and I have incredible faith in our students, Slippery Rock University can be the vanguard to change a whole cultural climate that not only denigrates women but all too often associates masculinity with violence against women and inter-male dominance,” LaCom said. “This hurts women, but it also hurts men, and we all have an investment in changing that.”
LaCom said she is bringing a national expert to campus next semester to bolster the message about a zero tolerance for violence. Jackson Katz, author, activist, filmmaker, educator and one of America’s leading anti-violence experts, will do present a campuswide presentation on gender violence. Like Valena Beaty, a speaker who addressed bystander advocacy at SRU two years ago, Katz “addresses the normalization of gender violence and offers strategies to diminish it,” LaCom said.
LaCom said she would like more men to enroll in her “Intro to Women Studies” course, which includes a section on preventing violence against men and women. She said men account for up to five of the 25 students enrolled each semester.
“All of us are working to move forward; we’re learning as we go,” LaCom said. “We are increasingly proactive to make ambassadors and activists out of our students.”
Karla Fonner, program coordinator for The Bridge Project, which is housed at the Women’s Center, said the Clothesline Project gave her and other advocates the opportunity to talk to students about domestic violence. The project displayed 150 T-shirts made by survivors of domestic abuse who reside in Butler, Beaver, Lawrence and Mercer counties.
“The Clothesline Project was our opportunity to get someone’s attention and pull them in a little bit to give them information about what is happening and how they can be involved in prevention,” she said. “The first thing we tell students is to be aware that abuse exits and then we teach them how to intervene. They can call the Women’s Center and talk about what is going on.”
Fonner introduced a workshop during orientation that focused on preventing sexual violence and an online interpersonal violence workshop. Offered through D2L, the online workshop includes a video and PowerPoint she narrated.
“The online workshop really helps students to identify what the issues are and become more aware of campus resources,” Fonner said. “It is like an online class.”
The Women’s Center is also sponsoring themed monthly workshops. September focused on preventing sexual violence; October on bystander involvement and November will explore the prevention of cybercrime.
SRU students are doing their part to shift the culture. Kenya Coleman, a psychology and Spanish major from Beaver Falls, organized the recent “Get Out” program. The program gave students two opportunities to “get out.” It encouraged students to get out of their residence halls rooms and play board games with peers and it also offered information about learning to spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship to determine whether one should get out of the relationship.
“I care about the upcoming generation and my own future, and the path that we are on seems to only be getting worse,” Coleman said. “Domestic violence isn’t only something you see in movies. Now days it is something that we see portrayed on the news, on TV shows and even in music. These things are shown everywhere and after seeing and hearing these things constantly, it subconsciously starts to work in our thoughts, and these thoughts can’t help anyone.”
Coleman said she is involved with anti-violence activism because she is passionate about safety. “You never know who’s life can be saved,” she said. “It could be your sister, your mother, your daughter, you son…it could be you. You want someone there to help.”
The issues of concern for young women, she said, include media stereotypes, appearance, beauty, body size, fashion, finding a spouse, sexuality and abstinence.
“We all have to be a size two, wear the latest fashion that we see on TV, be smart enough to succeed but not smart enough to overpower the way a man is, strong enough to be independent but not dependent enough to outshine ‘our stronger domineering male counterpart,’” she said. “When I say this, I don’t say it in a way that all men think or even act this way, but the fact of the matter is the media portray this every day in almost 85 percent of the things I see.”
Kaitlyn Veiock, a psychology major from Darlington, serves as student president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, which sponsored the Take Back the Night rally. She said she has experienced sexual assault and an emotionally abusive relationship in high school.
“I wasn’t afraid of him hurting me, but more of him hurting himself,” Veiock said. “I was good to him, too good that he couldn’t let me go…ever. I couldn’t spend weekends with friends because he didn’t like them. He came with me to see my family every weekend and even picked me up from school and marching band practice. I lost a lot of friends in that three-year relationship, yet gained a lot of experience that I was able to turn into a key of empowerment and motivation to help other women who experience such relationships.”
Take Back the Night included speakers from local crisis shelters, a candlelight vigil and moment of silence. Students followed a police escort on Main Street and Keister Roads while chanting about the need to end sexual violence.
Veiock said she appreciates SRU’s many clubs and organizations that offer support and advocacy. They include the Bridge Project, Safe Zone, the SRU Counseling Center, and the President’s Commissions for the Status of Women and LGBT.
“One thing I love about Slippery Rock University’s campus is that our students get so involved,” she said. “The area that Slippery Rock students are great at when it comes to sexual violence is raising awareness.”
She said it would be nice to see more men involved in these groups and the Clothesline Project, especially since the issue of domestic violence effects one in every 33 men, she said.
“By getting men educated and involved, we may be able to decrease sexual violence and create a movement big enough to change where the source of violence, sexual behavior, substance abuse and gender roles come from – society and the media,” she said. “They are the ones that can make the difference, whether it be to change their own behaviors or to influence a friend to make better choices.”
One of the challenges with college relationships, Fonner said, is young people don’t always realize what constitutes abuse. Many of the incidents of concern do not involve physical violence but emotional or manipulative behavior or harassment by communication on Facebook, email or in text messages.
“Young women will say things like, ‘Well, he doesn’t really hurt me, but when he’s having a bad day he might throw something, punch the wall or hit the dog,” she said. “It might not meet that legal definition of abuse, but it is still sparking the fear and the anxiety and the emotional response.”
Jodi Solito, SRU director of the Women’s Center, said some young people believe the myth that behavior doesn’t rise to the level of abuse unless in involves physical or sexual assault. More likely, the problem will be mean-spirited online threats or anger from a former boyfriend or his peer group.
“Sometimes students don’t identify what they are experiencing as inappropriate,” she said. “They may think that’s the way relationships are, based on what they have learned in their own situation or through what they see on TV. We’re lacking in role models to demonstrate what a good relationship is.”
The first line of intervention is to help the student realize he or she is in an abusive relationship and to offer help. Interventionists must help a victim realize he or she is entitled to better behavior in a relationship.
“We have to get to the point where men or women say, ‘I deserve better. I deserve to be respected, and if you’re going to disrespect me, I don’t have time for you.’”
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.