“[We are] trying to create a safe campus, and one where we look out for each other,” family health practitioner Betty Bang said.
The Dating Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition for Change, or DVSA, regularly meets to brainstorm ways to improve campus safety. Faculty, staff, students and advocacy groups such as Abused Women’s Aid In Crisis, Standing Together Against Rape, Planned Parenthood and Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention work together to organize events. Members of USUAA, Student Union and the Office of Equity and Compliance also attend meetings.
DVSA members like alcohol, drug and wellness educator Brittney Kupec believe that these are conversations that need to happen.
“People can talk about consent and can talk about sexual assault versus before when there used to be, maybe 10 years ago, a big stigma where people don’t want to talk about it or people don’t report or people don’t want to tell their story,” Kupec said. “I think we’ve done a really good job at creating a culture where that’s just not how it is anymore.”
Dean of Students Michael Votava partnered with Bang to start DVSA in the fall of 2014. They recognized a need for education and awareness of interpersonal violence at UAA.
This year, DVSA began the Seawolves Speak Up Campaign with the Office of Equity and Compliance and University Advancement. This continuing campaign encourages UAA students to use their voice when they see something wrong through posters with meaningful quotes from UAA students and faculty, along with merchandise.
The members of DVSA care about UAA’s students and are moved to action by the reports of sexual violence and student feedback.
“We can’t do this work alone,” prevention education coordinator Bridget Coffou said. “We need everyone to participate and to stand up or speak up when they see or hear harmful behavior or language and either support someone who has been harmed or have an educational moment with someone who is doing the harm to make sure that more dangerous or more severe actions don’t continue to happen.”
A student reported that there were no resource information handouts at the police department or court when they needed help. In response to this feedback, DVSA created resource brochures to guide students who are reporting misconduct.
In addition to awareness campaigns, DVSA organizes events year-round to continually offer education and support to the UAA community. It collaborated with USUAA and Greek Life for the Little Back Dress Doesn’t Mean Yes event, which informed students on consent. The coalition also hosts Healthy Sexuality Fairs in February, and April brings an assortment of events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Not only does DVSA start new programs, but it is also a networking hub for different programs to work together. These projects are similar in that they provide training and education on topics such as risk, prevention, defense, healthy relationships, awareness and resources.
Bringing in the Bystander, training run by peer health educators, visits classes to show students how to be active in unsafe situations.
“We are encouraging people that they can make a difference,” Bang said. “It doesn’t have to be directly – it can be delegating to someone else like UPD – but you do something. That’s really important.”
DVSA can help students stay informed about the resources available to them. Bang and Bridget strongly encourage students to come to the meetings, if not to get involved, then to provide a student’s voice.
“[Reports and feedback are] so much more relevant when it comes from a student,” Bang said.
Student input plays a crucial role in improving campus safety. Otherwise, faculty are left to guess what students need, Coffou said.
Since DVSA began, Bang and Kupec have noticed improvements in interpersonal violence awareness.
“I think awareness has increased significantly and it’s really helped a culture shift of now we are talking about [domestic violence],” Kupec said. “We are talking about it a lot, and we are doing things about it.”
Furthermore, they noted positive impacts on students who participated in programs such as RAD training.
“The biggest thing that we see is the confidence building,” Kupec said. “We teach people that their main weapon is actually their voice and saying ‘no’ and ‘get back’ or ‘don’t touch me’… and I think a lot of people don’t feel necessarily empowered to say that.”
DVSA leaders hope to continue improving the UAA community dynamics and safety. They plan to bring materials such as articles or videos and evaluate how to act if a similar situation were to happen at UAA, Coffou said. They also plan on covering topics related to the impact alcohol and drugs have on consent during the fall semester.
“I don’t want to see people scared to go to class this year,” Bang said. “[Our mission is] making a safer place for people to feel like they can achieve their academic potential here and individual goals without fear.”
DVSA meetings will reconvene on Aug 16. For more information visit the DVSA website.