Students everywhere on Sept. 6 received this startling message through e-mail and saw it posted on doors throughout campus: “On Monday afternoon at about 4:45, a female student walking on the rail trail south of campus was approached by an unknown male, approximately 16 to 17 years old with shaggy blond hair, riding a red mountain bike. He grabbed her and then rode off. She was not physically harmed. The police are investigating. The campus community should act with increased caution.”A couple years ago, this alert might not have made it to every inbox on campus. It might have even gone unreported. But CHANGE has recently taken the campus by force with a clever acronym and a new approach to dealing with problems like the one recently experienced on campus.
CHANGE stands for Creating Honoring Advocating and Nurturing Gender Equity, and consists of a group of students, administrators, faculty and staff members who collaborate to create programs that help students deal with issues like sexual assault, sexism and homophobia.
As part of the CHANGE initiative, a group of students have formed the Peer Advocates for CHANGE, who volunteer their time and receive more than 25 hours of training to maintain a 24/7 hotline for victims, along with an e-mail service. They are also available to talk in person if needed and all contact is confidential.
On Sept. 9, Peer Advocates for CHANGE held a forum in the Campus Center in which faculty members and students were able to gather to discuss the effects of the Sept. 6 incident, but also to get the word out about what the Peer Advocates are trying to accomplish here at Castleton.
Dennis Proulx started the discussion off with a general idea of what the forum was about:
“What we wanted to do.is talk about resources on our campus. I like to believe that the whole campus does not want or condone sexual assault or inappropriate sexual contact, and I like to make the assumption that we’re all here because we don’t want that to happen in our community.”
Proulx also pointed out the various changes the campus has made in just a couple years including the blue light emergency buttons can be seen all over campus, Public Safety’s 24/7 contact service in which a student can be walked or driven safely to their destination on campus, the locking of residence halls at all times and close communication with state and local police.
Jaklyn VanManen, who was the first student coordinator of CHANGE and is now a part time administrator since graduating from Castleton, talked about training the Peer Advocates received
“The training was done by Steve Thomspon, who is a sexual aggression expert from Central Michigan University. He did training on sexual assault, stalking, harassment, profiles of offenders, how to run the hotline, how it works, and what it’s like being an advocate,” she said.
Regarding the recent incident on the walking trails, Linda Olson, who is co-chair of CHANGE initiative, said “when something like this happens, it’s a trigger for survivors. And even if you’re not a survivor, you might have friends that are and might need that kind of social support…there is support for you out there.”
Although there are plenty of students involved, most are women. When asked about this, Olson said “This is not just a woman’s issue; this is a human issue that affects all of us. So I think that one thing we can do is educate the campus that this is not just a woman’s issue, all of our relationships are affected by these events.I think that administrators and faculty can actually nominate men that they think would be good in these roles, and when that happens, the men are more likely to apply. If there is a male you know that would be great as a PAC student, encourage him to apply.”
Brittany Baron, a Peer Advocate student, said she thinks more men will sign up.
“I think that will eventually change. Right now CHANGE is still a very new group and I think that a lot of people need to be more educated on it before we can make steps in the right direction. Men have been in the program and there have been issues with classes and just not having the time to participate, so I don’t know if it’s really because they think it is a woman’s issue. Maybe they just don’t see that it’s an option to get involved, because many of them don’t know what it is.”
For some PAC students, the present issues with sexual assault on campus seemed to hit home. Many students decided to join PAC after experiencing sexual violence first hand or second hand.
“I found out about PAC last year because I had class with Linda Olson,” student Emily Provo said. “I’ve also had friends who have been victims of sexual assault and violence, so I thought it was really important for me to get the word out there, to educate people on this problem. A lot of people don’t realize that these events can happen to them.”
President Dave Wolk told those attending the forum CHANGE is making Castleton better.
“I really like the collaboration that goes on in CHANGE. We can be a leader in this area, and frankly, we are. I think CHANGE is going to grow in the future and be a model for other colleges,” he said.
Olson and VanManen urge students to contact them for more information about the CHANGE initiative or if students wish to become a Peer Advocate.