When it comes to preventing violence, it is the simple actions that matter the most. Checking up on a friend who has become withdrawn. Walking a friend home to ensure they make it there safely. Intervening when another party-goer is being harassed.
UC Merced's Violence Prevention Program (VPP) is communicating this message to students, staff and faculty to help make the campus community free of violence. Everyone on campus is asked to take an active role stopping sexual assault and domestic violence.
"The goal is to get bystanders to step in and speak up," Violence Prevention Program Director Kari Mansager said. "We need to engage all students, staff and faculty, not just survivors and perpetrators."
Launched last spring, the program offers support and educational service for sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking. While the program's main thrust is to educate everyone about these issues and the services available on campus and in the community, it also offers crisis response training for those who may be first responders. The ultimate goal is to create a united campus community where sexual violence is unacceptable.
Mansager recalled one story about a female student who said she was walking by two individuals who were arguing. When she realized it had the potential to get violent, she stopped and asked if she could borrow a pen. Mansager said the student's actions probably prevented something from progressing further because it broke the tension.
"We teach students to trust their gut feeling. If something seems off, it probably is," she said. "Do something. Create a distraction."
When Mansager was brought on in May, she was tasked with providing mandatory education for all incoming students on prevention of sexual violence, dating violence and stalking.
During welcome week activities, Mansager said she collaborated with five different departments and student groups on campus — the Health Education Representatives for Opportunities to Empower Students (H.E.R.O.E.S.), Office of Student Life Intercultural Programs and Women's Programs, Residential Life, and University Women of Merced Network — to offer 23 different Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) education programs for incoming and continuing students. Topics included alcohol, sexual violence, stalking and unhealthy relationships that have been heavily covered in the media like Rihanna and Chris Brown.
The VIP program was designed with students in mind, Mansager said.
"Our program is interactive, fun and thought-provoking," she noted.
Participants learned the three Ds: Be direct in stepping in or speaking up when a form of sexual violence, dating violence or stalking is occurring; create a distraction to stop an act of violence in that moment; or delegate and get somebody else to help out.
"Through this true collaboration, 97 percent of all incoming undergraduate students were reached," she said.
"I attended the VIP Facebook stalker program and learned that protecting our personal information is important and found information on the resources available to help students with this problem," said Caroline Mack, freshman political science major. "It is relevant to me because society is controlled by technology and almost anything can be done from the inside of your house."
UC Merced's Violence Prevention Program has built a strong collaboration with local community organization Valley Crisis Center, which enhances the services available.
"Being a small campus is great, but it can lead to unique problems. Usually, a survivor's friends are also friends with the perpetrator," Mansager said. "We hope the tight knit community here will lead to more interventions."