UMass launches campaign to prevent sexual assaults (with video)

Sunday, January 26, 2014
AMHERST — With about one-quarter of all female college students nationwide reporting being victims of rape or attempted rape, the University of Massachusetts has launched a campaign to prevent sexual assault and other high-risk behaviors.

As President Obama this week focuses on curtailing what officials say is an epidemic of sexual assaults on campuses, UMass officials launched the second phase of the campus-wide UMatter@UMass community-building effort. The emphasis is on raising awareness among students so they are better educated of the dangers and have the skills to intervene when an assault occurs or is threatened.

Enku Gelaye, interim vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life, said the UMatter initiative starts with the premise of building a more caring and compassionate community. It encourages all students to be “active bystanders,” whether dealing with sexual assaults, alcohol or drug abuse, as well as harassment, bullying and intimidation.

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“Active bystander is one of the cores of UMatter,” Gelaye said. “We need to give people hard skills they can use to prevent trouble in real-world situations. The UMatter@UMass active bystander program provides both the climate and the real-world skills.”

Gelaye, along with Harry Rockland-Miller, director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, has been leading the effort to present the UMatter concept to the campus community.

Rockland-Miller said administrators are calling it “3D” training, telling students who witness dangerous or high-risk behavior to use “direct,” “distract,” and “delegate” techniques to increase the probability that a bystander will step in to help someone in trouble.

“With active bystanders, we want to reinforce a culture of active engagement,” Rockland-Miller said. “When people feel connected, we can reduce the risk of sexual assault, suicide, violence, problem drinking and other threats to safety.”

There is one video for each of the techniques.

The “direct” video depicts a man making sexually suggestive comments and shows a woman responding in a clear, non-confrontational way.

The “distract” video features an intoxicated woman who could be vulnerable to a sexual assault and a male friend who creates a diversion to prevent her from being harmed.

The “delegate” video shows two women seeking to help their female friend out of a dangerous situation by calling for help.

The videos are on the UMatter@UMass website at www.umass.edu/umatter

In addition, Gelaye said, the campaign includes publicizing UMatter through advertising on PVTA buses, posters in dorms and around campus, having a social media presence, and campus events that will be scheduled during the spring semester.

The UMatter@UMass campaign started about a year ago to send proactive messages to students about their health, safety and well-being. Information programs for faculty and staff and training for approximately 1,200 students and 450 on-campus resident assistants and residence directors then occurred in a “soft launch” during summer orientation and continued during the fall new student orientation. Training will expand in the fall to include about 4,500 incoming students.

“Our goal is to train every entering student in fall 2014,” Gelaye said.

“UMatter@UMass is a campus-wide initiative that encourages all of us to be active bystanders and to participate in the effort to create a caring and compassionate campus community,” said Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, in a statement issued by the university. “Together we can create a caring campus culture and a firmer commitment to each other and our educational goals.”

New phase underway

The new phase of UMatter@UMass builds on work done by the Northwestern district attorney’s office that concluded with “The Campaign to End Sexual Assault on Campuses” conference at Hampshire College last April.

Gelaye said with the district attorney’s permission, several videos and posters created for the conference are being repurposed and rebranded with the UMatter logo.

Mary Kociela, director of the domestic violence program for the district attorney, said the office initially received an Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant and used $16,000 to work with the Five Colleges and Greenfield Community College to create the “Consent: The Difference between Sex & Rape” campaign.

Mary Patierno of Ashfield and Natalia Muñoz of Northampton were hired to produce all campaign material, including the videos and posters. The goal, Kociela said, of not just explaining the problem with sexual assaults, but giving students tools they could actually use to confront the issue.

“One of the pieces was to work with colleges to educate incoming freshmen about the problem,” Kociela said.

Patierno, working with others, including the Center for Women and Community at UMass, put together the scripts. She and Munoz worked with area college students who are part of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players, which for 25 years has been putting on educational performances related to social issues.

The actors also represent a diverse cross-section of the student body and are attuned to the issues, which helps resonate with college students, Kociela said.

Matt Martel, a junior from Lexington who acted in the productions, said he hopes that being an active bystander and the “3D” training will become as familiar as being a designated driver.

“We really want bystander intervention to be a thing, to be a term,” Martel said.

What UMass is doing, Kociela said, is to make a difference in the community — and for District Attorney David Sullivan — by creating a template that can be applied to first-year students at other colleges.

“We’ve had so much collaboration with students and to work with the University of Massachusetts, to have them take this to the next level, is gratifying,” Kociela said.

Patierno said she is proud to be part of this meaningful work.

“Sexual assault is a huge problem across the nation, and obviously it’s also been a problem here in the Valley,” Patierno said. “I commend UMass for really getting behind this initiative.”

Sullivan, a 1981 UMass graduate, said he is honored to work with campus leaders to increase the safety, well-being and success of everyone at the UMass campus.

“I have no doubt that sexual assaults on campuses can be stopped if university administration, staff, students and law enforcement continue to work together to enhance understanding of what constitutes lawful behavior, increase reporting of unlawful behavior and hold offenders accountable,” Sullivan said.