By Raena Doty
Arts & Features Editor
Walking around campus, it would be easy to miss a small purple ribbon pin clipped to someone’s hoodie or backpack, and easier yet to glaze over it - after all, it’s just a small token, and it could mean anything.
But to victims of domestic abuse, these pins can represent a lot more than that, Kianna Bauer, communications dispatcher for the University Police, said.
On Oct. 18, Bauer handed out many of these pins at a table she hosted in the McCarthy Lobby for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, recognized in October.
“Somebody’s gonna see that and think, ‘I’m not alone in all this,’” she said when describing why it’s important for as many people as possible to wear the pins.
Bauer works to spread awareness on campus about Sexual Harassment & Assault Prevention & Education (SHAPE) program, a centralized point of information and resources for those experiencing sexual violence or intimate partner violence.
Kimberly Dexter, the assistant vice president of human resources & equal opportunity and Title IX coordinator, said SHAPE is a collaborative project shared by many different organizations across campus who provide resources for helping students going through sexual or domestic violence.
She added, before 2013, different offices like the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Residence Life and Housing, the University Police, and the Office of Human Resources all had different methods of providing information to students who needed it.
“For as long as I can remember, there was always work being done to prevent gender-based violence, to respond to it … to educate around it,” Dexter said.
She added this created confusion for students and faculty alike who needed resources, but by moving all resources for students who needed help into a single spot on the website that had a more fully curated list of options, everyone benefitted.
The SHAPE logo may be familiar around the campus from cards and posters with information posted to keep students informed about the event, and the branding is also used at related events to remind people of resources available.
For example, Bauer had a small display set up during the bystander intervention training that took place Oct. 23.
Dexter added in the past, SHAPE’s branding has been posted at presentations about domestic abuse and self-defense classes hosted by the University Police, for example.
Orientation events also generally include informational sessions about consent and sexual abuse and harassment, Dexter said, and this can help students remember that there are resources on campus to help with situations of sexual harassment and assault.
She added the new orientation pilot, started in the 2023 academic year, may make it easier for students to remember they have SHAPE as a resource on campus.
Bauer said she hopes to start organizing informational tables in the McCarthy Center Lobby at least once a month to raise awareness.
She said the best thing students can do to support victims of domestic violence is to spread awareness.
Dexter added it’s important to listen to students and take their concerns seriously if they admit they’ve been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, and take it seriously if they have fears about speaking up.
“It’s easy to make a lot of assumptions about things that might have happened. It can be difficult when folks have mutual friends, where you know multiple people who may be involved - but just listening, and listening without passing judgment, can be the most important thing for somebody who is sharing that they’ve experienced violence,” Dexter said.
She added students can help by knowing intervention techniques, and though these can be learned through training, students can also learn about these through the internet.
She said students should know “that some of the reasons folks decide not to seek help is because they think that they will either not be believed, or that they’re experiencing some sense of shame, or because they just don’t think what they’ve experienced is serious.
“If somebody is confiding in you about that, just kind of be aware that they are probably going through a lot of different emotions,” she said.
Dexter added students who want to help support the efforts of SHAPE can help with the cause in many different ways.
She said students looking to get involved in an official capacity can intern with the Office of Human Resources or the Dean of Students Office and focus their efforts on SHAPE.
Dexter added Bauer’s involvement with SHAPE started when she was an undergraduate student doing an internship with Dexter.
If a student doesn’t want to commit to long-term work with SHAPE, they can also present an idea for a program, and relevant offices will do their best to make it happen.
She added the session about consent during orientation has led to students presenting ideas for programs to support SHAPE.
“After one of those orientations, somebody came up and said, ‘I know this great speaker who I think the students would love to hear,’ … and we said, ‘Great, get us in touch,’” Dexter said, and added the speaker did present at the school.
Aside from resources available on campus, both Dexter and Bauer said Voices Against Violence is a resource anyone can utilize.
The Framingham-based organization is part of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) and provides free support to anyone who needs it, Dexter said.
According to SMOC’s website, Voices Against Violence offers a “24-hour hotline, crisis intervention, confidential short term emergency shelter, counseling and support groups, information and referrals, and medical, legal and criminal justice advocacy” for free.
Dexter said FSU has access to many confidential resources for students, and said she always emphasizes when resources are confidential because people are more likely to make a non-confidential report if they’re first able to talk about the problem with confidentiality.
She added some of these confidential resources are the Health Center, the University Police, the Dean of Students Office, and the Office of Human Resources.
Lidia Puma, a senior environmental science major, said she thinks it’s important for students to know about SHAPE in case they ever need the resources.
“I’m international, so it’s definitely different back in my home country, so I was very vulnerable,” she said.
Angela Mentor-Vilgrain, a senior health and wellness major and Support. Education. Action. Leadership. Strength. (S.E.A.L.S.) peer health educator, said SHAPE is often present at events put on for the S.E.A.L.S. program and helps provide information and training to the peer health educators.
She said students experiencing sexual harassment or assault should be aware of the Counselling Center because they can provide emotional support that goes beyond legal support.
“They can go beyond just providing you the resources. There’s somebody you can talk to and confide in,” she said.
Mentor-Vilgrain added Domestic Abuse Awareness Month is important because it gives people a chance to inform themselves about warning signs and resources they’re able to provide.
For students who may be struggling with domestic abuse, she said, “There are so many ways to ask for help. In most situations, like I said, it could probably feel very isolating. But there’s always ways to reach out for help.”
Avry Guilbert, a junior psychology major and S.E.A.L.S. peer health educator, said Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a good opportunity to demonstrate support for victims of domestic violence.
“Something … you intend to be helpful can come across as maybe threatening to the other person or just maybe doesn’t come across helpful to them. So really, I think the prevention month should really be focused around helping these people in situations, and how you can be a good friend,” she said.
She added students often don’t speak up because they want their information to be kept confidential, and might be scared to act on it officially, and students should make connections with people they feel safe to confide in.
“Find people who you’re comfortable talking with, because even if they’re not going to get you out of that situation, they can help you through it,” she said.
“It’s a good kind of transition to have someone who’s ready, who knows your situation, who can help you kind of look at the bright side of things or change your habits,” she added.
Bauer said working with SHAPE is incredibly difficult, but at the same time, very rewarding.
“It is very hard to learn about the subject and learn about these things. But that’s also one of the greatest things - is that I can share this with people, and they don’t feel so alone,” she said.