Mentors in Violence Prevention leave lasting impact

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courtesy of Anders Van Minter

Sexual violence is not just an important sub­ject for college students, it is a worldwide issue. Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) is an organization that has influenced military bases as well as athletic and student groups around the world to think about solving what are traditionally known as “women’s issues.”

Throughout the weekend, Vassar will be hosting three MVP training sessions where students will spend time talking about and learning how to confront and prevent gender violence.

The MVP program website states in its mis­sion, “MVP provides the leadership necessary, within sport and beyond, to address the glob­al issues of sexism, especially men’s violence against women. In our advocacy efforts and training programs, we educate, inspire, and empower men and women to prevent, inter­rupt, and respond to sexist abuse.”

The program was created in 1993 by Jackson Katz at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society and the Nation­al Consortium for Academics & Sports. “MVP began as an initiative in the sports culture because of a perceived potential for male ath­letes’ leadership on issues of gender violence — not because of disproportionate perpetra­tion by professionals or student-athletes,” the website states.

Trey Cimorelli ’16 who is on Men’s Volley­ball participated in the program last spring. He explained, “When I took it last spring, we talk­ed a lot about gender binaries and gender roles in society and how the genders are perceived by society. We also talked a lot about sexual as­sault and the spectrum it exists within, as well as bystander prevention.”

MVP was designed as a mechanism to train male college and high school student-athletes and other student leaders to use their status to speak out against rape, battering, sexual harass­ment, gay-bashing and all forms of sexist abuse and violence. “One of the most effective–and quickest–ways to achieve this peer culture cli­mate would be to enlist as change agents men who already have credibility with and the re­spect of their fellow men,” The MVP website explains.

While the program at Vassar is usually con­sistent, it is always open to suggestion. The Co­ordinator of the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Program (SAVP) Charlotte Strauss Swanson explained that improvements and changes are made every year. “This year, with some wonderful student input, we have made specific changes to make the curriculum more inclusive of diverse groups. We know that LGBTQ folks and people of color experience sexual violence at high rates and that the in­tersections of one’s identity can greatly impact experiences of violence. We wanted the work­shop to better address these topics.”

The regular workshop discussion, Swanson said, discusses issues of gender-based violence and bystander intervention on campus. She said, “The topics are varied, but include de­bunking myths about sexual violence, what it means and looks like to be an active bystander, and the role that power and privilege play in this work.”

While the program was initially geared to­wards audiences of men or athletes, everyone benefits from knowing about bystander pre­vention. Swanson added, “A large part of the program is also discussing risky situations and scenarios that come up on campus, and brain­storming ways that students can safely inter­vene to prevent a potentially violent situation from occurring.”

This isn’t the first time a workshop of this sort will be occurring. Swanson said, “We were so excited to see that last semester student feedback indicated the program was very well received. In 12 hours we have a lot more time to discuss what sexual violence looks like on and off campus, and I think students appreciat­ed having this space to critically reflect on the topic and their experiences.”

In addition to helping students learn how to prevent violence, Swanson continued, “The students who participated were also incredibly honest and open to sharing different perspec­tives with the group. It was very clear that they learned so much from one another and the con­versations they had.”

Taking what is learned in the workshop and implementing it in real life is easier said than done. Swanson said, “Intervening in potentially risky situations is tough! But our hope is that by talking ahead of time about the many differ­ent ways that folks can safely intervene, partic­ipants will feel more comfortable and prepared when these situations do come up.”

The many issues discussed at the Mentors in Violence Prevention Training are relevant wherever you go. Swanson continued, “Sexual violence is an incredibly pervasive problem in this country, both on and off college campus­es and Vassar is not exempt. Violence happens here. Engaging in critical discussions about power and privilege, the nature of sexual vio­lence, bystander intervention and how we can support survivors is such an important part of preventing violence from happening.”

In attempts to ameliorate these problems, Swanson added, “I see the MVP program as a workshop that helps to foster these dialogues and empower students to take leadership roles on campus around violence prevention.”

Cimorelli said, “I felt that I learned a lot about the different ways in which society views genders and gender norms. I became aware of a lot in terms of sexual assault, and how to step in and act as a positive bystander.” He said he would recommend the program to everyone.

Cimorelli concluded, “I think these are im­portant programs to have at every school. These are prevalent issues with society that need to be addressed and talked about. The diversity at Vassar makes it extra important to have this program here.”

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