The OneLove Foundation, an organization designed established in Fall 2010 to raise awareness about domestic violence and relationship violence, has made its mark on Vassar College. The Foundation was created by the Love family in memory of their daughter Yeardley, a University of Virginia (UVA) women’s lacrosse student-athlete who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, a men’s lacrosse player at UVA. OneLove seeks to work with college students across the country to inform young adults about the warning signs of abuse. It hopes to spark communities to work towards actively changing the statistics and realities of modern-day relationship violence.
Vice President of the Student Athletic Advisory Council (SAAC), junior Trey Cimorelli, introduced the foundation to SAAC after it was brought to Vassar through the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Office. Cimorelli continued, “One of the interns, [senior] Tatiana Londono, worked directly with the OneLove foundation to collaborate with Vassar. At the end of last semester, the interns at the SAVP office were trained to facilitate the training (myself included as I work there). Through my connection with SAVP and SAAC that is how we got the ball rolling to have SAAC sponsor a OneLove training.”
The session was held in Rocky 200 this past Sunday night and was open to the entire student body. The “Escalation Workshop,” led by Cimorelli and SAAC Secretary junior Sophie Arnold, consisted of a 40-minute film that depicted evolving verbal, physical and emotional abuse between a fictional college couple. The group was then broken up into three smaller discussion groups headed by SAVP staff members, CARES listeners and trained SAAC facilitators.
Arnold explained the importance of the film and the tone it set for the rest of the session, saying, “I think the program’s use of the video was a crucial piece in this training. By watching an abusive relationship play out in the film, it allow[ed] students to have an external medium to discuss, instead of having to speak only from personal experience. To some degree, it depersonalizes the issue–but it also makes it very personal, because it is very easy to imagine similar things happening to those around you, or it can remind you of experiences you may have had in your own life.”
Cimorelli noted that while some of the events in the film may not have been as subtle or true to real life events, they would help individuals to begin to think about these types of situations more cautiously. He also hoped that it would help individuals feel more comfortable speaking or reaching out to others who may be in a risky situation, as well as make individuals more aware of resources on and off campus.
Simon spoke of the specific importance of this event to the student athlete community in particular. He reiterated, “It gets people thinking about how their day-to-day actions and language affect people and how those choices either challenge or reaffirm violence.” He continued, “I’m not going to speak for the whole student body; but for me and those in my circles/groups/orgs willing to make that next step, I think after these trainings/conversations there needs to be serious reflection on how my groups and myself as an individual can be proactive in ensuring everyone’s safety.”
Junior SAAC rep Nathalie Freeman agreed with the sense of community that was built in spite of the film’s dark tone. “I think that this program was really beneficial because it brought together a lot of college kids from different backgrounds and with different levels of experience with abusive relationships and allowed us to experience something together and reflect upon it.”
In regards to the discussion, she continued, “It felt like this whole experience was for and about us, and that we could speak freely and experience our emotions openly without the fear of being judged.” She spoke about her personal experience, explaining how beneficial the program was to her specifically. “I was pleased with how everyone reacted to the film and I think that after this experience I will feel more comfortable talking to others about my experiences and being there for people who might need my help or guidance,” she said.
While the OneLove training session was impactful for those involved, SAAC and the student body recognize that this is just an initial step. Cimorelli stated that the next step is to continue to get involved with the foundation itself via the website joinonelove.org to become part of the movement and raise awareness about its message. In addition, he and other participants of the session believe SAAC can work towards doing outreach surrounding a variety of issues including things like sexual assault, bias incidents and drug abuse. Freeman elaborated, “As a group of athletes I think it’s really important (especially at Vassar) that we show how much we care about the safety of our peers and about making the Vassar environment more hospitable for everyone. I think that it’s important for there to be more events where SAAC invites other people (team members, non athletes, faculty, etc.) to our meetings or workshops.”
Arnold agreed, mentioning a desire to keep improving SAAC’s programing and continuing to raise awareness across campus, specifically through established events like the MVP team training that occurs each year. It is important for those who attended to speak with friends and encourage future participation and engagement. SAAC’s goal is not to simply educate a small pool of student-athletes, but rather spark a larger, gap-bridging dialogue that pulls students from all aspects of the college. As Simon put it, “I came out of the training feeling more connected to my teammates and the athletic community members who showed. It was great to see people show up and get invested, we just need more.”