October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. College students may not realize that domestic violence is a shockingly prevalent issue in many relationships today. Approximately 20% of college students have experienced some sort of violence from their current partner. That number increases to 33% when both partners past and present are taken into account. To help raise awareness of domestic violence and help prevent an increase in these statistics, Mercyhurst’s Empowerment and Prevention Project is teaming up with SafeNet to host fun and relevant events throughout the month of October.
Michael Madonia, M.S.W. is the Project Manager of Mercyhurst’s Empowerment and Prevention Project (MEPP). He is a part of the collaborative leadership team spearheaded by Judy Smith, Ph.D., executive director of wellness at the Cohen Health Center, that manages daily operations of the project. The Mercyhurst Empowerment and Prevention Project is the result of a federally funded grant from the Office of Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.
“I have found the Mercyhurst community very open to discussion about these difficult issues,” Madonia said. “Open discussion will help end the problems of gender based violence and the burdensome shame and stigma that domestic violence and sexual assault survivors endure.”
Smith helped to achieve this grant for the purpose of encouraging a culture of respect and safety on campus and helping to prevent sexual assault, domestic/dating violence and stalking.
Alice Agnew, Title IX coordinator, Megan McKenna, Director of Residence Life and Student Conduct, DJ Fuhrmann, Chief of Campus Police, along with the executive leadership at SafeNet and the Crime Victim Center in Erie make up the Empowerment and Prevention Project team.
They work with the student leaders and groups on campus such as MSG, MAC/SAC, SAAC, SAGA and MEOW to make events such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month happen.
This year’s events began on Oct. 21 with the “Silent Witness” exhibit at the Mercyhurst Hammermill Library. This project, created by SafeNet, will be on display the entire week as a way to provide voices to those men and women who have died in the United States due to domestic violence. There will also be educational materials available for students.
“Each one has a story,” Madonia said. “This exhibit includes life size silhouettes and narratives of people who have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence.”
On Oct. 24, the annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” will be held to raise awareness of the sexual violence towards women. Men on campus are encouraged to wear red high-heels on the walk to remember, to appreciate and to understand womens’ experiences.
Over 50 students, faculty and staff are already signed up, but anyone on campus is welcome to join the walk between 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. in front of the Student Union on Thursday.
“While the theme is very serious, the event itself is fun and lighthearted. Taking a stand against sexual violence is a great opportunity for our students and employees to start to step up to change our campus culture and take action to prevent sexualized violence,” Madonia said.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, SafeNet will host the annual “Boo Run” at Presque Isle at the Rotary Pavilion on Beach 7. The 5K run will begin at 9 a.m. Mercyhurst community members are encouraged to walk or run in their best Halloween costumes. In addition to the run, there will be a fire, music, refreshments and door prizes. Use the code “MERCYHURST2019” to receive a 50% discount off of online registration for Mercyhurst students.
Madonia wants to remind students that just because Mercyhurst is a safe and small campus, domestic violence is still a real issue that the community must work together to solve.
“Generally speaking Mercyhurst is a safe campus and the leadership at the University, from the President on down the line, is very highly invested in keeping the University safe for everyone,” Madonia said. “And just the same we can’t pretend this problem doesn’t exist.”
According to Madonia, domestic and dating violence is physical and mental abuse that is inflicted in order to control another person by fear and it is not exclusive to one gender, background or sexuality. It has been proven, he stated, that once the abuse begins, it tends to increase over time, even becoming life threatening.
If students have experienced any form of domestic violence, they can anonymously seek out the resources here at Mercyhurst such as the Cohen Health and Counseling Center, Mercyhurst Title IX Policies and Procedures, the Mercyhurst Empowerment and Prevention Project and the services of Police and Safety.