A Look at a CARE Peer Educator’s Experience

There I sat in my typical academic advising meeting, chatting with my academic adviser about my upcoming goals and plans. I described my strong desire to help people, no matter my future career may be, and I mentioned that I might be interested in working with victims of domestic violence. My adviser responded, ‘You would be perfect for the CARE Internship! I will email Shelly and give her your name so you can set up an interview.”

I hesitantly said…”Okay..?..Yeah, that sounds like that could be a good experience..I guess?”

Little did I know, the CARE Internship would become one of the most relevant, and impactful experiences of my college career thus far.

I then set up an interview with Shelly Maxwell; I nervously chatted with her about my aspirations, and my reasoning behind wanting to become part of CARE. She explained how CARE (Campus for Awareness and Relationship Education) is a peer education group consisting of female and male ally students focused on raising awareness about healthy relationships vs. unhealthy relationships and how to tell the difference between the two. CARE strives to promote awareness of relationship and sexual rights, while educating the student body on the services of the Victim’s Advocate. It also promotes and informs students of other campus resources available to them. I could tell this group was for me. I just never realized to what extent this would come to life.

After attending a Peer Educator 101 training session at the very beginning of the semester, I had just begun to recognize the pertinence of all the issues that CARE focuses on. We watched a clip on the importance of bystander intervention, taking a stand against potential perpetrators that are looking to take advantage of their victims that could be in vulnerable situations, such as under the heavy influence of alcohol. Even though the clip showed a situation that was staged with actors as the victims/perpetrators, the bystanders were not actors and were not aware that the situation was staged. As I watched the bystanders passionately stand up for the two people who were acting as potential victims, I was inspired. I know I have been in similar circumstances where I have felt that someone is being treated inappropriately, and needs someone to stand up for them. This person that needs help could be a friend, stranger, or acquaintance. It doesn’t matter. Knowing what to say in the face of a potentially dangerous situation can make all the difference in the world. It has the potential to change a life, or possibly even save a life.

As my semester as a CARE Intern progressed, I continued to have moments of inspiration that caused me to become more and more dedicated to the CARE mission of raising awareness of healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships. Every Monday morning, my fellow interns and I discussed our weekly reading, under the guidance and instruction of Shelly Maxwell. I was nervous for these discussions at first; I thought, what if I don’t know what to say? Won’t it be uncomfortable to discuss these challenging, emotional topics with a group I have never met? But, after just the first meeting my fears were put to rest. Shelly made all of us feel comfortable to disclose as much or as little personal information as we wanted. We got to openly discuss the text, and the small group of us made the situation even more comfortable. But because we had very different backgrounds and fields of study at UW-O, we all took different things out of the readings that allowed all of us to expand our views and reactions to the texts. One of the first books we read followed the story of young woman in college and her struggle with alcoholism. This book exemplified the relevance of our mission as CARE peer educators; it was not specifically a book about domestic violence or healthy relationships, but it demonstrated how the circumstances that CARE focuses on are easily relevant in the life of a college student. It was an eye-opening experience for us to begin our time in seminar.

The semester proceeded, and the experiences that drew me to become passionate about CARE and its mission only continued. Then, in October, CARE had a booth at Take Back the Night, that Fox Valley domestic violence rally/march. This caused me to recognize just how many people are passionate about the same causes that we, as peer educators, fight to raise awareness about. During the march, as our voices sounded in the crisp, fall air, I felt so much support and strength from the sense of community that night. What we were doing as an organization was impactful and powerful, and I was so thankful that I had the opportunity to take part in this event.

CARE has expanded my knowledge of so many pertinent issues that I never anticipated learning about during my time as an undergraduate student at UW-O. Stalking and the stereotypes of male and female gender roles are just two of the concepts that I never thought I would leave college with a thorough understanding thereof. But, now I can say that I am well-informed on these, and so many other relevant issues in society today. I also realize the significant importance of word choice, the impact of language on an individual, and the appropriate ways to approach an individual who uses insensitive word choices.

CARE has given me the opportunity to become knowledgeable about so many topics that could potentially help me in my future career, and has made me a better informed and aware member of society. Yes, I may have had no idea what to expect initially. But I am taking away a wealth of knowledge and group of friends and fellow peer educators that I am so thankful for, and will never forget.

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me…or CAN they?

Hi! My name is Lizzie Gill, and I work for the Department of Residence Life as a Community Development Specialist in the area of Diversity Education. The U-Matter team has asked me to guest blog this week on the subject of inclusive language. Last spring, I began working with the U-Matter team and I want to explain a little bit about how it all started.

About a year ago, I went to a conference at UW-Eau Claire for student leaders. WORD. was one of the program offerings, and I figured I’d head to the room and try it out. The presenter, a resident assistant from UW-Milwaukee, came out to the hallway and asked us to wait outside until everyone arrived. She told us that whatever we witness in the room would stay respectfully confidential. I was a little hesitant, since I had no idea what was going on, but it wasn’t long before I realized.

She opened the door, and what I saw inside was disgusting. It really was. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, table and chairs were all covered with derogatory, hateful terms. Ones I don’t feel comfortable writing in this blog. After about a minute of absorbing everything, she led us in an activity about the effects of hurtful words. We talked about our personal experiences with those words and removed them from the room.  After the room was cleared, it was much more welcoming and comfortable, and in a way, think that’s reflective of our community.

It was challenging, thought provoking, and it stuck with me days and weeks after leaving the conference. I heard these words thrown around our hall, without recognizing the history and/or the hurt behind them. I decided that this program was something that Oshkosh needs.

The students from UW-Milwaukee were thrilled that we wanted to bring it to our campus. We adapted it to reflect the UW-Oshkosh experience, including more social justice pieces, such as bias incident training and intervention skill building.

The program is now called Say What?!  Though it wasoriginally planned for Fletcher hall, it has been done across different campus settings. Please, please—if you hear one is being hosted near you—go! It is an amazing discussion about respect and inclusion.

If you have questions about it, I’d love to hear from you! My email address is gille49@uwosh.edu. Thanks, everyone, and good luck with the rest of the semester.