Whatcom Community College is actively taking steps to prevent sexual violence on campus, through a variety of programs and events that focus on awareness, including holding a one-mile walk-run event focused on sexual assault awareness.
The Red Zone walk-run challenged participants to “step up” and raise awareness of sexual violence. Whatcom Student Conduct Officer Melissa Turkington said events such as the walk-run are in response to the Clery Act, which mandates transparency around campus crime statistics.
“The first thing is to gain awareness of what the Red Zone is and the second piece is educating people about how to keep themselves safe and keep others safe,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Education defines the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, signed in 1990, as a federal statute requiring colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to maintain campus crime and security information.
“Every college campus across America is required to extend a certain amount of education and training on the Clery Act,” Turkington said. “A group of us got together over the summer and said we really haven’t been doing the best job at that here,” she said. “We can do a lot better.”
On Oct. 4, Red Zone walk/run took place in the Pavilion Center at Whatcom. This was the first walk-run event promoting the Red Zone campaign and Turkington called it a “really positive experience overall.” Those who participated received a wrist band for every lap completed for 10 and a half laps around the Pavilion Center’s upper floor. Turkington said she was
“really happy to see all of the people who showed up in support.” Thirty to 40 people attended the event. Many signed pledges on how they would help in bringing awareness to sexual violence.
Whatcom counselor Margaret Vlahos said she plans to “participate in activities that happen on campus,” when asked how she would “step up.” Counselor Dawn Gallardo said she would also do her part by “supporting awareness on campus.” Turkington says the program is still growing.
“What are we currently doing and what can we add to that? How can we make a comprehensive program at Whatcom that meets our needs?” said Turkington. “We have a lot of pre-packaged programs like Green Dot [but] its more four-year centric.”
The Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program was founded by Dr. Dorothy Edwards and teaches students to intervene in potentially dangerous situations by implementing the three D’s method: direct, delegate, and distract.
Turkington said they decided to “build our own from scratch and the Red Zone program this year was our pilot.” Red Zone refers to the first six weeks of fall quarter. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, over 50 percent of campus-related sexual assaults happen in that first six weeks, a statistic Turkington calls “shocking.”
“But there’s a lot we can do to reduce that number,” she said. Turkington said she and others will be doing similar events throughout the year for Red Zone. “For example, we will have a domestic violence awareness month, and Take Back the Night is pretty popular across the nation as well,” she said. “Then we’ll be launching a bystander intervention program.”
Turkington said the real backbone will be the Bystander Intervention piece, which she said she hopes to offer to the entire college at some point.
“It’s been proven, time and again, that if bystanders are active and step in, in situations they think something might be happening especially at college parties where most assaults happen , that they can prevent it,” Turkington said.
Students and staff who attended the walk-run pledged to help bring awareness to sexual violence in various ways.
Noah Lovell, who is studying business administration, said he plans to “check in with people.”
“There are some people out there you just don’t pay attention to often,” he said, adding, “they may not be too social because they might be hiding something. Just check in with people who don’t look like they’re doing too well. You never know when someone might need help.”
Sandwich boards with a calendar of Red Zone events will be on display around campus and Turkington said they are currently working on a website that will be the foundation for the Step-Up program.
“Be aware of anyone in those Tshirts,” Turkington said. “They are a safe person to report to on campus, that’s why they have the T-shirt.
“If people ever have questions about who to talk to and they don’t want to contact police, they can always come see someone in my office,” said Turkington, whose office is located in Laidlaw Center 208B. “It’s confidential and they’re going to believe them.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, a campus alert that went out via email disclosed that a Whatcom student reported being sexually assaulted on campus by another Whatcom student in front of the Syre Student Center. The alert said the alleged offender knew the alleged victim, and is currently suspended pending an investigation.