Become a PACTivist and Make a Difference

a flyer saying "You can make a difference"

Whether you want to be a PACTivist, a peer advocate or a peer educator, you can make a huge difference in preventing gender-based violence.

Have you ever had a time when you’re really pumped to talk about something, but no one even knows what you’re talking about? For you, it might be your favorite TV show or a good book you’ve just read. For me, my current passion is the RE Initiative. It appears that despite having a successful PSA on WSU’s homepage, as well as a very well thought out and informative blog post on gender-based violence, few students know about the RE Initiative.

At least, this was is the feeling I get because I recently started working for the RE Initiative and every time I told someone about my “totally new and exciting” job, they would simply ask “What is the RE Initiative?” And I guess that is the million dollar question–but I am tired of answering it. So I’m taking the opportunity of exposure that the Internet provides to briefly inform you about what the RE Initiative is, why you should care and how you can get involved.

Overall, the RE Initiative has high hopes of achieving an array of goals by the end of this second semester, but for the sake of time I’ll sum up the organization’s objectives into four major points:

  1. Reduce the amount of gender-based violence and help its victims
  2. Educate the campus on consent and GBV
  3. Create a safe community where people help one another
  4. Certify as many people as possible as active bystanders

No one can argue against protecting people from physical and sexual violence. Helping and respecting others is simply the right thing to do. Not only do you personally benefit from a safer campus environment, but so do all your friends and the people in your classes, and your professors and other WSU staff members.

With such noble and ambitious cause, the RE Initiative needs lots of help to reach out to the entire campus, and this is where you come in. You can make a huge difference in cutting down the number of gender-based violence occurrences on campus for as much or as little commitment as you like. I decided to really devote my time so I am going through training and a semester long course to become a certified peer educator and peer advocate. If you’re really interested in getting involved with GBV prevention, you should apply for a part-time position over at Warrior Jobs.

Even if you don’t have the room in your schedule to be fully trained advocate, or just want something with a little less commitment, you can still help in a really important way. By just attending a two and a half hour training session you can become a certified PACTivist. PACT stands for Prevent, Act, Challenge and Teach, and represents the core steps to ending gender-based violence. The training is fun and engaging, but also intense. The peer educators are incredibly talented. They challenge you to look at a bigger picture and appreciate what it is you have while realizing how big of a difference you can make. This is done through a variety of participation activities. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that these activities are serious and humbling. By the end of the training you’ll not only be glad you attended, but you’ll also want to go out and change the world with your new-found knowledge and insight.

PACTivist training sessions will be held every Tuesday at 6pm throughout February. The exact location is still being determined, and will be announced at a later date. I know that two and a half hours may seem like a lot, especially on a week night, but stopping gender-based violence is crucial and this is how it starts. With one person. Every day women and men of every race, age and sexuality are suffering themselves or from the larger effects of gender-based violence. The harder we work at creating a healthy and safe community, the better chance we have of really helping those in need.

I hope after reading this you consider popping into a PACTivist training session. The world needs more people to step in and help one another, why not be one yourself?

–Hannah Carmack


Ending Gender Based Violence: It's on You, It's on Me, It's on Us

GBV RE Initiative logo

Join the RE Initiative in changing campus culture to end GBV

One in every five women will experience gender-based violence (GBV) while in college. This statistic is seen in every university across the country including Winona State University. But the good news is that instead of sweeping this problem under the rug, we’ve chosen to expose GBV at Winona State. Exposure of GBV is necessary for creating change and transforming our campus culture into one of mutual respect and compassion for people of all genders is something to be proud of.

As compellingly stated in the recent “It’s On Us” campaign, it takes the support of everyone to make a movement sustainable. From our president Dr. Scott Olson all the way down to our incoming undergraduate freshman, we are working towards a cohesive movement of exposing and eliminating GBV at WSU. We’ve also had unwavering support and guidance through a grant provided by the US Department of Justice. This grant has enabled us to not only employ faculty, but also gives students the opportunity to make meaningful changes through student-help positions at the RE Initiative.

Now, you might be asking, “How can I help?” This is a question we love to hear at the RE Initiative. RE stand for recognizing equality since most acts of GBV occur because of the perceived inequalities between genders. The RE Initiative program seeks to spread awareness about GBV to all sorts of audiences on campus as well as training people–mostly students–to become active bystanders both on campus and within the Winona community.

A bystander is an individual who witnesses emergencies, criminal events or situations that could lead to a negative outcome, and by their presence may have the opportunity to provide assistance, do nothing or contribute to the negative behavior. When we use the term active bystander, we are referring to a person who makes a positive contribution to the situation. Active bystanders can help in many ways, from correcting someone who is using offensive language to physically stepping in to protect someone who needs help.

By delivering peer-to-peer PACTivism trainings, we are creating and fostering a new culture here at Winona State University aimed at ending acts of GBV. PACT stands for Prevent, Act, Challenge and Teach, and these trainings focus on teaching people how to become active bystanders in situations that could lead to acts of GBV. There are currently three versions of PACT training:

  • the 50 minute “Don’t Cancel That Class Training”
  • the 2.5 hour training
  • the 5.5 hour training

Currently 11 students are trained to give the PACT trainings, and about 2,000 WSU students have been to a PACT training, including people in athletics, the TKE and Sigma Tau Gamma fraternities, Tri Sigma Sorority, WSU Security, Residence Life, and numerous other groups. Of these students, around 280 became certified PACTivists. Bystander intervention is key to our peer education efforts because it works. By taking a wider community approach rather than targeting individuals as potential victims or perpetrators, the RE Initiative is creating a more effective and cohesive stance against GBV.

In addition to wanting to protect students, WSU needs the RE Initiative to comply with Title IX and The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE). Title IX was passed in 1972 and was originally formed to prohibit sex discrimination on college campuses. It was the campus SaVE Act, signed by President Obama in March of 2013, which brought about the mandated reporting of GBV by college campuses. The campus SaVE Act requires that any incident of GBV be disclosed in an annual campus crime report. One way the Re Initiative here at Winona State University complies with the Campus SaVE act is by providing information on our schools reporting system & disciplinary proceedings. This information can be attained by contacting the RE Initiative through the confidential helpline 507.457.5610.

Through the implementation of the RE Initiative, WSU has taken many steps toward making our campus a safer place for everyone while also addressing and complying with federal mandates of addressing GBV. We hope to eliminate the disturbing statistic of 1 in 5 women experiencing GBV in their young adult lives. Combating GBV is not an issue to be tackled by a small group of individuals. it takes us as an entire community to make the positive change we need.

Are YOU ready to take on that responsibility to end GBV?

–MaryAnn Brannerman-Thompson, Michael Krug and Andrea White

Be an Active Bystander

As a final project in a Women and Gender Studies 150: Insights and Implications, we decided to make public service announcements about gender-based violence (GBV). There are similar projects directed towards this cause through the White House website. We wanted to add our voice to the cause because of the immense problem sexual harassment has become on college campuses. Everyone in our class has gone through Active Bystander Intervention Training, or PACT training, and believe it can make a huge impact on college campuses in preventing sexual assault.

The three public services announcements we created include persuasive information and steps the general population can take to prevent sexual assault. We wanted to change the mindsets of our current students and challenge them to break the silence against sexual assault by being active bystanders.

The first PSA, created by Natalie Volavka, features national statistics and statistics from Winona State University. While 1 in 5 college aged women are sexually assaulted nationally, only one person at Winona State University has reported being sexually assaulted. This shows just how few survivors choose to report their sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the GBV Confidential Hotline at 507.457.5610 for help and support.

The second and third PSAs, created by Logan Wescott and Emily Brandt, focus on the small changes individuals can make that produce a world of a change. The third PSA does this from a male’s perspective and depicts how important males are in this movement in becoming active bystanders.

Step up, and stand actively against sexual assault at Winona State University.

–Emily Brandt, Natalie Volavka and Logan Wescott

Traipsing Through Tinder

This blog post contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

the Tinder app on a smartphone

To swipe right or left? That is the question.

We have this friend, who for blogging purposes, we will call Betsy. Betsy is, quite frankly, a connoisseur of online dating. Now, we know what you are thinking, “Online Dating – isn’t that for weird dudes who smell vaguely of cheese and are obsessed with cartoon ponies?” That’s where you, dear reader, are wrong. Online dating has this stigma attached to it that it doesn’t necessarily deserve. Online dating can be fun for just about anyone. As long as respect and consent are involved, you can’t go wrong.

Anyway, back to Betsy. Betsy was well versed in the ways of web-based romance well before Tinder even entered the realm of online dating. Still, when her friends suggested the dating app, she was hesitant. Tinder was different from any dating site she had ever tried before. Tinder is an app for smartphones that is heavily image based with thousands of profiles at your fingertips. In seconds, you decide whether or not you’d like to get to know the user based purely on their profile picture. Sure, you can read their profile, but many users don’t.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Tinder, this article is a quick read that sums it up pretty well.)

Feeling brave, Betsy decided to go for it anyway. At first it was awesome, she met some great people, had some good conversations and generally felt respected. Then she met Fred. Fred spent weeks wooing her. Under the impression that he was a kind, funny person she agreed to meet him. Boy, was she wrong! The date was awkward, tense and genuinely unpleasant. Wait – it gets worse. Fred decided to tweet about Betsy’s body after the date. He wrote, “Never trust a girl who only posts pictures of her face on Tinder.” He later added, “Secret internet fatties are the worst.” No Fred, you are the worst.

When Betsy looked different than Fred had envisioned, the way he treated her drastically changed. He went from nice to nasty in seconds. Although we believe that the way a woman looks should in no way be correlated with the way people treat her, it got our group in WAGS class thinking. We wondered exactly how much the way a woman presents herself online could influence the type of message she receives, even before meeting that individual.

With inspiration from this blog, our group set out to determine how a woman’s identity influences her experience with online dating, especially on Tinder. We made three different profiles based on three different types of women –a goth, a mainstream student and a party girl–to see how other users in the Winona area would respond. My group kept each profile up for four days and swiped yes to every user in order to collect responses from all walks of life.

In the next post, we’ll tell you what we learned about being a mainstream student on Tinder.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

Traipsing Through Tinder: Mainstream Student

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

a mainstream female college student

“Hello I’m Sam. I’m a nursing student at WSU. I love my friends, family, and music. Coffee is my lifeline. I spend way too much time watching Netflix. Shoot me a message if you’re looking for new people to talk to!”

With a combination of common characteristics among our friends, our group created the “mainstream” college persona. We chose pictures of our friend, Andie Mattei, where she had minimal makeup and plain, casual clothing. The responses weren’t all that surprising. In exchange for a little of the “mainstream” profile’s time, many users offered up Netflix marathons and cuddling. The “mainstream” tinder profile received 116 messages. Of those messages, 3 were strange, but harmless:

Mainstream Weird Reply 1    a strange but harmless Tinder messagea strange but harmless Tinder message

11 of the messages were either explicit in nature or could be classified as obsessive:

 an obsessiveTinder message  a sexually explicit Tinder message a sexually explicit Tinder message

51 of the messages were respectful and commented on the content of the profile and not just the user’s looks. These responders took the time to read the profile and offer a friendly attempt to become acquainted with the “mainstream college student” profile:

a respectful Tinder message a respectful Tinder message a respectful Tinder message

In the next post, see what happened when we debuted the goth lolita profile.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

Traipsing Through Tinder: Goth Lolita

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

a goth girl in regalia and make-up

“I am a woman of mystery and creativity. I am a gothic Lolita with an edge of horror and whimsy. I have 20 piercings at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll add to the collection soon. I am not always serious and tend to joke around. I’m a psychology major at WSU. I love cats, vampires and all things dark. Don’t be shy; I don’t bite.”

For the gothic profile, our group based the personality entirely on Andie Mattei and asked her to write the bio because she is heavily involved with the gothic subculture. We chose pictures where she is wearing her favorite gothic dresses and traditionally gothic make up. Because of the stigma surrounding the gothic community, the “gothic lolita” profile received many messages that were more sexually charged than the messages that were received on the other profiles. It seemed as though the responders saw her more as a caricature of a person rather than a real human who deserved respect. Out of the 65 replies, 15 were disturbingly explicit and referenced “dark sex.”

a sexually explicit Tinder message    a sexually explicit Tinder message a sexually explicit Tinder message

51 of the responses were a mix of typical greetings such as “hey” and “how are you,” and some went as far as to say she seemed interesting and they wanted to get to know her better. They were courteous and didn’t limit her to just her gothic lolita dress.

a courteous Tinder message   a courteous Tinder messagea courteous Tinder message


Now, let’s see how the party girl compares in the next post.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

Traipsing Through Tinder: Party Girl

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

two female college students dressed up to party
“Psych major at WSU. I like to drink and smoke! Looking for new people to party with!!”

We saved this profile for last. Andie didn’t have any photographs that really fit the stereotype of a “party girl,” so with her permission, we used Emily Kaluzny’s pictures. We chose images where it looks like she is out partying and wearing clothes that are more revealing. We kept the bio for this profile short and to the point as we wanted it to look like bios we saw from guys who like partying. 21 of the 224 responses were graphic in nature.

a sexually explicit Tinder message a sexually explicit Tinder messagea sexually explicit Tinder message

Although 21 of the messages were disrespectful, 203 were either simple greetings or genuine inquiries.

a respectful Tinder message a respectful Tinder messagea respectful Tinder message

Looking at the types of responses each of these profiles received from different Tinder users was enlightening in an of itself. However, we gifted with a rare chance for comparison when a few people messaged the mainstream, goth lolita and party girl over the course of a few days.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle


Traipsing Through Tinder: Comparisons & Conclusions

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

At the end of the experiment, we went through the messages each profile received and we noticed something incredibly eye opening. In more than one case, the same user sent each profile a message that was completely different than what they had sent the other profiles. Instead of being authentic and trying to get to know the person behind the profile, they catered their message to characteristics they assumed based on false stereotypes.

For example, the same user who messaged the goth profile the chat on the left, sent the mainstream profile the chat on the right three days later:

a sexually explicit Tinder message   a respectful Tinder message

When we created the party girl profile, he sent her this:

a sexually explicit Tinder message

Another profile sent messages to the goth profile, the mainstream profile and the party girl profile. The three messages had very different tones:

a sexually explicit Tinder message a respectful Tinder message
a sexually explicit Tinder message

The Survey

Our group also decided to survey Winona State University students on their experiences with Tinder and had 82 responses. 80% of respondents had personally used Tinder before. When asked how their experience had been with the application, 23% reported it had been positive, 58% said it had been neutral, and 18% had a negative experience. Respondents gave several reasons for their experience ratings. Some enjoyed it for its entertainment value, some to find another person to hook up with while others had met their significant others on the app. There were also those who hadn’t had the best experience with the application but said their experience also hadn’t been awful.

The next question we asked participants was if they had ever received a message on Tinder that made them feel uncomfortable. 55% responded that they had received a message that made them uncomfortable, 41% reported that they had not received a message that made them uncomfortable and 3% reported that they were not sure. When asked how they responded to those messages, the most popular response was that they ignored the message and either unmatched or blocked the user that sent it to them. A small portion would tell their friends about it as well.

We also asked participants if their friends had received any messages that made them feel uncomfortable. 67% reported that their friends had received a message that made them uncomfortable, 8% said that their friends had not received a message like that, and 23% said that they were not sure. We asked them how their friends would respond to the messages and the responses were the same as before: ignore, block, unmatch and tell their friends about the messages they received.

Our Conclusions

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want to scare you away from online dating. It can be great. What became clear to us in this experiment is that when you take away respect and consent, what you get isn’t so great. By putting people in boxes you not only deny them their humanity, you deny yourself the ability to get to know the person behind the profile. If we’re going to end sexual harassment online, it’s time we stop just blocking users who make us uncomfortable and start confronting them. First, inform them that what they did that made you feel uncomfortable or harassed. If that doesn’t work (and it might not), here are some creative ways to get your message across:

If all else fails, then you can block them. Protect yourself. Your safety matters more than their feelings.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

The One Person Difference

For the last couple of weeks, my English 111 class (with Professor Corey Dressel) has been studying about the conflict in South Sudan and all of its hundred thousands of victims. Many victims are young boys, who’ve become known as Lost Boys. Three of these Lost Boys wrote a book called They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, and reading it taught me a lot about the troubles and hardships these people went through and what they are still going through.

three Sudanese authors

Alepho, Benson and Benjamin are authors of They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky.

For those of you who don’t know, North and South Sudan have been in conflict since 1983—it’s a civil war of epic proportions. North Islamic leaders tried to convert all of Sudan to Islam. War broke out and many were killed. Those left behind were mostly young boys who had no one to take care of them and no where to go. Of course, since the conflict started when these boys were just children now many, like the three authors of the book, are in their 20s and 30s.

Our final project for the highly engaging reading was to come up with non-profit organizations. Now, these organizations are not real, but have all the necessary writing components to explain what that non-profit would do.

My non-profit would send new and used soccer balls to the Bredjing refugee camp. When I was little, I played on a soccer team in my hometown. I loved it and was actually really good at it, so when I learned that the boys in the refugee camps also liked soccer I knew I wanted to do something to support that shared passion. In They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, the boys at the refugee camps loved the game because it gave them a chance to escape the horrors they had witnessed. But they don’t have the kind of equipment that we do. Their soccer balls are just bound-up pieces of fabric.

Our class had to go through extensive research to find out all the information needed to get these non-profits off the ground. I had to do research on the effects of war on children and ways to help them cope. I found that children are at a higher risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than adults. The children in Sudan who somehow survived months of walking to find safety have seen much more death and traumatic events than most of our own troops.

These children have had their lives uprooted. Everything they had and everyone they knew was gone in a matter of seconds. They took with them only what they had on them and ran for their lives. Of course, a child with nothing would be ecstatic to have any semblance of normalcy—that includes playing like the kids they are, so I thought that real soccer balls would be a way to brighten their lives.

The assignment was to teach us how to write reports for a business and to bring awareness to a huge issue in our world. It accomplished this, but also made me and everyone else in the class see how much one person can do to help. The conflict and resulting social problems are still really bad and even with all the efforts made, people are still dying from diseases and illnesses. The people in these refugee camps deserve basic human rights we all take for granted.

A single person can make a difference, even if its just bringing awareness to others. You can learn more about the conflict in Sudan by watching this video that I saw in class:

If you want to do more that just be aware of the problems, you can donate to the Lost Boys Foundation or the John Dau Foundation.

–Rachel Adam

Remember, Remember Trans* Rights & Cisgender Privilege

a banner for the Trans* Day of Remembrance 2014

The Trans* Day of Remembrance happens every year on November 20. It is a day to not only mourn and remember the loss of the hundreds of Trans* and gender non-conforming people who have been murdered or taken their own lives due to the hatred and violence they face every day, but to also celebrate them and their lives. This year, Full Spectrum: Winona State University’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance held a several events to honor this day including a viewing of Laverne Cox’s documentary “The T Word” about the lives of trans* youth, a cis-gender privilege/trans* education workshop and the traditional candlelight vigil. This was my second time participating in the vigil and each time is just as powerful. Thinking about innocent people who lost their lives simply because they wanted to live in a way that was 100% true to themselves brings both sadness and a fire inside that urges me to do something about it.

One way I was able to take action was running the workshop and introducing people to Preferred Gender Pronouns (PGPs) and the Trans* and gender non-conforming community through the use of the genderbread person. PGPs can include he/him/his and she/her/hers, which are the ones that most people know, but can also include they/them/them/theirs, ze/zir and many others. The genderbread provides us with information about the four aspects that help make up a person’s identity:

  • Gender Identity: who you think you are
  • Gender Expression: how you show your gender to everyone else
  • Sex Identity: based on biology and your chromosomes, organs, and hormones
  • Sexual Orientation: who you are attracted to sexually a diagram explaining different aspects of identity

After this quick introduction to the trans* community, we launched into a discussion about cisgender privilege. For those of you are unfamiliar with the term “cisgender,” it refers people whose gender identity aligns with the gender and sex they were assigned at birth. For instance, I identify as cisgender male because I was born with male anatomy and have always thought of myself as male. The discussion about privilege covered of a lot of different points including using bathrooms and school locker rooms. It was crazy for many of us there to realize how simply going to the bathroom can be an experience that most of us experience privilege in every day of our lives. For trans* people going into the bathroom you were assigned at sex, or the one you identify with can result in harassment and for gender non-conforming people, they are simply not included in the discussion. The fact that our conversation consisted mostly of something as simple as having to use the restroom tells us the seriousness of the issue and how much work we have to do in order to create equal establishments and opportunities for trans* and gender non-conforming people.

As I said earlier, I identify myself as cisgender male, and I take this status very seriously. Why? Because I know the privileges I have and I want to remind myself and other people of those privileges. For example, I can:

  • Go to the bathroom when I need to without fear of harassment
  • Shop for clothes and not be questioned if I’m in the “right section”
  • Be guaranteed that my gender identity will appear on a survey when asked to check a box for gender
  • Be assured that my gender identity doesn’t provide an excuse for my murder

This list could go on and on. That is why I don’t just identify as male, because I would be ignoring those privileges that I am granted. When talking to other people, I try not to assume anything and ask for preferred gender pronouns. This is extremely important because I know people who get seriously hurt and offended when someone mis-genders them, and they have a right to get offended. There is more to PGPs than simply a word – they carry weight and they matter because they define a person and the world we all live in. If someone gives you their PGPs, it is your job to respect that person and use the pronouns they ask you to.

The events that Full Spectrum held were extremely successful and we were able to reach about 30-40 different members of the Winona community and to educate them about the issue at hand – trans* and gender non-conforming people are losing their lives for no reason at all except that they are trying to be themselves in a world that tells them not to. That might seem like a low turn-out, but every person who attends these events gains knowledge and understanding about a community who is marginalized in most popular culture and mainstream media. And we believe that’s better than doing nothing.

The thing that I personally want people to know about the trans* and gender non-conforming community is that these individuals just want to do able to live as the rest of us do– without fear, without resentment and without violence. Nothing about them is in any way harming our cisgender existence or changing the way we live our cisgender lives–except to extend to them the same respect and safety we receive.

I was honored to be a part of the Full Spectrum team with these events and so thankful to all of those who helped us put it together. These things are important and we need to start bringing them into focus so that we can deal with them. Now is the time for active change.

–Garrett Bowling