Kendra Baker – Special to The Southern News –
With flyers, information tables, social network websites and red flags decorating the campus, the Women’s Center at Southern promoted the Red Flag Campaign in order to raise awareness and promote the prevention of dating violence.
“The Red Flag Campaign is a bystander intervention campaign designed to help teach students how to safely intervene when they see any warning signs or ‘red flags’ of dating violence,” said Catherine Christy, director of the Women’s Center.
Christy, who earned her graduate degree in women’s studies and has worked at Southern’s Women’s Center since 1998, said the Red Flag Campaign was initiated at Southern three years ago via a $500,000 federal grant.
The Red Flag Campaign was included in the proposal for the grant, in which it was written that all campuses supported by the grant would participate in the campaign.
“Through the Women’s Center, Southern is the lead, overseeing eight other campuses in Connecticut and working with the nonprofit Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services,” Christy said, who said she finds the initiative “neat” because it’s a campus initiative as well as a statewide initiative.
Not only is October the month that Red Flag Campaign events are taking place at Southern, but also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Ebony McClease, graduate intern at the Women’s Center, said there’s a lot of Domestic Violence Awareness Month programming going on through the Women’s Center, including a contest in which students can win prizes by photographing one of the Red Flag Campaign posters—which have bystander informational messages on them—that are placed around campus and sending the photo to either the Women’s Center’s Facebook page or email address.
“We [at the Women’s Center] are doing everything we can to make [the campaign] really, really effective,” said McClease, who has worked for the Women’s Center for two years.
Along with the Women’s Center, other departments and organizations at Southern such as Residence Life, Student Life, and the Men’s Initiative are helping to sponsor the Red Flag Campaign, which has occurred annually since 2010.
Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, women’s studies director and professor, said although the Red Flag Campaign is one program the women’s studies department isn’t directly involved in, the department and the Women’s Center often collaborate and “come out of the same mother.”
“Think of us [the women’s studies department and the Women’s Center] like sisters,” said Lin, who has worked at Southern since 2004. “We work very closely together and we share the same dream: to serve justice to women.”
Julie Liefeld, director of Counseling Services, which supports the Red Flag Campaign, said the Counseling Services deals with approximately 20 to 50 cases of dating violence and unhealthy relationships each year, the majority of students who come to them being women.
“Prevention of dating violence is a complex issue that’s connected to critically low self-esteem, especially in the batterer; and on college campuses, it’s very important to have easy ways for victims to report and get help,” said Liefeld, who added that aside from low self-esteem, common characteristics of dating violence among Southern students include control as well as patterns of violence in the family of origins.
Bonnie Farley-Lucas, director of faculty development and communication professor, said common behaviors that accompany dating violence and unhealthy relationships include yelling, swearing, put-downs, insults, threats, talking loudly, invading space—and on a more extreme level—physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape.
“[For the abuser] it’s about power and dominance, and it’s fueled by their own insecurities,” said Farley-Lucas, who has worked in Southern’s communication department for 19 years.
Southern’s Red Flag Campaign events were held during the first week of October and consisted of informational tables, First-Year Experience in-class presentations and a film screening of “Telling Amy’s Story,” a movie about 33-year-old Amy Homan McGee who was killed by her abusive husband in 2001.
“You always hope that some people learn from this type of a campaign. Some [people] see another program; others you reach during freshmen orientation—it’s really just about trying to create awareness in a number of ways to reach Southern students,” said Christy.
Each year, the Women’s Center is supposed to evaluate the success of the Red Flag Campaign on campus for the federal grant. Christy said, however, the exact number of students is never known so the Women’s Center uses rough estimates.
“This year we have started to measure the success of the campaign [and] how effective we [The Women’s Center] have been through [the use of] surveys, which look at how students perceive the campaign; whether they actively participated; in what ways they took active participation; and what they wish they could have done differently,” said McClease. “There’s a Facebook component as well, which is [another] way to look at how people participate.”
Although it’s too difficult for the Women’s Center to determine exactly how successful the Red Flag Campaign is on campus, their ultimate Red Flag Campaign objective is nevertheless “to ensure that they effectively raise awareness of dating violence,” said McClease.
“We need to keep educating communities,” said Lin. “Women and girls need to realize that they’re precious and have so much to offer to the world. They need to know […] to assert themselves—they need self-empowerment—so that they refuse any abuse [and] dehumanizing actions done against them.”