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Fighting violence with kindness

March 14, 2008

Fighting violence with kindness

In response to recent campus shootings in Illinois and Louisiana, a student-driven campaign is working to bolster the university’s sense of community and improve access to support services.

The “1 to the 5th” campaign seeks to intentionally build a stronger, more supportive campus environment by empowering students to reach out to their peers and connecting them campus resources. The campaign’s mission statement asserts “the positive impact that one person has on their community is multiplied exponentially when repeated by those we encounter daily.”

The idea is that each individual commits to positively impacting five people each day, by actions as simple as saying hello or striking up a conversation. In turn, those five people will reach out to five others, creating a domino effect, explained Tamara Power-Drutis, ASPLU vice president.

The premise of the campaign coalesced following the February 2008 shootings at Louisiana Technical College and Northern Illinois University. Student leaders met to discuss how the campus could respond, but realized that unlike last year after the Virginia Tech massacre, these two shootings weren’t generating a reaction from the student population.

“It’s become so normal for students to shoot students,” Power-Drutis said. “The student body had become numb.”

The conversations changed as students began asking what could be done to proactively prevent similar acts of violence at PLU. They noted that most shooters felt ostracized by the community and that everyone has a role to play in making others feel like they belong, she said.

Many shooters also suffer from mental illness or the inability to express their emotion in a healthy way. The campaign will promote the many resources on campus that can help, such as the Counseling Center, Power-Drutis explained.

“It’s a huge leap to seek help,” she said. “We want to take the stigma away. It is so normal. So many people do go to counseling and do need help.”

The campaign officially kicked off Feb. 27 during HUMP. In an effort to become ingrained in the community, the campaign is collaborating with campus organizations on programming that promotes safer communities, such as last Monday’s “Can I Kiss You?” presentation about sexual assault.

“What’s cool about this is that students are saying, ‘we want to do this,’” said Kate Fontana, ASPLU religious relations director.

Fontana is spearheading the development of a peer education and training program connected to the campaign. Through the program, students would determine five things they can change in their life that contribute to a safer, more supportive community, she explained.

Eventually, volunteers will be trained in the curriculum and present it in classes and residence halls. While its still in the preliminary phases, Fontana sees the program facilitating discussion with students versus simply talking at them.

“They’ll reflect on the community they live in,” she said. “Through dialogue, we’ll help them come up with ideas and ways to strengthen that community.”

The campaign is a joint effort by ASPLU, the Residential Hall Association, Campus Ministry, the Diversity Center, Students for Peace, the Women’s Center, Counseling Center, Health Center and Campus Safety.

“When it (campus shootings) happens, I’m always reminded in such a profound way that the smallest kindness can make such a difference,” Fontana said. “My responsibility as a member of the community is to be as kind as I can be.”