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Saint Mary’s Green Dot program aims to make student safety a shared responsibility

| Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) partnered with the Green Dot Committee, which aims to educate students on violence prevention, in hosting “Welcome on the Island” on Wednesday evening to explain the benefits of bystander intervention education and introduce training coordinators.

Students gathered on the island in Lake Marion to frost cookies and interact with representatives from BAVO, Green Dot and certified program instructors.

Sarah Miesle, a Green Dot training coordinator, said Green Dot has been present at the College for about eight years.

“We’re actually the first college of the tri-college community to start Green Dot on campus,” Miesle said. “It originally started in high schools, and also with some areas of the U.S. Armed Forces. … In Kentucky in particular, there’s been a lot of really good information and statistics that have shown that [Green Dot] has helped reduce the instances of power-based personal violence and other things because people feel empowered to be a bystander, whatever level they’re on.”

In an effort to expand Green Dot’s resources beyond the committee and BAVO, Miesle said the group has paid special attention to involving faculty and staff from diverse departments on campus.

“There was a big group of us that got certified in … I think it was 2015 or 2016,” Miesle said. “And it was very intentional with trying to get a variety of people. One of the messages with Green Dot is that there’s a lot of strength in the unexpected messenger. Everyone would expect Liz [Coulston] to be that person … overall the concept is that it’s not just one person in one place.”

Miesle said she and other certified Green Dot training coordinators offers two types of sessions: A basic overview lasting between one and two hours, and the full bystander intervention training that can run up to five hours. While the training is a time commitment, Miesle said, the sessions are interactive and effective.

Both the basic overview and the full training highlight Green Dot’s “three D’s”: Distract, direct and delegate, providing a plan for those involved in a potentially dangerous or uncomfortable situation, Miesle said.

“It doesn’t have to be, you know, Clark Kent turns into Superman and goes in to save the day,” Miesle said. “But everybody has some ability to do something.”

The full bystander intervention training also offers the opportunity for participants to anonymously share why they’ve chosen to attend the sessions, Miesle said.

“You always hear something that you’re like, ‘Yes, this is why I’m here. This is why I do it. This is why we’re having this conversation,’” she said.

Sergeant Phil Bambenek of Saint Mary’s Campus Safety said Green Dot offers peer-based training for dealing with real-world problems.

“The thing I like about Green Dot … is it’s really more of a concept than a class,” Bambenek said. “And you know, the concept is that we’re just not going to accept that power-based personal violence is an unsolvable problem, and [that] we’re going to all come together and achieve some solutions.”

In addition to contributing to Green Dot intervention training sessions, Bambenek said he and the rest of the campus safety department foster a safe environment for students by acting as a 24/7 resource. Both Bambenek and Miesle said they urge students to note the phone numbers of both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame campus safety.

“We like to tell our freshmen that once you become a Belle, you’re never alone,” he said. “Once you get [the campus safety] number plugged into your phone, you can call us anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

While Saint Mary’s security shares self-defense and safety methods, in addition to providing escort services between the College and University, Bambenek said students should also make a personal effort to prepare and protect themselves.

“It also comes to pushing people to take some personal investment in their safety,” Bambenek said. “I’m going to circle back around to things like Green Dot and the BAVO program because it really is helping them to become more confident in their ability to deal with situations.”

Miesle, a Saint Mary’s alumna, said much of Green Dot’s success on campus is a group effort.

“It starts with our community and our community is super strong,” she said. “And I think that’s why we’ve been successful with this because there’s that sisterhood here at Saint Mary’s.”

By increasing awareness of power-based violence at Saint Mary’s, Miesle said she hopes Green Dot can change the “1 in 4” culture, citing the statistic that almost one in four — 23.1% — college-aged women will experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.

“We can do better than that,” Miesle said. “Yeah, we want to do better than that. But it’s not just going to happen by not doing anything. So there’s a lot of personal responsibility in that. … Nobody has to do everything. But everybody has to do something. That’s Green Dot in a nutshell.”

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About Maeve Filbin

Maeve is a senior studying political science and economics at Saint Mary's, as well as Journalism, Ethics and Democracy at Notre Dame. She serves as an Assistant Managing Editor of The Observer, and thinks everyone should support student journalism.

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