Think safety, get help, act together: Three phrases students in Keene State College’s Mentors in Violence Prevention [MVP] program use as its “tagline” in its efforts to raise awareness in violence and bullying protection in the college community.
The program, known as MVP, is a peer-education group who travels around campus talking to clubs, Greek organizations, classes, residential halls and other groups of people to give informational programs on a variety of topics, according to advising board member Nick Garrity.
Garrity, along with co-advising board member and fellow KSC senior Olivia Chiacchia, explained the program and listed relationship violence, homophobia, stalking and cyber-harassment as just a few of the many topics the program aims to highlight during these student-run presentations.
This country-wide organization, according to Chiacchia, was first established by Jackson Katz in 1993.
MVP was originally intended to “train male college and high school student-athletes and other student leaders to use their status to speak out against rape, battery, sexual harassment, gay-bashing and all forms of sexist abuse and violence,” according to its website mvpnational.org. After its first year, the site explained, a female component was added into the equation and MVP’s efforts were spread beyond simply athletics.
KSC’s own MVP program celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Since its start with the program freshman year, Garrity and Chiacchia have already noticed dramatic improvement.
“It’s very much grown in the time we’ve both been a part of it … Since it’s grown I think we’ve added the [program] on homophobia, we’ve added stalking [and] we’ve added ‘Yes Means Yes: A Guide to Good Sex,’ which is part of the freshman orientation now,” Chiacchia said.
Chiacchia explained that anyone can request a presentation from MVP and noted that the program is only expanding their repertoire as time goes on. “One of the other a-board members and I were asked to put together a pornography program for a conference coming up,” Chiacchia stated.
Having acknowledged that MVP’s original intent was to focus on athletes, both Chiacchia and Garrity noted that in the program’s eleven years on campus, last year was the first year they were actually able to present to athletics.
Garrity said, “It was just more the athletic programs didn’t feel the need for us. When MVP was started—that’s why it’s called MVP; it was originally based around athletic teams. But the athletic department wasn’t about having us until last year.”
Despite the delayed acceptance, Garrity noted that MVP’s work with the athletic department was a success, “We got a lot of great feedback about the programs we did with the athletic programs last year and we’re going to continue that throughout this year.”
Kaley Mientkiewicz was present forMVP’s presentation for the KSC women’s cross country team and agreed that MVP’s program left a significant impact.
“I thought it was helpful for my team because it brought a touchy subject out in the open and allowed my team to feel comfortable about talking about serious things together,” Mientkiewicz said.
Mientkiewicz continued, “Overall, I thought it was effective in raising awareness for violence prevention and I think I learned quite a few facts that I did not know before the meeting.”
When an MVP speaker is asked to present, he or she “strive[s] for interaction and discussion,” according to their campus website, keene.edu/prevention. Each of these presentations are composed of four trained MVP members, who, “Raise awareness about what the issues are, do activities to kind of think about what they [students] would do in a situation and then basically just give them tips on how to be an active bystander, as opposed to a regular bystander,” according to Chiacchia.
Regarding the specific goals MVP aims to achieve, Chiacchia emphasized choosing the “active bystander” approach, as opposed to a regular bystander.
An example Chiacchia gave is the “Close Your Eyes” exercise. She explained, “We have everybody close their eyes and we give them a situation where a woman in your life—or a man, depending on the program—is getting hurt, and there’s somebody who walks by them and doesn’t do anything about it. And we just try to bring home the fact that you can do something about it.”
Mientkiewicz noted that MVP’s varying exercises made her think outside of her normal comfort zone and allowed her to step into the shoes of others.
“I thought the presentation made me think more about subjects that I have not experienced personally, but that I have seen other people go through and it helped me gain more of an understanding for those situations,” Mientkiewicz stated.
For Chiacchia, working with personal experience helps to raise awareness and help others in similar situations.
“I am a survivor myself of child abuse, and I tell my story in classrooms sometimes with Forrest Seymour [MVP co-advisor] and some other students who want to tell their story,” Chiacchia explained, “I’ve gotten emails back from a bunch of students—it’s amazing because I never thought that I could make that much of a difference.”
MVP is currently made up of twenty-two active members. At the beginning of each academic year, according to Garrity, new applications are taken and reviewed by the MVP advising-board. “If we think they’re a good candidate we’ll say, ‘Hey come in for a half-an-hour or less interview’ where we’ll just talk to them—questions about their knowledge on these topics and what they think they can bring to MVP and stuff like that,” Garrity said, “Quick interviews. Then after the interviews, we bring them into an eighteen-hour training over the course of three days, some weekend at the end of September.”
Both Garrity and Chiacchia agree that while the process is scrupulous, it is necessary for students who will be dealing with such heavy-topics on a regular basis.
Chiacchia said, “It’s very intense but it’s just such important, sensitive information that it’s really necessary to go through the information in the interview and the trainings, because we need to make sure the people in MVP are able to do this without hurting themselves. Maybe they’re at a point in their life where they had experiences with this—it might not be the best time for them. That’s why the process is so rigorous.”
Garrity went on to add that public-speaking skills and the ability to convey information to an audience of various sizes also plays a large part in the search for new MVP members.
“I think it’s definitely affected more people’s lives than I expected when I first walked into the door to get my interview freshman year,” Chiacchia said on her experience with the program.
For anyone who wants to apply or request for MVP to give a program to any group, they can visit keene.edu/prevention for more information.
Alexa Ondreicka can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org