The time is 6:45pm. Sitting in the basement dressing room, you can hear the students packing Hendricks Hall Auditorium. The sound of their voices is getting louder and louder as the time passes. You can hear the excitement above. You walk up the stairs to the stage and now you can feel the energy. You’ve been here before and you know what a dynamic place this is to speak.
Yes, its been 4 straight years of speaking to over 1000 incoming students at the University of Central Missouri (the Mules). While their school name changed this year, their commitment to addressing sexual assault has not! They are a team of dedicated staff, educators, and students – most of who work through the LightHouse (a unique house where they host a group of volunteer students working on the issues surrounding sexual assault, violence, and many more important subject matters).
The day started at 12:30pm with Jessica and Jamie as my hosts for the campus visit. Their hospitatlity and warm personalities made the drive to campus fun. Once on campus, we prepared to speak to the RAs, Resident Directors, Residence Staff, and the student leaders from Greek Life. The room was filled with nearly 100 attendees. To start off, the students recited to me the lessons I taught from our session together last year. Clearly, they had retained all the major points from a year ago. No need to repeat. Great. This year, we are discussing how to conduct successful and well attended peer education programs on campus. After a spirited hour together, we summarize the importance of fun, passion, sensitive issues, and action.
The next hour is with the 1st year college athletes on campus. Being a former college athlete, I always feel a close comraderie. In the time we spend together, we address negative stereotypes of athletes and how not to live our life by those low standards. We share how to make the right choices. Ask first. Intervene when alcohol is involved. The students talk openly about the language which can be heard in athletics; thus revealing how often sexist comments are made against women in sports (example: what does a male call another male who is not being tough enough). In the end, the athletes made a commitment to respecting themselves and each other.
After we finished this presentation, a man was waiting at the back of the room. As he approached me, I thought he was probably a coach. He was at one time. Now, he is the Program Development and Retention Coordinator for Athletics. His name is John Culp and over the next 30 minutes he would captivate me with his conversation. John loves students and helping them mature into successful adults. The auditorium I will be presenting "Can I Kiss You?" in was his former high school back in the 1950s. As we shared with each other, he told me to make sure I keep coming back. My message to you John is "Please keep taking the time out of your day to say, ‘Hi’ Your enthusiasm for life is inspiring."
BACK TO THE AUDITORIUM: Now the time is 7:10pm and the "Can I Kiss You?" progam has begun. WOW! This audience of incoming students was full of energy! The residence life staff must have done a spectacular job of promoting my program to these students. Later I learned that the RAs continually stressed to the students how much they DID NOT WANT TO MISS this program. I was honored to hear the praise. When schools can get their students to genuinely promote from the heart, the passion of one student will spread to more. The Residence Life staff’s word-of-mouth throughout the week had cleary resulted in the incoming students having very high expectations for our time together.
All the volunteers who came on stage to role-play scenes tonight did a nice job becoming part of the program. You can see their pictures throughout this post. Before we depart, I must thank the two professionals who make coming to their campus each year a pure delight – Megan Jones and Jenn Freitag. Both of you are role models for all the students working in the LightHouse and throughout campus with you. Thanks, Amy Kiger, for stopping by during the Residence Life session earlier. Amy was the first person to bring me to campus!