Tritons United hosts new campus events and interventions for National Domestic & Dating Violence Awareness Month

by | Oct 2, 2023

A tabling event on Oct. 10 will feature an art exhibit through the Clothesline Project, a national organization that seeks to bring awareness to gender-based violence.
Tritons United group

Left to right: Dana Beteet Daniels, retired Title IX administrator, chief equity officer and ADA coordinator; Heela Momand, vice president of Triton Health Educators; Finn Kennett, Triton Health Educators member; Maggie Gross, Tritons United program director; and Abigail Gazvoda, victim advocate with UMSL’s Counseling Services at a Tritons United tabling event in 2022. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When the University of Missouri–St. Louis was presented with the 2023 Corporate Diversity Award from the St. Louis American Foundation earlier this year, Project Director Maggie Gross and members of the Tritons United team were honored to sit alongside Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tanisha Stevens to accept the award.

“It represented the fact that we do take diversity very seriously on our campus, and I thought that was really great to be included and to know that both the chancellor and Dr. Tanisha Stevens agree that Tritons United is very important to our campus diversity, equity and inclusion and making our campus safe,” Gross said.

Tritons United was established in 2019 with the help of a $300,000 Office of Violence Against Women campus grant from the United States Department of Justice. Over the past four years, the organization has offered preventative and responsive programming aimed at reducing gender-based violence on campus. Last September, Tritons United was approved for a $299,981 continuation grant award, which will provide funding for campus interventions related to gender-based violence on the UMSL campus through Sept. 30, 2025.

This October, Tritons United is hosting two campuswide events for National Domestic & Dating Violence Awareness Month.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 10, the group will be hosting a Dating & Domestic Violence Awareness Resource Tabling Event on the MSC Bridge. Several on-campus representatives, including UMSL peer health educators, the Title IX office and Mindy Stratmann-Sebol, a crisis counselor and victim advocate, will be on hand for the “office hours” to answer questions and provide additional education and prevention. Tritons United has also invited partner organizations from around the St. Louis community, including the Crime Victim Center, YWCA, Safe Connections, and SSM-SANE forensics.

New to the tabling event this year will be an art exhibit through the Clothesline Project, a national organization that seeks to bring awareness to gender-based violence through visual displays. In the exhibit, hosted in partnership with YWCA, a clothesline is hung with T-shirts decorated by St. Louis-area survivors of gender-based violence or representatives who chose to share their experience.

Different colors of T-shirts represent different victims; for instance, white represents someone who died because of violence, yellow represents a survivor of physical assault or domestic violence and purple represents someone attacked because of their sexual orientation. Gross and the other Tritons United representatives hope the installation will drive home the gravity, and prevalence, of assault and abuse.

“Before, I think a lot of people just kind of walked by, like, ‘Oh my gosh, here’s another booth of information coming down the bridge,” she said. “I think with the T-shirts, since it’s an art exhibit, it’s coming from a different media, and they will be able to see that. We’re not just talking about pieces of paper that we’re giving to other people. We’re talking about human beings. These T-shirts are decorated by victims from the greater St. Louis community. So they can see that yes, this is happening in St. Louis, and yes, this is happening to actual real people.”

Later, from 2 to 3 p.m. on Oct. 10, Tritons United will also be hosting a workshop, “Breaking Up: Knowing When To Leave & Supporting Singles,” facilitated by Emily Stoinski, a community education coordinator at Safe Connections. Rather than a classroom setting, as with prior Tritons United workshops, the event will be held on The Nosh stage, which Gross hopes will make it more inviting to the campus community.

“Previously, we tried to do education in a classroom setting, thinking that if it’s a small setting with more privacy, people would want to talk,” she said. “But what we found out is that not many people were signing up for them and knew about us. So we are taking it to The Nosh stage, and we’ve been getting better reception from that. People who didn’t necessarily sign up or register for the workshop, while eating or taking a break, they end up listening and are being actively engaged and want to know more, and then we’re reaching students that way.”

The topic for the workshop also came directly from feedback the group received from previous events.

“We changed some of our topics because students were telling us that they know about rape and sexual assault, but they want to know more about things like how to maintain a healthy relationship when you’re dating and when do you know when it’s starting to get unhealthy and what do you do when it gets to be unhealthy,” she said. “It’s a new topic that we got directly from the students as far as what they wanted to see and hear.”

Also inspired by student feedback, in April, the group plans to host a workshop centered on love and technology. Moving forward, Tritons United is also working with other organizations to diversify and expand its curriculum. The organization is developing partnerships with the St. Louis queer community to introduce new curriculum specifically tailored to the LGBTQIA+ community in 2024.

“That could be everything from how to be a better ally and advocating for the LGTBQIA+ community, or if someone is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, what are the differences when it comes to things that they want to consider when it comes to gender-based violence?” Gross said.

The group is also working alongside the Men’s Empowerment Network and the Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion to develop new curriculum to introduce in 2024.

“We just met last week to talk about men and how we can enhance men on campus and have men be a part of the solution rather than always being labeled as the typical perpetrator of gender-based violence,” Gross said. “We’re going to be developing a curriculum called the ‘Masks of Masculinity’ that helps men identify healthier behaviors when it comes to relationships and how they can support others who’ve experienced or witnessed or observed gender-based violence.”

In collaboration with the Office of Student Involvement, Tritons United is also working to host more tabling events or “office hours” around campus. Gross says they’ve had interest from different student groups, such as the Criminology and Criminal Justice Undergraduate Student Association, to host presentations. Overall, Gross and the rest of the Tritons United team are hopeful that they can continue to expand their efforts across campus and find new methods to raise awareness of gender-based violence.

“Some people like to learn by hearing, some people learn by taking some of our brochures and taking them with them and then reading them at a later time,” Gross said. “Others are visual learners. So I think the Clothesline exhibit might speak to those visual learners of being able to see the T-shirts hung up and it being from the voice of a survivor rather than one of us from Tritons United speaking on their behalf. I’m hoping that this does reach out to a larger group or a bigger group and then there’s more awareness on campus to try to prevent this and take it seriously. Violence is violence, whether it’s gender-based or verbal assault or gun violence. Our whole goal is trying to support the UMSL community and prevent violence on campus.”

Heather Riske

Heather Riske