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'Green Dot' helps Conn stamp out violence

New London - As a student at Connecticut College, Alia Roth said she has told her friends to stop drinking when they have had too much, intervened in arguments between couples and questioned peers who used expressions that trivialize the seriousness of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Each time Roth does so, she considers it her "Green Dot" for the day.

Connecticut College is one of about 100 colleges and universities nationwide that have adopted the strategies of a nonprofit organization dedicated to violence prevention education, Green Dot etc., to stop sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking - the "Red Dots."

Last week on campus was "Green Dot Week," with events to raise awareness about the program. It culminated in the third annual Green Dot Hockey Game against Tufts University on Saturday and a six-hour Green Dot Training today for 50 students to learn techniques for how, as bystanders, they can intervene in a situation to prevent an act of violence.

About 500 students have taken the training since the program was implemented in 2010. The Green Dot is so prevalent on campus, Roth said, "you can't help but ask, what does the Green Dot mean?"

Green Dot is based on the premise that no one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something. That "something" is a Green Dot, or any behavior‚ choice‚ word or attitude that promotes safety and communicates intolerance for violence.

Darcie Folsom, the college's director of sexual violence prevention and advocacy, said she tells students, "You're not going to change somebody's mind in an instant about how they think about treating other people. But you can stop that one moment from happening. And that is what Green Dot is about."

In the past, strategies to prevent sexual assault and dating violence focused only on the victim and the perpetrator, Folsom said, where now, "we all see ourselves as part of a solution to the problem."

Roth, a senior from Short Hills, N.J., said she uses what Folsom taught her to approach her friends and couples in a non-threatening way, and so far, the response has been positive. Some students, however, are defensive when she questions their choice of words.

She said she often tells people not to describe frequently visiting someone's online profile as "Facebook stalking," since stalking is a serious problem that can lead to physical violence. Roth said her fellow "Green Dot grads" support her whenever she receives negative feedback.

"The culture is shifting and the support for speaking out against these issues has grown," she said. "And I think it will only continue to grow."

The Green Dot program is part of the college's broader Think S.A.F.E. Project to create a Sexual Assault-Free Environment, which was developed in 2010 using a three-year, $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The college funded the project after the grant work ended and asked Folsom to continue managing it.

"Through the work funded by the grant, we made a strong commitment to students to provide them with education, advocacy and an array of resources," said Carolyn Denard, dean of the college. "This work was very well-received by students, we know it has a positive impact, and the senior administrative team agreed it was important to continue."

With the increase in education and awareness, the number of reported incidences has gone up, said Folsom. There were 12 cases of "forcible sexual assault" on campus property in 2012, which is up from four in 2011 and eight in 2010, according to the college's crime statistics.

Folsom said she believes the increase can be attributed to the fact that students now know more about what sexual assault is and how to report an incident, and perhaps feel more comfortable accessing the resources available to them.

Close to 20 percent of the current student body at Conn College has taken the Green Dot Training, including 60 percent of the men's ice hockey team.

The players asked Folsom in the fall of 2011 if there was more they could do to get involved. They put the Green Dot logo under the ice and hosted the first Green Dot Hockey Game in 2012. They now have custom green jerseys for the game.

As student athletes, Kevin Reich and Kevin Kelly, two seniors on the team, said they want to use their influence as leaders to help the program grow.

"It's great to wear the jersey and play this game for the Green Dot program, but it's even better to be involved, be leaders on campus, and do the training to learn how to make this school a safer place," said Reich, of Montvale, N.J., a defenseman on the team.

Folsom said she commends the team for being brave enough to take on these issues.

"To have a group of men with such a huge presence on campus back up the program like this has been an amazing experience," she said, adding that the women's lacrosse team and men's soccer team followed their lead and also hosted games.

Folsom, who is also vice president of the board at Safe Futures, formerly the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, often speaks with administrators at other schools that are considering the program. She, Roth and another senior, Jackson Murphy, recently met with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and other college officials for a roundtable discussion about sexual assault on college campuses.

"It is my hope that we're creating students who are recognizing the significance and the importance of this work and taking it beyond the four walls of Connecticut College to change their world," Folsom said.

Roth added that the ideas inherent in Green Dot have extended beyond issues of violence.

"It has turned into an ideology," she said. "You are held accountable as a community for just doing good on our campus. It's pretty remarkable."


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