By Cole Caviston, Staff Writer
Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) is developing a new program called “YOU CAN HELP” that seeks to promote responsibility towards making the UNH community a better place for students.
Education Outreach Coordinator for SHARPP Maggie Wells conceived the idea and says that YOU CAN HELP is still in its infancy, but carries a simple message.
“The program is about what we all at the University of New Hampshire can do to better our community,” Wells said. “It’s talking about community and what we put into it, how we treat [it], and how we treat each other.”
YOU CAN HELP is an umbrella term used to cover efforts being taken towards a variety of on-campus issues, whether it is intervening against sexual assault on campus or acting as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. For Wells, these actions are encompassed in the identity of UNH as a whole.
“A very long time ago, I had this sort of dream of creating a program that could be laced and interwoven into what we’re already doing on campus and it could be something that unites us,” Wells said.
Wells began to work with Connie DiSanto, the SHARPP media outreach coordinator, in developing her idea. They began by arranging focus groups last spring that were geared towards selling this campaign idea toward student-oriented groups in Greek and Residential Life.
“We did these focus groups because we wanted to have the students’ involvement in creating the look of this campaign,” DiSanto said.
A list of words and slogans were chosen to help develop the look of the campaign. The names were carefully selected to incorporate the use of UNH in the name, utilized the Wildcat identity, and promote a call to action.
Out of their compilation, YOU CAN HELP stood out for them by encompassing all of these elements — including incorporating UNH in its name.
“The next phase of the focus group was utilizing the people who were invested and involved in it. We came back with visual logos for people to take a look and see what they thought were the best,” DiSanto said.
The results from their findings were encouraging, and also surprising for Wells and DiSanto in how students viewed themselves as a community.
“What was really surprising to us was [students saying] ‘we identify more with the UNH logo than being called a Wildcat,’” Wells said. “It was interesting to us because here at UNH we ‘Wildcat’ everything.
“They liked this particular logo because it was a directive, telling them ‘you can help’ UNH, where the ‘the Wildcat way,’ or ‘what it means to be a wildcat’ can be individually defined by each people,” Wells added.
“It’s asking the question, but it’s also letting students know that they can do something and they probably already are doing something but they just don’t realize that they are doing it,” DiSanto said. “There are a couple different messages we’re trying to use with this program.”
What followed next was a “soft launch” of the program by introducing it to first-year students in a low-key manner and then gathering feedback from them.
“We didn’t do this big launch of a campaign; we just put it out in tiny spots,” DiSanto said. “We would be able to have an initial buy-in to our older students, who would then reach out to new students.”
This year’s freshmen class, the largest in UNH history, would be an important demographic SHARPP would introduce YOU CAN HELP to. Last August, the training sessions for residential assistants included the program.
Belle Kenoyer, an assistant director in Residential Life, first learned of the program from these sessions. She was impressed with the tangible message of student involvement in the campus community.
“It’s a really easy concept. It lets everyone know that they have a role to play in making the UNH community, the Durham community, and the wider nation a better place to live,” Kenoyer said.
Kenoyer also felt that it was a change of pace for residential assistant training that became well received by the trainees.
“I think it was really an uplifting message for RAs, that they saw themselves in the role of helper,” Kenoyer said. “They felt it was something they could share with incoming students.”
Having successfully tested the waters, several organizations across campus became interested in YOU CAN HELP, which led to a change in the original plans for the program.
“The program really was handing over YOU CAN HELP to Residential Life for them to use however they want to,” Wells said. “Once Res Life fell in love with it, for lack of a better way of saying it, word started to spread.”
They soon received calls from the MUB asking them to go over their professional development with their student staffs and the dean of students to incorporate YOU CAN HELP into suicide prevention programs. Wells and DiSanto then met with Mark Rubinstein, to receive his endorsement of their program.
Before long, YOU CAN HELP had made connections with a number of other campus organizations, including Health Services and OMSA.
Right now, Wells and DiSanto are putting together a steering committee composed of departments and organizations interested in the program and go over their next steps moving forward.
“Once we get that small group, our next step is who’s missing at the table and how do we get them to the table, and what are our objections as a working group on this campaign,” Wells said.
Kenoyer feels that YOU CAN HELP encourages students in taking direct but simple actions that are achievable, such as letting others know if they feel jokes or sayings are offensive to others.
“We incorporated that message with our diversity training and how RAs can work with and be good allies to under-represented populations, so whether it’s religion, race, sexual orientation, all those are places where RAs can help as well as just being people on their floor,” Kenoyer said.
While word of the program has spread, it remains in the early stages. There have been strategic efforts to raise awareness through the online introductory module for first-year students, posters in residence halls, employing students in marketing and tying in YOU CAN HELP with the White House “It’s On Us” campaign against campus sexual assault.
Residential Life has recently passed new Ally t-shirts promoting the logo and message of YOU CAN HELP to RAs during winter training and Res Life staff members, and plans to provide them to other campus group partners.
“It’s probably not as well known as we’d like it to be,” Kenoyer said. “That’s one thing that we hope with having these shirts and having 148 RAs and 28 Res Life members starting to wear them will help increase awareness.”
For Wells, making YOU CAN HELP a campus initiative will make more aware of the efforts going on to improve the community of UNH.
“The messaging is already in what everyone is doing; it’s just trying to get something that’s uniform across the board, and then using that message to get it out to the students,” Wells said. “These are all different programs on different subject matters with a unifying message.”
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