By Elizabeth Battiste
Each year, with our thousands of new and returning students, a world-renowned athletics program, and one of the largest alumni associations in the nation, we Spartans continually have a lot to celebrate. Amidst the often-frantic hustle and bustle of all that our university events have to offer, we can occasionally lose sight of the quieter, less publicized activities in the undercurrent of our university’s power. For many of us, it’s easy to overlook the unsung heroes walking among us. Each and every day, members of our Spartan family are reaching out; lending their time to help their fellow Spartans in powerful ways.
When I was asked to write a blog post for a site called Spartans Helping Spartans, I knew immediately the group of passionate Spartans I wanted to place a spotlight on. These are the Spartans that are in the trenches every day, making our university and community a safer, healthier place. Taking on a sensitive and touch challenge through empathy or common experience, the students working in the MSU Sexual Assault Program deserve not only recognition, but the opportunity to be identified as role models to every Spartan in their work to improve the lives of those in the wake of personal tragedy. Celebrating its 30th birthday last year, the MSU Sexual Assault Program has helped thousands of people in the MSU and greater Lansing communities.
For a quick and sobering fact check: 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted by the time they finish college, and 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Rape is the most underreported crime in the nation, largely due to the stigmas and fear surrounding the topic. In addition, students each year face date-rape, harassment, and physical violations deserving legal action and treatment – though often it is never sought after or found.
The mission of the Sexual Assault Program is to break down these barriers of misunderstanding and educate our community to the realities of sexual violence in our local region. Their work is not easy. For the past three years, I have had the honor and privilege of being a part of the Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention (SACI) team, serving as president for the 2010-2011 school year. I have experienced firsthand the weight of this work, which pales in comparison to the emotionally murderous experience of those who encounter and face the assaults.
Battling sexual violence is a job that requires 24 hour days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The staff at the Sexual Assault Program is tasked with ensuring that there will always be support for victims in our community, and is prepared to provide such support with a variety of services and educational outreach. This includes a 24-hour crisis line, coordinating medical advocacy for every victim in the greater Lansing area, legal and judicial advocacy, educational outreach, and focused counseling in both group and individual settings. Last year alone, the Sexual Assault Program and its volunteers fielded 152 calls to their crisis line and provided medical advocacy for 109 people at Sparrow Hospital, totaling 12,310 volunteer hours. If these were billable hours at a $15 pay rate, volunteers would have made $184,650 in one year. But they didn’t see a dime. Each member of the MSU Sexual Assault Program staff is an unpaid volunteer.
Perhaps the most surprising and inspiring aspect of this program – more specifically, the staff who compose the program— is that these thousands of hours of service for over 100,000 members of the MSU community is provided by a core staff of just four women and the help of approximately 80 student volunteers. These women and volunteers are some of the bravest, most compassionate people I have ever met. To take on this seemingly insurmountable challenge and devote time, effort and love into the community is what keeps the program going and growing each year. The services are an indispensible (yet rarely discussed) component of our community.
The work these heroes are doing every day is tremendously difficult. There is no doubt that each person involved has made sacrifices to ensure that no victim is left without support. The reward, providing hope and help to those who have suffered through an attack, is priceless compared to the time or emotional energy the work may take. These are the people who can look around campus as they walk to class and know they are making this community a safer, healthier place.
Stories like these are what make Spartans stand out above the rest – we’re not afraid of a challenge, and we’re not afraid to face our truths in order to better ourselves and our community. Just as the people I’ve had the true pleasure of helping or the gracious volunteers I have collaborated with have stepped forward to fight what can seem unbeatable, so must each of us. If each of us stood up to support our community in an empathetic and passionate way, no matter how small, the results could be astronomical.
I am so pleased to have the chance to give this humble recognition to the tremendous impact serving at the MSU Sexual Assault Program has had on my life. When I think of Spartans helping one another, I can’t help but be reminded of the importance of organization like these. They may not get the praise they deserve, but they put their head down and continue to work every day, fighting to make all the difference that they can.
So today, take some time to reflect on your life at the present, or your time at MSU, and think of the people who truly made a difference in your life. Who are your unsung heroes? How can you celebrate them today? Most importantly, how will you pay it forward?
Find more information on the MSU Sexual Assault Program on their website at endrape.msu.edu. The 24-hour sexual assault crisis line can be reached at (517)372-6666.
Elizabeth Battiste is an amazingly compassionate Spartan who will graduate from MSU in May 2012 with a degree in Communications. She is currently serving as an intern for the MSU Alumni Association and has been a volunteer Peer Educator at the MSU Sexual Assault program. Find her on Twitter as @elizbattiste.