BOCA RATON, Fla. -
The spotlight has never been brighter than it is now on the issue of gender violence among college students, and specifically student-athletes. In an effort to combat this growing epidemic, Florida Atlantic University is looking to educate its student-athletes about the importance of making good decisions and working to stop the spread of abuse.
Eric Coleman, director of the Student-Athlete Center for Academic Excellence, is spearheading this campaign through his involvement with the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program. The MVP model is an approach to gender violence and bullying prevention that is designed to train male college and high school student-athletes and other student leaders to use their status to speak out against rape, battering, sexual harassment, and all forms of sexist abuse and violence.
Coleman is a facilitator of this program and has focused his initial efforts on the FAU football team. During the spring, he held interactive workshops designed to educate the players as well as empower them to intervene when a situation arises. The workshops provide strategies to prevent violence and abuse as well as focuses on bystander intervention.
“One of the biggest pieces of the program is trying to create empathy and talk about how everyone who has been sexually assaulted or verbally abused, etc. is someone’s daughter or someone’s sister,” said Coleman. “Essentially, we are trying to say ‘wouldn’t you want someone to intervene if that was your sister or your mother?’”
During the sessions, the student-athletes took part in candid discussions with one another where they could debate what to do in those instances. They were then given strategies and ways to recognize the multiple options they have when confronted with gender violence. Leadership development is also part of the program as Coleman believes the student-athletes have significant influence and an important role to play during their time in college.
“We talk about real situations. I even shared stories from my time as a student-athlete,” continued Coleman. “They’re exposed to things that regular students and the general population only see in movies. Yet these are real-life scenarios, and we talk through how to get through them. We also talk about how you’re your brother’s keeper, so if you see something, you want to protect them as well and talk about ways to diffuse a those situations.”
“We were posed questions or issues and then took a side,” said FAU offensive lineman Brandon Walton. “Then we as players expressed the reasons we answered the way did. We talked it out between teammates just to get a different point of view. I feel like it opens your eyes because everyone has their own perception about things. When you hear and see how another teammate thinks and how he explains it and why he feels so strongly about it, it opens your eyes.”
After becoming a facilitator during his time at UCF, Coleman has instituted this program at every institution he has worked at, which includes the University Iowa and Fresno State. He has witnessed the positive effects of the initiative and has been able to influence change in student-athletes.
“The guys really connect with it,” said Coleman. “For some of these guys, they start to see things through another lens and it challenges them to think differently and realize just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It gives them that cause to pause and think about what they’re doing before they act. I’ve had guys come back to me and tell me a scenario at a party and because of the program they stopped someone from doing something wrong.”
“I think the program was great for the team,” said sophomore safety Richie Kittles. “It showed us both sides of each situation and why people agree and disagree and how to handle it.”
This is just the first step in Coleman’s vision of addressing and preventing violence on college campuses, moreover among student-athletes. He is working with the Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Corey King and the FAU Urban Male Initiative to create an ongoing program. Coleman’s goal is to hold monthly workshops and leverage the influence of role models within the Boca Raton community to help address this issue.
For more information about the MVP program and ways to get involved, please visit http://www.mvpnational.org/.
About the MVP Program
The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Model is an approach to gender violence and bullying prevention that was first developed in 1993 at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society and the National Consortium for Academics & Sports. With initial funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the multi-racial MVP Program was designed to train male college and high school student-athletes and other student leaders to use their status to speak out against rape, battering, sexual harassment, gay-bashing, and all forms of sexist abuse and violence. A female component was added in the second year with the complementary principle of training female student-athletes and others to be leaders on these issues.