Student leaders pledge to promote a campus culture where students 'look out for one another'

The Dalai Lama may have said it best: “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

That’s the philosophy guiding MSU’s Student Leadership Institute, launched last year under the auspices of the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee.

About 30 student leaders took part in the inaugural institute on March 24, including representatives from the international student community, Interfraternity Council, Residence Halls Association, LGBTQIA community, athletics, the Black Student Alliance, Council of Graduate Students, and the Associated Students of MSU, among others.

Attendees committed to taking what they learned and sharing it with their friends and classmates, beginning conversations that will ripple throughout campus.

While the four-hour program was open to all student leaders committed to making MSU a safer place, most participants were men.

“The voices of men and the leadership of men is critically important,” said Amy Bonomi, chair of the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee and a professor and chair of the Department of Human Development & Family Studies. “We realized women were participating in campus conversations and prevention programs but we needed to engage and empower men in a more significant way.”

Bonomi, a leading scholar in the area of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, opened the program with MSU colleagues Ande Durojaiye, director and deputy Title IX coordinator of the Office of Institutional Equity, and Vennie Gore, vice president for auxiliary enterprises. Sessions explored what it means to be a leader for social justice, bystander intervention strategies, and how student leaders can make a difference.

Former NFL quarterback Don McPherson gave a keynote address, focusing on sexual violence and unhealthy expectations associated with masculinity, as well as proactive strategies men can take to begin to change norms.

“Changing norms in society, including some of the challenging aspects of masculinity, is a big task,” Bonomi said. “What’s unique about beginning on a college campus is that we’re at the prime of young people’s developmental trajectory, the height of their explorations of sexuality and relationships. What is more, working with student leaders on college campuses is a strategy for making incremental changes that may translate into broader changes at the societal level.”

Quin Wetzel, president of the Interfraternity Council at MSU, was among the participants.

A senior majoring in finance, he found the information about bystander intervention strategies particularly valuable.

“My biggest take away was that you don’t have to be confrontational,” said Wetzel, a brother of Beta Theta Pi. “You can interrupt a situation by turning up the lights or turning off music.”

Wetzel is determined to take those lessons forward in his leadership role with the Interfraternity Council, and is already booking speakers and planning bystander training for the Greek community in the coming year.

“In some of our action planning at the end of day, we made a commitment: This doesn’t end today,” he said. “It’s an honor to be part of the solution to a campus problem like this. It is everyone’s place on campus to be a part of that culture of change and to look out for one another.”

Bonomi, too, plans to continue efforts to recruit men as allies.

“We know one workshop is a great start but the evidence shows us that a one-time shot won’t change behavior. It has to be multiple-dose learning,” she said.

On her agenda: Additional Student Leadership Institutes, drop-in conversations and men’s groups.

“It’s exactly those kinds of multiple conversations and exposures that have the opportunity to change people’s behavior over time,” she said.