As a volunteer for the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation and a strong supporter of domestic violence awareness, I was honored when Alpha Chi Omega gave me the opportunity to share my personal story about becoming a survivor of domestic violence. My story was released on the Starting Conversations blog in October 2013. I was so grateful that they chose me to share my experience, but also very thankful and proud to be a part of a women’s organization that seeks to empower women by allowing them to be authentic.
In October 2016, the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation asked me to share my story during the Founders’ Day Challenge and speak out about the Alpha Chi Omega domestic violence initiatives. Again, by exposing my hurt and my heart, it was my hope that my authenticity would help a sister open her eyes and escape an abusive relationship. In that post, I wrote these exact words, “If I could just save 1 life, all of the trails and pain that I experienced would be worth it” – not knowing that those words would actually come to fruition.
About seven months after I shared that story, my husband and I were in the process of moving into our new home, so I joined our neighborhood’s Facebook furniture sales group. I download the Facebook Messenger app so neighbors could direct message me if they were interested in buying our furniture. To my surprise, I had a message from a woman I didn’t know that had been in my filtered messages inbox from October 2016. That message was from my abuser’s most recent victim.
She said that she had suffered verbal and extreme physical abuse from the same man who once abused me. She told me, “I found you on Facebook and then Googled your name. When I found your blog post about being a survivor of domestic violence, it’s like I woke up…“ It was the last line of her message that will stick with me forever, and it reminded me of why it is so important for survivors to tell their personal stories. The last line of her message was this: “Thank you so much for speaking out about him, you probably saved my life.”
I sat at my computer, speechless, and tears rolled down my face. When I decided to volunteer for the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation, I had no idea all of this would transpire. Words are not enough to express how much the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation means to me. Since writing that first blog post, I have spoken to thousands of women and to many nonprofit organizations, telling my story of survival, hoping that other lives will be saved. Alpha Chi Omega gave me a voice when others told me to be quiet and allowed me to be the real, strong woman who I am called to be. The Alpha Chi Omega Foundation is saving lives, raising domestic violence awareness and empowering women, and for those reasons and so many more, I will forever be proud to be an Alpha Chi Omega.
If you’re like me, you’ve been anxiously awaiting the start of October. Pumpkin picking, the fall scents at Bath & Body Works, crisp fall weather and the changing colors of leaves exponentially lift my mood and make every place I visit remind me of home. However, October has come to mean so much more to me over the past few years and, through Alpha Chi Omega, has given me something else to celebrate and be thankful for – Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
There are many things I love about this job and the work I do each day, and some of my favorite moments revolve around our philanthropy events and chatting about chapters’ plans for DVA Month. Seeing how passionate our members are about spreading awareness for domestic violence makes me so proud and thankful we selected DVA as our philanthropy 25 years ago. From coast to coast, our women get excited for DVA Month and go all-in – tabling on campus, bringing in speakers, hosting philanthropy events and doing hands-on community service.
If you are wondering how to get involved this month, here are some ideas of great ways to give back:
Participate in the Founders’ Day Challenge: Join us in celebrating 25 years of supporting domestic violence awareness as Alpha Chi Omega’s national philanthropy. You can choose to direct your donation to the Real. Strong. Women. Fund, domestic violence awareness initiatives or Let’s Talk Love. The challenge began October 3 and will end on October 25. More information can be found here.
Raise awareness through social media: Alpha Chi Omega has created DVA Month profile pictures and cover photos! Adding these to your social media profiles can spread awareness to family and friends throughout the world.
Connect with your chapter of initiation: Reach out to your chapter and see how you can get involved with any philanthropy events or awareness campaigns they have on their calendar.
Wear a purple ribbon: Wearing a purple ribbon to class or work can help start the conversation between peers and across multiple generations.
No matter where you are in your Alpha Chi Omega experience, I encourage you to spend some time this October getting involved in DVA Month and being a part of the real, strong impact our sisters are making across the country.
by Jenna Mayo (Epsilon Zeta chapter, Auburn University)
When I was in college, Alpha Chi Omega gave me such great opportunities to succeed in school and on campus. I had leadership positions on campus, was involved in social groups, sorority athletics, studied abroad in London, was on the Dean’s List, and nothing could stop me. I truly had it all, was living life to the fullest, and was prepared to take on the world. In 2006, I graduated from Auburn University and returned home from an amazing summer internship in NYC. I was starting a graduate “traineeship” with the Atlanta Braves when my life took a drastic turn.
Nothing could have prepared me to become a victim of domestic violence. I was the one in chapter saying, “that would never happen to me,” during those Alpha Chi Omega Foundation presentations. I was the one saying, “I am too strong to let someone like that in my life,” but I was wrong. I thought he would change. I thought he was a good person. But, his manipulation and control took over my realistic way of thinking. I thought that we were in love, because that is what he kept telling me. I was so close to the situation, I could not see what was happening.
The day of the accident was traumatic. I made the decision to get into his car, because I was afraid he would physically hurt me again, like he did many times before. I remember when he lost control of the car, and then waking up in what looked like a bomb had gone off. Parts of the car were scattered and there was blood all over me. We hit a tree and were facing oncoming traffic in a busy intersection in downtown Atlanta. I was able to get out of the car, and I kept asking for someone to call my parents and tell them, “I am sorry.” After the ambulance ride, the wait in the ER, and the hospital mixing up my X-rays and telling us that I might be paralyzed, the chaplain approached me. It was at that moment I recognized that I had to escape and could not go back to him. He was in ICU. I had broken my back, was severely bruised in many places from parts of the car, had seat belt burns, and a black eye from the airbag. After that accident, I remember looking into the mirror and not recognizing myself.
I wondered what had happened to me. How did I, a strong woman, let this go so far? If not for that accident, what else would have ended it? I questioned my own judgment and could not believe that I was so blind. At first, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and scared that people would not accept me, even my friends. I wondered who would want to date me after all of this? I was not only physically hurt, but also emotionally damaged. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and stages of post traumatic stress disorder. I had to go through months of physical therapy and counseling to learn cognitive skills, how to forgive, and how to trust people again. I soon came to the realization that although we cannot change people, we can change ourselves and our way of thinking.
Over time, I felt empowered. I filed a stalking order, got a lawyer and filed a lawsuit, and went to a local safe house and outpatient hospital to learn more about the psychology behind abusers. I decided to interview for an Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Specialist volunteer position and was selected. With the help of Alpha Chi Omega, I have spoken to hundreds of women about escaping domestic violence and how to help their sisters in these situations. Last year, with the help of the Atlanta-area alumnae chapter, Alpha Gamma Alpha, we raised over $4,000 for victims of domestic violence and the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation.
Today, I am truly living out my dream of getting my master’s degree; working my dream job with ESPN; competing in triathlons; and most importantly, I am married to the love of my life! Eight years following our meeting at an Alpha Chi Omega event, we were reunited after my Alpha Chi Omega sister’s rehearsal dinner. Six months later, we got engaged! I know that without Alpha Chi Omega, my life would not be the same. We all have a special bond through Alpha Chi Omega, and I would like to encourage you all to love your sisters, forgive each other, follow your dreams, and take pride in being real, strong women. I hope that my story encourages you and proves that no matter where you are in life, your fairy tale can still come true!
As many of our members can tell you, Alpha Chi Omega has a long lasting impact on your life. Our sisterhood, the lifelong friendships and memories made are all amazing benefits of joining Alpha Chi Omega. For me, it is our philanthropy of domestic violence awareness that has changed my life.
When I first heard that Alpha Chi Omega supported survivors of domestic violence I was intrigued and elated, as I have a family member who is a survivor. After joining Alpha Chi Omega at the University of Kansas in 2009, I became an advocate at the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, Kansas. I met so many strong survivors working hard to become independent from their abusers. I found it was very gratifying to be able to help them and give them resources to build a better life for themselves and their children. While advocating, I learned some horrifying statistics like one in three women in the world will be abused by an intimate partner and that three women are murdered by their partner each day in the United States. Although I was already advocating, I felt compelled to do everything I could to help end this epidemic.
I considered many ways to accomplish this goal but with the encouragement and support of my sisters I began to compete in local pageants. I chose to compete in the Miss America Organization because each contestant must pick a platform; an issue they are passionate about and will promote with their title. Because of my experiences at The Willow Domestic Violence Center, I chose teen dating violence prevention as my platform.
Pageantry and promoting my platform became a huge part of my life and thanks to my sisters, I was able to handle it all! I continued to advocate at The Willow but also began to intern and learn more about the harmful effects of domestic and dating violence. Through The Willow, I had so many amazing opportunities. I was invited to the state capital to lobby for the funding of domestic violence centers in Kansas and also spoke before the Senate about dating violence policies in public schools. After this, I was afforded the opportunity to have personal meetings with Kansas senators about dating violence and became a co-coordinator for the teen dating violence prevention program at The Willow. All of this led to my being named a Douglas County Volunteer of the Year in the spring of 2012.
Advocating for domestic and dating violence awareness has changed my perspective on many things in life and continues to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. In June 2012, I was awarded first-runner-up at the Miss Kansas pageant, but even more exciting my sorority sister Sloane Lewis was crowned Miss Kansas 2012 and will compete at Miss America in January!
Without the support of my sisters I would have never been able to accomplish all of these things during my college years. I will carry the lessons I’ve learned while advocating for domestic violence awareness and being a part of Alpha Chi Omega with me for the rest of my life. I feel truly blessed to be part of an organization that has taught me how to be a real, strong woman.
By Emily Leung
(Delta Mu – University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Transition is defined as movement, passage or change from one position, stage, concept, etc., to another; change. This story of transition is my chapter’s.
As a member of Delta Mu chapter of Alpha Chi Omega at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was in the last new member class that experienced hazing. I “pledged” during spring 2010 and in all honesty, it felt like the longest semester ever; keep in mind, it was my second semester as a freshman.
When my recruitment buddy and I went to the information session we were really interested in only a few chapters. Alpha Chi really stuck out for us. We discussed how the ladies were fun to talk to and down to earth. Those thoughts continued during the few days of recruitment. I still vividly remember our excitement waiting for our bids! Little did we know, the chapter we thought we were joining was something of a mirage – it wasn’t at all what we were led to believe.
As the pledge process began – and that’s what it was, a “pledge” process – I had no idea what I was in for. Our first “bad” event was something I never thought could be real. I asked myself, “What did I get myself into?” Throughout the semester, this thought periodically would go through my mind. I resented the members who were the leaders of this whole system. How could people who called themselves sisters treat each other this way? They justified their actions by telling us things were worse in the past, and for some unknown reason their justification was also the reason why I never left. In my head, I thought, “Well, if it was worse before, then I must have it lucky.” After all, the hazing I experienced wasn’t physically traumatizing. It was more excessive and unnecessary. While I love every single member I have met through my specific chapter, I seriously could not wrap my head around the hazing. Why? It wasn’t just me. This thought went through multiple members’ minds – I know this is true because I’ve discussed it with them. So if more than one member was upset by this, why did we do nothing? This question will never be answered.
There is this notion out there in the world, and particularly in communities like ours, that hazing our newest members somehow strengthens our bond – that it makes better sisters and stronger chapters. But, if that’s true, then why were we a disaster? Because our chapter was a disaster…in every sense of the word. We were on probation from Headquarters, our morale was low, our membership numbers were declining, our finances were a mess, and we fought with each other constantly. Common sense would tell you why – how could we start someone’s membership by degrading them, and then expect them to be invested in our chapter? But obviously, common sense doesn’t play a big role in hazing.
I’d love to say we came to this realization on our own, but we didn’t. We got caught – plain and simple. And it was the best thing that could have happened. From the moment Marsha Grady, the national president, stood in our chapter room and told us we had to fix it or lose our charter, there was a shift. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. There were members who decided the “new” Delta Mu wasn’t what they signed up for, and I was sad to see them go. Our membership numbers got so low we had less than one half of campus total. There were moments when it seemed the obstacles were too high and the benefits too low, and it simply would have been easier to give up.
Trust me when I say the first year of transition was hard, particularly in terms of recruitment. We were discouraged and the morale was low. But we soon realized the excess baggage and negative attitude was gone when we made the pro-active choice to move forward. Once we had that realization – that shift that happened during Marsha’s visit really kicked in. At the end of recruitment, we had doubled our chapter size and we could see the effect of the changes being made.
Today, in this moment, I am so happy I didn’t leave. For the chapter I am in now has learned and grown so far from what it was before – it has been completely re-vamped. We are off probation and near campus total. Our finances are positive. But most importantly: our sisterhood is truly strong, and it’s real. In the past, we were told that hazing was a sign of respect of the older members. But now, when we look at our chapter, we have more respect for each other than when I joined. None of our members have been terrified of what will happen next and no one has been intentionally disrespected. All of those things we looked to get through hazing – respect, dedication, friendship – happened when we stopped degrading each other and started treating each other the way we tell the outside world we do. It took a lot of commitment, help and patience from a lot of people – my sisters, our alumnae, our advisors, and the Headquarters staff. Along the way, we stumbled and we fell, but our sisters – both those in Delta Mu and not – were there to help us stay on the right path.
Again it goes back to transition: movement, passage or change from one position, state, concept, etc., to another; change. This is exactly what we needed to embrace to be better. And we, as a chapter and sisterhood, continue to be committed to this movement, this change. Because we know it can work – we are proof. We are a full blown sisterhood and we intend to make actions to further this bond and love for a lifetime. And we hope you’ll do the same.
By Mike Dilbeck Founder and President, RESPONSE ABILITY Project
Founder, Every|Day Hero Campaign
As we honor National Hazing Prevention Week, I want to challenge us all to think about the unnecessary and harmful act of hazing from all angles. While there are certainly the two obvious parties involved in, and impacted by, hazing — the victims and the perpetrator(s) — I want to address the rest of us who may see, hear or even know about these acts. Much has been, and will be, talked about this week in regards to those impacted directly by these unnecessary acts.
However, I will argue that we don’t talk enough about the third party to hazing — the bystanders. While we are certainly shining the spotlight this week on hazing, it’s also important to include other often related problem behaviors like bullying, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual violence, discrimination and everyday life issues. By including these, it’s safe to say we are all bystanders. We have all witnessed problem behaviors in our lives and, while there have certainly been times where we intervened, there are way too many times we didn’t.
We stayed silent. We laughed along. We walked away. We participated. We froze.
When it comes to these actions — or inactions — from ourselves and others, I refuse to believe this is what we actually want to do in that moment of time. I refuse to believe that we don’t care and want to make the difference for those being impacted. I refuse to believe that we don’t know the difference between right and wrong. I refuse to believe that we don’t want to intervene in problem situations.
And, I refuse to believe that every single one of us doesn’t want to be a hero for others, for organizations we love, and for issues we care about.
I choose to believe that we do care and that we want the best for each other. I believe that every person has values of love, compassion, caring, respect, and acceptance — and these act as our moral compass. I believe that we really do want to intervene and make the difference for others — to keep each other safe and protected — to show dignity and respect.
And, I believe we all want to be heroes.
We are all committed to being a certain kind of human being in life and there are actions we want to take as a demonstration of who we say we are and want to be for others. In our own respective and unique ways, we actually say “this is who I am and this is what you can count on me for!”
So, here’s the question: do your actions in life match what you say? Is the “you” that shows up in life — especially in critical momentary situations — a match for who you say you are and the commitments you have?
If I gave you a hypothetical scenario — one where someone was in trouble and needed your intervention — and asked you what you would do, would you say you would intervene in some way? I believe you would. I believe we all would. If you take all the reasons, justifications, excuses, doubts, fears, and rationalizations away from the equation, we all believe that we would intervene in that situation. It’s the noble thing to say and this matches who we say we are in life. But, not so quick.
Let’s look at the Penn State child rape and sexual abuse case — already one of the most layered cases of bystander behavior. I actually refuse to believe that Coach Mike McQueary is an awful villain, as many have made him out to be. I believe he really did want to immediately intervene when he walked into that shower and saw Jerry Sandusky sodomizing that 10-year-old boy. Yet, what he did and didn’t do became water cooler conversation for days — many of us being armchair quarterbacks for what he should have done.
Here’s my take: what happened to Mike McQueary happens to all of us — our alter ego takes over. There is the person we are all committed to being in life. Then, in the reality of a situation, there is the “you” that shows up in that moment of time. Unfortunately, it’s not the “you” that you wanted to show up. It’s a “you” that lets fear take over. It’s a “you” that listens to your naysayers, even to your own internal voice. It’s a “you” that does nothing — or doesn’t do enough.
I believe most of us are no different than Mike McQueary. We are no better. While we want to believe otherwise, we don’t know what we will actually do in the reality of any momentary choice. We simply want to believe we will do what is right.
How do I know this? What evidence do I have? As I travel the country and speak, I invite audience members to text me and share their stories. I have received thousands of stories on the impact of bystander behavior — as a bystander or as a victim to others being bystanders. The stories are heartbreaking. So many of us have had at least one moment that made a lasting impact and mark on our lives — one that we have never forgotten. One that we have never forgiven ourselves or others for.
To the positive, I have had conversations with many of these same people and they share that they do care and they do want to do what is right. I also receive texts, emails, Facebook messages and submissions on our website where people are now taking actions that match their values — they are actually intervening in problem situations. Many of them share they literally would not have done what they did without hearing the message of the RESPONSE ABILITY® Project and holding themselves accountable.
I hope you are now asking, “How do I have my actions match who I am committed to being in life?” Great question!
I want to provide you the three critical tools I have put together as a framework for being equipped and empowered in life — no matter your age, roles in life, or gender — to make the difference you want to make and to be a hero. These are three life skills you can use for the rest of your life — in any moment when you say there is a problem.
To get these critical tools, go to the Alpha Chi Omega page on the RESPONSE ABILITY Project website and take the Every|Day Hero™ pledge. Once you take the pledge, you will immediately receive an email from me with a link to download a PDF of the three tools and also view a special training video I have recorded.
In closing, I refuse to believe you don’t want to make this difference. I refuse to believe there is anything you want more than to live out this pledge in your life. Go ahead, try and convince me otherwise — I just refuse to believe we are anything less than caring, loving, extraordinary human beings who just want to make the difference for others, for our organizations and for issues we care about.
I refuse to believe.
This is what allows me to totally believe in the good in all of us.
Alpha Chi Omega is proud to be an official sponsor of the RESPONSE ABILITY Project and the Every|Day Hero Campaign.
Mike Dilbeck is Founder & President of the RESPONSE ABILITY Project and also Founder of the Every|Day Hero Campaign. Every year, Mike speaks to thousands of college students as a CAMPUSPEAK speaker and member of the National Speakers Association. When he is not traveling, he works on expanding the RA Project, writing articles and blogs, conducting training and workshops, and appearing in the media.
Seinquis Slater, a 2008 initiate of the Alpha Pi chapter at the University of North Dakota, was a typical college woman—studying hard during the day and having too much fun at night. Then, following a devastating sexual assault, her life turned upside down. Now, Seinquis is a healthy, thriving graduate student and advocate against assault and violence. This is her story.
Originally from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Seinquis Slater moved to the small town of Minot, North Dakota at the age of 7, as her grandfather’s military assignment required the move. Minot and the people of the area quickly became her home. When the time came to choose a college to attend, Seinquis decided to stay close. Her freshman year at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks began in fall 2007.
Starting her college experience just as any typical 18-year-old would—excited, having fun, making mistakes, enjoying her freedom— Seinquis moved into campus housing; became as involved in extracurricular activities as possible; and, in the following spring, joined the Alpha Pi chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. She found herself, at times, struggling with time management, but Seinquis kept her grades up, finishing the year with a 4.0 GPA. She expected her second year to be no different.
How Everything Changed
As her sophomore year began, Seinquis was asked to participate in a friend’s wedding. So, in October 2008, Seinquis found herself flying to Alaska for the nuptials, looking forward to every minute. Following the ceremony, the reception was definitely a party—food, dancing and a lot of alcohol.
Admittedly, Seinquis was underage and well beyond any smart alcohol consumption limit. She could not control her actions, nor could she hold herself up. Stumbling into the women’s restroom alone, she collapsed inside one of the stalls. When another member of the wedding party, the best man, came into the restroom, it seemed as if he was trying to help her. As others came into the restroom, he spoke on her behalf, telling them that she was fine and that he was taking care of her. Seinquis was so intoxicated, she was unable to speak.
When she woke up the next morning, she remembered very little of the reception. But as the morning went on, memories of the night before began to flash in her mind. She had not been safe in the restroom. The best man had not been taking care of her. Even with many others unknowingly in attendance, she had been raped.
When she spoke of the incident to a friend at the wedding, Seinquis’s claims were dismissed, and she was told she simply had drank too much. With resonating doubt, she told no one else.
Throughout the semester, Seinquis withdrew from friends, family and priorities. Her GPA dropped to a 2.0 and she was not handling pressure well. Knowing she had to “get better,” she focused on the only thing that did not need emotions: school. In spring 2009, Seinquis threw herself into her studies. Wake up; go to class; go home; study; go to bed. This was her routine, keeping her distracted and busy. Her grades improved, but Seinquis did not.
Recognizing she was unhealthy, her boyfriend at the time encouraged her to seek counseling. Reluctant because she did not believe there was a problem, she agreed and began counseling at the University of North Dakota Counseling Center. A year following the incident, the counselor diagnosed Seinquis with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Seinquis remembers, “It is the hardest thing to tell someone that loves you, that you have been sexually assaulted. But being able to talk with the counselor definitely helped.”
As the counseling sessions continued, Seinquis began to share her ordeal with friends and family, and she began to quietly advocate for the campus Women’s Center. Seinquis was encouraged to speak out to others—other young women who may be in the same situation—but she was afraid. Finally building up the courage, in October 2010, Seinquis spoke of her ordeal and the scope of feelings that she experienced and was still experiencing during the university’s Take Back the Night rally.
Seinquis remembers, “I was scared out of my mind, but I got on stage, told my story with every detail and encouraged women to break the silence. Afterwards, people sent me messages on Facebook and emailed me, wanting to talk about their stories. The Counseling Center even had an increase in women coming to them.”
With her newfound empowerment, Seinquis offered support by listening to other women as they spoke of their ordeals, and by helping with domestic violence awareness opportunities through her Alpha Chi Omega chapter. And although she feels strong now thanks to her efforts toward others, speaking to her friends and family about the incident, and finally coming to terms that it was not her fault, Seinquis knows that this will be a life-long struggle.
“You’re never over it. You never don’t have the associated feelings. But it is how you cope with those feelings that lets you move on.”
Seinquis graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. By the time of her graduation, Seinquis had been involved in student government; the university’s curriculum committee, essential studies committee and Greek life coordinator search committee; Panhellenic council, the North Dakota Student Association; Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity; and much more. Among her many honors, Seinquis was named a NASPA Undergraduate Rising Star by the student affairs administrators in higher education, was given Student of the Month recognition by the University of North Dakota, was awarded the ALANA H.O.P.E (Helping Our People Excel) Award by the University of North Dakota’s multicultural student services, and was awarded the Gordon Henry Award by the University of North Dakota’s Greek life. Seinquis is currently pursuing a master’s in educational leadership, and she is employed full-time with the University of North Dakota as a traveling representative for enrollment services.
When asked whether or not she ever confronted the man, Seinquis stated, “I have never confronted him. At the time, I didn’t want the bride to think less of me or him. I was not ready for the confrontation. I thought that if I never saw him again, I would get over it. Yes, I do wish I had said something, but by the time I realized this, I felt like it was too late.” Unfortunately, this is not her only regret.
“Many underage women are offered alcohol depending on the situation they’re in. My advice to those women would be: just don’t do it. If you choose to though, really know the people you are around and be able to trust those you surround yourself with. I learned this too late.”
Advice to Others
Now, three years following her ordeal, Seinquis maintains that speaking out against, or just speaking to someone, period, is the best advice she can give to anyone in the same situation.
“Break the silence. You are going to encourage others and help yourself, even if you do not realize it right then.”
And to her Alpha Chi Omega sisters who are in their darkest times, Seinquis encourages that “through the best of time or worst of times, ‘Together let us seek the heights’ truly has so much meaning. Talk to and lean on your sisters when you need someone to listen; they will be there for you. When I was down, I always new tomorrow would be a better day because I had a family of women who understood what I was going through and were willing to help me. Always stand up for yourself; communicate with your sisters, friends and family; and never give up on your life goals, no matter which obstacles you face.”
To learn more about counseling options for those who have experienced sexual assault and/or other abuse, please visit womenshealth.gov. To learn more about Take Back the Night and to find a rally in your area, visit takebackthenight.org.
by Andrea Cooper, Presenter of Kristin’s Story (Delta Delta Delta Sorority)
In July 1998, my life changed drastically. It was an absolutely wonderful change. As most of you know, we lost our daughter, Kristin, an Alpha Chi Omega of Omicron chapter at Baker University, to suicide, New Year’s Eve, 1995.
At the Tri Delta Convention that July, I was offered a grant to travel and tell “Kristin’s Story” to campuses across the nation. When Kristin died, I had no intention of going out and speaking on rape, depression and suicide to thousands of college students. That first year, I spoke at 20 universities. To date, I have spoken at over 300 campuses and 27 conferences in every state but three, as well as Canada and Australia.
Then, in the spring of 1999, Alpha Chi Omega also offered to provide a grant for me to present Kristin’s Story. Both Tri Delta and Alpha Chi Omega provided 10 grants a year. In addition to the grant schools, I spoke at many colleges who paid me independently as well at conferences. After 10 years of providing grants, Tri Delta chose to no longer offer the grant. Thankfully, Alpha Chi Omega has continued. This fall of 2012, Alpha Chi Omega will have provided grants for 13 wonderful years, and Alpha Chi Omega continues to do so.
Kristin’s Story and Alpha Chi Omega are natural partners. Alpha Chi Omega’s altruism is domestic violence awareness, and Kristin was a victim of rape which led to her suicide.
I have been blessed many times over. I have met so many wonderful college men and women in my travels as well as the wonderful Greek Advisors. These wonderful students have made me feel so appreciated and made me feel like Kristin’s Story is really making a difference. I have held many women in my arms who are sobbing because they have been raped or molested. I have hugged many men whose girlfriends or sisters have been raped. I have had many men and women come to me and tell me their story of rape and/or molestation.
Alpha Chi Omega is doing such wonderful work in their fight to end domestic violence. Before I started traveling and speaking, I was unaware how prevalent dating violence is.
I feel by traveling and speaking to students, Kristin lives on and is helping others.
Sharing the Connection Between Animal Care and Domestic Violence
A self-proclaimed “animal person,” Dr. Maya Gupta, an initiate of the Theta Psi chapter at Columbia University, grew up in rural Indiana caring for pets and riding horses. Maya embraced change as she moved to New York City to pursue a degree in psychology and French. Subways, skyscrapers, crowd after crowd, the urban campus atmosphere was very isolating, but her Alpha Chi Omega family kept her going. Learning of and being involved with Alpha Chi Omega’s philanthropic efforts, Maya became very interested in domestic violence awareness. However, her love for animals was her focus, even fostering animals when living off-campus. She never imagined where a simple coincidence would take her and the good that she would create.
A Chance Coincidence
One day on the subway, Maya’s attention landed on a domestic violence hotline poster. Among the list of warning signs was the question: “Has your partner ever threatened your pets?” Before that moment, the connection between domestic violence and pets had never occurred to her. Pursuing her Master’s and Ph.D. in clinical psychology in the area of domestic violence, Maya chose the animal care and domestic violence connection as her topic of study. Throughout the degree programs, Maya found information and gained insight into a side of domestic violence that many do not think about or understand. She was able to speak with domestic violence survivors and learn that the majority admittedly stayed longer in the violent relationship fearing for their pet’s safety. There was no doubt in her mind, Maya wanted to help these victims, both two-legged and four.
Saving Those Who Couldn’t Save Themselves
Today, Maya serves as the executive director of Ahimsa House, Inc.—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose name means “nonviolence” and is dedicated to helping the human and animal victims of domestic violence across Georgia reach safety together. The organization was created to fill a gap that was just not there. The organization offers general public outreach and education, alongside its main purposes—Ahimsa House offers an initial 60 days of assistance in fostering and kenneling a victim’s pet(s), assists in orders of protection for victims, provides police escorts to retrieve pets from the home, provides a 24-hour crisis line, and aids the victim in finding pet-friendly housing by negotiating pet-fees and policies with rental properties and management. No pet, no matter the kind, is ever turned way. In 2009, 89 percent of pets were reunited with their safe, loving families.
Maya has worked to grow the organization’s purpose, and now, veterinary care and legal support are major aspects of the organization. Besides the care of abused animals, there is a large focus on veterinary forensics. Even if an animal has passed away, the organization’s partners are able to declare whether it is in fact abuse. This has been extremely helpful in court proceedings, both as an example of prior violent histories and to charge domestic violence offenders with animal abuse—a charge that can lengthen a prison sentence or create one if a charge of domestic violence is not accepted. Maya also works with animal law attorneys to prevent the abuser from using the law to their benefit and to
establish ownership for the victim.
Awareness, Outreach and Hope
Maya is completely hands-on with her work, answering calls on the 24-hour crisis line, transporting animals, training other agencies and domestic violence shelters, speaking with field workers, and more. “Even if I wanted to sit behind a desk all day, I couldn’t,” states Maya. She understands that if agencies—those aiding victims, those aiding children, those aiding pets, and more—work together, awareness will spread much faster and domestic violence cases may be noticed much sooner. Because
of this, Maya educates professionals in the fields of domestic violence and social care on the connection between animal care and domestic violence.
Alongside her work with Ahimsa House, Maya is a member of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence Board of Directors, is working to raise national awareness of the animal care and domestic violence connection through the National Links Coalition, and is the Chair of the Section on Animal-Human Interaction for the American Psychological Association.
Maya still has her eyes on the future and the growth of Ahimsa House. With over 16,000 nights of safety provided since 2004, the organization continues to offer safe haven for the pets of domestic violence victims. Sharing the connection between animal care and domestic violence is a major priority for Maya and she hopes to continue the efforts, both amongst professionals and the court systems. And when she gets tired, all she has to do is think of every time a pet is reunited with its family—a happiness she can’t even describe.
We’re introducing a new regular column today, “Notes from Your National Council.” This first installment is from our National President regarding a recent very special event she was privileged to attend.
by Marsha King Grady, National President (Alpha Upsilon, University of Alabama)
During my 25 years as an Alpha Chi Omega, I have experienced countless proud moments… “Squeal Day” in August 1983, when I received my bid from Alpha Upsilon Chapter and raced down sorority row to the Alpha Chi Omega house… My initiation in February 1984, when my big sister Kim Kitchens first pinned me with my lyre badge… June 1987, when my three best Alpha Chi Omega friends stood by my side at my wedding… July 1990 at Alpha Chi Omega Convention, when I accepted the Advisory Board Award with my fellow Alpha Phi advisory board members… When I was first installed as a National Vice President in July 2000… When I stood with my adopted Sigma sisters for the dedication of their new chapter house in September 2008… When I was installed as National President of Alpha Chi Omega in July 2008… I have been blessed to have these special Alpha Chi Omega memories, and many more than I can list here.
Last week ranks right up there as one of my proudest Alpha Chi Omega moments. On Friday, May 7, 2010, Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity was honored by the Genesis Women’s Shelter of Dallas as its 2010 Jane Doe Award winner. Each year, Genesis presents the Jane Doe Award to recognize an individual or group’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of the battered women and children who must remain nameless and faceless as they escape the violence they have known. The list of previous award winners is impressive – including Mary Kay, Inc.; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former first lady Laura Bush; former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice; Academy Award winner Sarah Buel; and the Junior League of Dallas. We stand with a host of luminaries who have made it their passion to protect women from violence.
I was honored to accept the award (a beautiful Tiffany crystal statuette) on your behalf at Genesis’ 17th annual Mother’s Day lunch, before a crowd of over 2000 of Dallas’ most influential women (and men.) The annual event is a major fundraiser for Genesis, which receives no government funding, and generated a record $1 million to support shelter, counseling and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence in the Dallas area.
This recognition from Genesis Women’s Shelter is rooted in the work of our Dallas-area alumnae and collegians, who have donated over $100,000 and countless volunteer hours to supporting Genesis, and owes no small debt to our partnership with Wells Fargo (and Bob Chereck) through their sponsorship of numerous Genesis programs. However, the award recognizes even more than that – it recognizes all of the women of Alpha Chi Omega who have accepted the challenge to fight domestic violence within our own communities across the country.
The 2010 Mother’s Day lunch program included the following tribute to Alpha Chi Omega: “In 1992, Alpha Chi Omega adopted domestic violence awareness as its national philanthropic cause. Since then, they have promoted education and prevention programs that help people understand and prevent the problem of violence against women… On behalf of Dr. Rice, we recognize her Alpha Chi Omega Sisters and their efforts…”
Oh, did I forget to mention that the luncheon was a star-studded event? This year’s honorary event chair was former First Lady Laura Bush, who unfortunately was unable to attend. However, she sent her husband in her place. Yes, former President George W. Bush made a surprise appearance, just to introduce the guest speaker, former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Rice talked about atrocities committed against women around the world and her experiences fighting for women’s rights, as well as the importance of organizations such as Genesis in helping combat violence against women. “You and I can know there’s something the government can’t deliver: compassion,” she said. “That’s where organizations like Genesis come in.”
Regardless of your politics, I hope that you can admit that having Alpha Chi Omega featured at an event attended by a former President and Secretary of State is a big deal! And the fact that Dr. Rice is one of our own Alpha Chi Omega sisters (and past Alpha Chi Omega Award of Achievement winners) made the day even more special for me.
I try to keep my politics separate from my Alpha Chi Omega work, but I will admit to being a big fan of Dr. Rice’s and the Bushes – so I was personally thrilled to sit on stage with Dr. Rice and President Bush. I thoroughly enjoyed my 30 minutes of one-on-one conversation with Dr. Rice. “Please call me Condi,” she said – and I did. And I took advantage of our time together to share all the wonderful things that Alpha Chi Omega is doing today.
However, the biggest thrill was the great honor to Alpha Chi Omega – my heart swelled with pride (and my eyes were filled with happy tears) as our accomplishments and work in supporting victims of domestic violence were recognized in such a prestigious forum. What pride to hear Dr. Rice acknowledge us as her “Alpha Chi sisters” and speak of her pride in the work we have done (and continue to do). And even a little thrill to get a shoulder poke and “good work” from President Bush.
In 1992, a committee of Alpha Chi Omegas recommended that we select domestic violence awareness as our national philanthropy, and that recommendation was accepted by the Convention body in St. Louis. One of the members of that committee recently wrote me and talked about the committee’s concern that the cause wouldn’t be considered “glamorous” or appealing enough to really catch on – and how proud she is to see that we have really made a difference. And boy have we made a difference!
Our work with domestic violence awareness is meaningful, relevant and consistent with who Alpha Chi Omega is – real, strong women. We work to support victims and hopefully someday to end violence against women – because many of those victims are our own sisters, and because we want to inspire and empower all women to be real and strong, whether they are Alpha Chi Omega sisters or not. As Dr. Rice said, “If I could do one thing to change the world, I would empower women.” And that’s what Alpha Chi Omega does.
I have never been more proud to be an Alpha Chi Omega than I am today.