A student begins to glimpse a group project partner everywhere and realizes that they are being stalked. The next day, they skip class to obtain a protection order.
Meanwhile, another student gets punched in the face after their abusive partner’s long night of drinking. The bruises and the need to retreat to their parents’ house also result in missed attendance points.
A child’s arm is broken by an aggressive parent, and the other parent waits for hours with the child in the emergency room. Suddenly, that Spanish conversation table or physics lab just doesn’t seem important.
These three stories may have been created by the UMKC Violence and Prevention Office as part of the Empty Chair Campaign, but they represent the real-life challenges many students face. As National Domestic Violence Awareness month unfolds, director of the Women’s Center Kacie Otto saw a need to depict violence in way that was subtle, realistic and poignant.
Her strategy involved featuring empty chairs in the School of Law, UMKC Central, and Haag Hall. Papers taped to each chair narrated the all-too-common stories of three people, prompting students to take just five minutes to confront the abuse that some of their peers grapple with constantly.
“It’s a program for fast-paced students,” Otto said. “They can just read [the stories] as they go by.”
In fact, this kind of small but decisive interaction not only works for the campaign, but is what Otto recommends to put an end to violence.
“I think [violence] can be changed if every single person does one small thing to either stop violence from happening or show their friends they’re not okay with violence,” said Otto. “So that could be, if you see somebody yelling at someone, then asking them to stop. If you see your friend who has a bruise in the same place all the time, bring them to our office, and tell them you believe them. Or it could be just showing your commitment to ending violence— like writing articles about it for the newspaper, or sharing something on Facebook or Twitter about your commitment to ending violence.”
In Otto’s eyes, everyone should contribute to a solution because everyone knows someone trying to escape violence—whether they’re aware of this connection or not.
After all, a startling one in four women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault by the time they leave college. And contrary to popular assumptions, one in ten rape reports is made by a man. Transgender individuals are even more likely to be targeted.
Otto further broke down violence’s widespread reach.
“[Violence] affects children, it affects college students of all different socioeconomic status and of all different races, class, and genders, and it even affects people in same-sex couples and trans people,” Otto said. “It just affects everyone. So it’s important for everyone to know about and be able to recognize.”