In 2016, I returned as an alumnus to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar (HOBY) ready to work as a volunteer staff member. While I was honored and excited to speak on the “Leaders Transcending Difference” panel, I had no way of knowing the effect that the young woman seated to my left would have on me.
Jessica Davidson had been sexually assaulted on her college campus and, today, speaks across the nation to raise awareness for survivors. She explained that approximately one in four undergraduate women experience sexual assault and victims can feel marginalized and isolated from their university communities as a result. As a high school upperclassman, excited to start college, her disillusionment around campus life weighed heavily on me.
After the panel, I stayed back to talk with other student ambassadors. In tears, many described their own horrific experiences and recounted stories from friends and family relating to sexual violence. I left that weekend angry at how easily sexual violence can destroy a community, how seldom it is discussed on college campuses, and how little I had considered its effects. I also left with a new devotion to the issue that I carried back to my own high school experience.
I began by researching effective programs like “Green Dot,” which trains university students and teachers to create safe spaces for other students. Mirroring this program, I established “Green Band” at my high school and developed a website (www.greenbandproject.com) to encourage other schools and communities to join. Students make a commitment to be alert bystanders and signal this by wearing a green flex wristband with the words “Step Up and Intervene.” I presented Green Band to my counselors and student council, and am proud to say that many of my friends and hundreds of students now wear the bands. Stepping up is what counts.
With the guidance and support for this project from a nonprofit called Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, I learned the high degree of effort it takes for organizations to effect actual change in a community. I was drawn to El Pomar’s internship program for the experience to support an organization that shapes our community here in Colorado Springs. Through my internship, I had the opportunity to volunteer with two nonprofits: TESSA, which “empowers victims of partner violence,” and Hillside Connection, which uses “basketball to create pathways to more opportunity for kids in Southern Colorado Springs.” While at TESSA, I helped develop and edit presentations used for youth outreach to raise awareness about domestic violence. Working with both of these organizations allowed me to observe successful implementation of outreach programs and reaffirmed my commitment to better our communities.