A group of students gather in a classroom for a photo. They are huddled around Chancellor Ronnie D. Green and standing in front of a projector screen that reads,
Chancellor, Ronnie D. Green, poses for a photo with Husker CARE Peer Educators at their initial training session. At the kick-off, he gave a welcome address and thanked the students for being a part of this initiative. (Photo courtesy of Center for Advocacy, Response & Education)

Last fall, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln department piloted a peer-education program aimed at educating students on topics of sexual and relationship violence. Having seen notable success in its inaugural year, the power-based violence training is being further developed for the 2023-2024 school year. 

The Sexual Assult and Relationship Violence Training, or SARV training, is a 90-minute workshop designed for first-year students; however, the training is open to all students. During the session, students gain awareness and understanding of power-based violence, learn about campus and community resources, and how to intervene and prevent power-based violence. 

The training is hosted by the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education, or CARE, a student affairs program that supports people impacted by power-based violence. Specifically, relationship and sexual violence, stalking and sexual harassment. 

According to Melissa Wilkerson, director of CARE, the students also take a pre-test and post-test during the session. She said these assessments are what have proven the program to be successful. 

“Every single score from the pretest to the post-test went up,” Wilkerson said. “This is just the first semester, but we have really good reason to believe that students are definitely gaining knowledge and awareness, which is important.”

A critical part of this program is that the Husker Care Peer Educators are fellow undergraduate students. Janessa Jarvis, a survivor support advocate for CARE, said this factor is important because it provides a comfortable space for these conversations. 

“The goal is that our peer educators are able to connect with these students,” Jarvis said. “They go to the same type of parties, they see the same type of people, and they really have that connection. Hopefully, it’s creating a space where students can ask questions and learn. And get these conversations started.”

One of the goals of SARV training is to create a safer campus community. Jarvis said that even if students aren’t impacted by power-based violence themselves, having the knowledge allows them to help others on campus who have been.

“If you don’t know the signs, it’s really hard to recognize if you or your friend has been impacted,” Jarvis said. “I think the more people who have this understanding, who know a little bit about what’s going on are going to help change our culture here on campus, and that’s our overall goal.”

The application to become a Husker Care Peer Educator for the 2023-2024 school year is open until March 31. If selected, peer educators attend 32 hours of training in the fall. Jarvis said they have already seen high interest in the peer educator position this year. 

“Very early on, they told us that students were already asking them how they could become a peer educator,” Jarvis said. “It’s just really awesome to see that it was immediate. Seeing, you know, freshmen who are going to be sophomores, like applying for that position is really exciting.”

In addition to seeing success in SARV training, CARE has also seen progress as the department found a new home in Louise Pound Hall after moving from Neihardt Center over winter break. According to Wilkerson, the new office has allowed them to grow the welcoming space they seek to provide on campus. 

“We have a great lounge now that’s really private and set up for anyone who we’re working with,” Wilkerson said. “Historically, we went from a single office to only two small offices in the union to a great huge space in Niedheart. And now we’re here. So we continue to gain every time we go somewhere.”

Having a comfortable space is key to providing confidential services, according to Wilkerson. 

“I think it’s really important for people to recognize and understand that they can come into CARE, and hopefully, we’ve created the most comfortable environment possible to talk about something that may be uncomfortable,” Wilkerson said. “We create a safe space for people to process, and really we’re not counselors. So really, our role is to help people navigate, options, resources, etc.”

Recently, CARE has also begun partnering with the Trauma Recovery Clinic, which provides psychological services to people experiencing traumatic stress or post-traumatic stress disorders. CARE is able to refer students to the TRC for free counseling services. 

Katie Bogen is a clinical psychology graduate assistant who works with both CARE and the TRC. She said that there has been notable progress in the individuals who have been a part of this program.

“I think one of the things that has been so stunning for me to see is not only the extent of harm that students have experienced before they even walk in our doors… but how quickly they can rebound and recover if provided, the services that they need,” Bogen said. “I have people come in symptomatic and really struggling. At the end of, you know, 12 to 16 weeks of treatment, they leave feeling like they’ve gotten their lives back.”

Students, faculty or staff interested in seeking CARE services can walk into Lousie Pound Hall room 211, call (402.472.3553) or email ([email protected]) to seek help. 

In their new space, Wilkerson hopes CARE can continue to be a comfortable space on campus and build relationships with individuals who seek their services.

“It starts the minute you walk in with Meredith at the front to help set the tone for the entire space and experience,” Wilkerson said. “We don’t want to give off a feeling like you’re just here for an appointment. I still have students that I’ve been working with for three and a half years or people who graduated. We have students that come in and talk to us about their successes too because they built that relationship with us.”

Bailey is a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with minors in film studies and sociology. She has a passion for telling stories through all mediums. Currently, she works as a social media and graphic design intern at University Career Services. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a full-time role as a social media manager.