“The TCUs work with the students, and they take the lessons home to their families,” AIHEC President and Chief Executive Officer Carrie L. Billy told ICTMN. (Flickr/SAIGE.ORG)

“The TCUs work with the students, and they take the lessons home to their families,” AIHEC President and Chief Executive Officer Carrie L. Billy told ICTMN. (Flickr/SAIGE.ORG)

‘Restoring the Circle’ Campaign Created to End Sexual Assault on Tribal College and University Campuses

In September 2011, Vice President Joe Biden launched the "1 is 2 Many" initiative to raise awareness of the need to reduce dating violence and sexual assault among women ages 16 to 24.

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) reports that 64 percent of first-time students at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are between these ages. “College-age women experience the highest rates of dating violence,” Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, told Indian Country Today Media Network. So the AIHEC has partnered with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education to supplement Biden’s campaign with a new initiative and streamlined focus: preventing rape and sexual assault on TCU campuses.

The nationwide campaign, Restoring the Circle: Ending Violence and Abuse on Tribal College and University Campuses, will initially address sexual assault and dating violence on three of the nation’s 37 TCUs—Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas; Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota.

UTTC—twice a winner of the Office on Violence Against Women grants to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus—will serve as a model for establishing similar programs on other TCUs. The campaign at the three TCUs will reach approximately 3,600 American Indian students and will work toward the ambitious goal of “ensuring that young American Indian women can pursue their education free from violence,” said an AIHEC press release.

The TCUs are committed to: (1) creating campus-wide policies for students and faculty that addresses gender-based violence and sexual violence; (2) developing response protocols for campus police and dormitory-housing programs; (3) organizing awareness training for students, faculty and the entire campus community; and (4) initiating a public relations campaign to stop gender-based abuse and sexual violence.

On October 11, campaign officials hosted a two-day training and kickoff event at Haskell Indian Nations University to educate the entire TCU community about the effects of violence and abuse on all students. Alli Moran, president of AIHEC Student Congress speaks at the Haskell Indian Nations University "Restoring the Circle" event. (Cecilia Cometsevah) At the event, Michael E. Iken, academic and personal counselor at the UTTC’s Lewis Goodhouse Wellness Center, indicated that his program’s biggest impact is in the areas of education and training. “We do a lot of upfront education for new students,” especially during orientation and in dormitories, he told ICTMN.

“I think raising awareness of these topics has reduced the myths of it. That has caused our report rate numbers to go up, but we see that as a good thing.” A primary focus of the programs will be gender neutrality—that is, acknowledging that abuse and sexual violence affects all people and that everyone is responsible for stopping it. “During the Restoring the Circle kickoff event, attention was given to the importance of engaging men,” Darling said. “It was suggested that men’s groups be established. These groups would allow men to come together to discuss the issue as well as allow group leaders to address the matter from a prevention postvention point.”

AIHEC has reached out to a broad circle of organizations to advise TCUs in addressing issues of gender-based abuse and sexual violence, particularly in culturally sensitive ways. To this end, Catherine Leston, the coordinator for the Cherokee Nation’s Violence Prevention Project, spoke at the Haskell event about the success of her program. “We have a healing circle, which is our talking circle for women,” Leston said. “We also have a Native American women’s 12-step program and sweat lodges.”

So far, the group has hosted one women’s retreat with 50 female participants. “We made our own shields and our own talking stick,” she said. The retreat also offered yoga, accupuncture and massages. “We are trying to develop a holistic program for our survivors and [generate] awareness of how much just even stress affects your body," she said. "We’re treating mind, body and soul.”

Through efforts by the TCUs, AIHEC hopes to organically broaden awareness of the need to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence to tribal reservations and American Indian communities across the U.S. “The TCUs work with the students, and they take the lessons home to their families,” AIHEC President and Chief Executive Officer Carrie L. Billy told ICTMN. “That’s a powerful way to impact the communities. …We need to create a paradigm shift for the next generation to raise kids with a zero-tolerance policy for violence or abuse.”

The AIHEC Student Congress, composed of elected officials and regional representatives from each TCU’s student governing body, will play a proactive role in advancing the Restoring the Circle initiative—as soon they conclude their national campaign to Get Out the Vote in Indian country. “That will obviously end November 6, and they’ll dive into this more aggressively,” Billy said.

For more information about the Restoring the Circle campaign, visit AIHEC’s website at AIHEC.org.

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