For survivors and victims of interpersonal and sexual violence, one of the toughest things to do is leave everything they have behind and seek safety at a domestic violence shelter. Usually, they don’t even have the chance to bring personal items, such as clothing or hygiene products. However, because of the “SUNY’s Got Your Back” event hosted on Feb. 27, these survivors won’t be left with nothing. Student volunteers arrived in droves to create comfort bags filled with toiletries and other goods for these survivors. This event was held in the Student Union Building’s Multipurpose Room (MPR) from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“SUNY’s Got Your Back” is a statewide initiative by the State University of New York to support survivors and victims of interpersonal and sexual violence. The project began in 2016 with the goal of creating 2016 comfort bags in a year for these survivors, but they quickly exceeded that goal by creating more than 28,500 of these bags across SUNY’s 64 campuses. Upon completion these bags were shipped to domestic violence shelters and hospitals local to these campuses.
The MPR had been arranged so that students could make these comfort bags as efficiently as possible. Upon entering they would be given the option of signing and writing a positive message on a card to go with a comfort bag. Next, they would begin the actual assembly of the bags. They would take an empty bag and go down a line of goods to place in the bag. This included toiletries such as towels, tissues and toothbrushes as well as stationary products like pens, crayons and notebooks.
While these bags may appear like a small gesture on the surface, they’re a strong show of support from the community. Emma Morcone, the deputy Title IX coordinator and the LGBTQIA+ coordinator, who was a key figure in bringing “SUNY’s Got Your Back” to campus, expanded upon this further.
“Someone could be in a place where they find themselves in a shelter or a hospital and they have nothing else, except for perhaps a comfort bag,” Morcone said. “So many people might go to a hospital or shelter with the clothes on their back and nothing else because they just had to escape an unhealthy environment.”
The event featured guest speakers from all levels of SUNY administration and New York state. The speakers present were the Vice President for Student Affairs Stephanie Blaisdell, Associate Counsel of the SUNY Office of General Counsel and the coordinator of “SUNY’s Got Your Back” Joseph Storch, Executive Board Member of SUNY Student Assembly Jennifer Hernandez and Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin.
Also present at the event were domestic violence shelters and service groups for victims of sexual assault, which are all local to the Hudson Valley or present on our campus. These include Ulster County’s Department of Social Services’ Safe Harbour Program and Crime Victim Assistance Program, Ulster’s Family of Woodstock, Safe Homes Of Orange County, Duchess County’s Grace Smith House, Duchess’ Center for Victim Safety and Support and SUNY New Paltz’s Haven/Oasis and Take Back The Night. Ulster County Crime Victim Advocate Amy Westberg helped get in touch with most of the groups present.
Emily Bazinet, the assistant director of Student Activities and Union Services and Emerging Leaders program coordinator, was amazed by the student turnout. She had helped with the event by assisting students making the bags as well as getting the word out for the event.
“The response from students was amazing. It was way more than what I expected,” said Bazinet. “It was a really important project… hugely important for the families that are going to be recipients of these bags and of course for the agencies that were going to receive these bags, but it was just like a really huge community building project for this campus. We had students, faculty and staff who all came together to roll up their sleeves and help out even if they were there for five minutes or for two hours. It was just a phenomenal response.”
The students who volunteered their time and effort were more than happy to help. They saw it as a way of supporting victims of interpersonal and sexual violence and providing aid for the resources found on campus and in the community.
“I appreciate having [SUNY’s Got Your Back], I think it’s a good cause,” said second-year sociology major Emily Cox. “I [also] appreciate having resources like Take Back The Night. If you are a victim there are a lot of resources present.”
“A lot of people care,” said fourth-year English major Joseph Russo. “It’s great that they came out to the event and their goal was accomplished.”
Dean of Students, Robin Cohen-La Valle, who also assisted in organizing the event, wants “SUNY’s Got Your Back” to send a message of hope through the community and for survivors of interpersonal violence.
“What says it all is in the card we included… [it says] stay strong. It minimizes the shame that people feel alone when these things happen, and I think the goal… is that we’ve crafted a message of empowerment over victimization,” Cohen-La Valle said. “My message is that we’ve got your back, and you’ve got people who care about it and want you to stay strong.
Take Back The Night will be hosting several events at the end of March and throughout April. They will be holding a clothing drive from March 24 – 31, although this date is tentative. They will also be holding a film screening of “Wonder Women: The Untold Stories of American Superheroines” on April 17 from 8 p.m to 10 p.m., an open mic night titled “Come As You Are” on April 19, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and self care night titled “Self Care of the Soul” on April 24 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. All rooms are to be determined. Finally, they will be holding their annual “Take Back The Night” event to empower victims of sexual violence on April 27 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Old Main Quad.