Group combating sexual violence expands reach under new leadership at SMC

first_imgSaint Mary’s welcomed Liz Coulston as the new Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) coordinator in May, and since then she has been busy establishing herself on campus as a new source of leadership and a reliable resource.“I think it’s important for students to know that I’m here now because the position has been empty for a year and a half, so a lot of people that are new on campus never knew that this position existed,” Coulston said. “So it’s important that people know that I’m here.”Originally from Niles, Michigan, Coulston said she was very familiar with Saint Mary’s and the surrounding community as she was growing up, and said she could see the Golden Dome from her parents’ house.“I love Saint Mary’s,” she said. “I grew up going to their summer camps for fine arts and for sports, so I’ve been familiar with the school for a long time.”Coulston studied psychology at Ohio Northern University where she minored in arts administration, entrepreneurship and dance. After graduating, Coulston moved to South Bend and worked at AIDS ministries as a care coordinator for individuals with HIV and AIDS diagnoses.After dancing professionally for two years in Chicago, Coulston found work at the Logan Autism Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan, before earning her masters in social work from Grand Valley State University. Through this graduate program, Coulston completed a year-long internship in crisis advocacy at the YWCA, a resource for individuals who have experienced domestic or sexual violence.When she started job hunting after graduating with her master’s degree in April of this year, Coulston said she wasn’t even aware of BAVO’s existence but was excited to discover Saint Mary’s offered such a resource to its students. She is passionate about assisting with college-aged students, an age group she has enjoyed working with in all of her areas of experience.“I just think it’s such a unique experience, and it’s a unique place for people to be in their lives,” she said. “You are suddenly thrust into this total independence at 18 and are expected to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. … I think college kids are people that need a lot of support but don’t get a lot of support a lot of the time.”Though under new leadership, Coulston said BAVO will continue to provide many of the same services offered in previous years.“We continue to do education and outreach throughout campus and throughout the community,” she said. “I’ll still have my student advisory committee, as well as allies underneath them, so we will keep the student-led groups doing events and things like that on campus.”The office will provide advocacy services such as legal and medical aid, as well as counseling and other resources. In her position, Coulston will also act as a confidential reporter.“I don’t have to disclose anything that anyone tells me to the university or to law enforcement, outside of child abuse and neglect,” she said. “That’s a really great resource to have on campus. … People can come and talk to me if they just want to talk something out that has happened to them or a friend.”This year, BAVO will be working in coordination with the President’s Committee on Sexual Violence, a group of administrators and faculty members that have a special interest in addressing sexual violence on Saint Mary’s campus. The groups will host educational programming and events, Colston said.“I think the big thing we’re trying to show is that Saint Mary’s does take these issues seriously and that it’s not just one person in one office that cares,” she said.Coulston said the addition of three student representatives to the committee will include an essential student perspective.“I mean we can plan all we want, but if students aren’t actually interested in the information, they’re not going to come,” she said. “So it’s really important to have those students giving input on events and programming, not only in what students are interested in but what students want and what students need.”BAVO will continue to use the same first year orientation programming as used in years past, working in conjunction with the campus safety department and health and counseling center to educate incoming students on the available services, Coulston said. She encourages all first years, even those not seeking resources specific to BAVO, to stop by her office.“I feel like there’s such a stigma that people think that they need to have this super traumatic experience to come visit me, and that’s totally not true,” Coulston said. “I mean, you can come to me even just if you want someone that you can talk to that isn’t going to have to tell the school … so I totally encourage students and parents to come talk to me.”Tags: BAVO, Belles Against Violence Office, Liz Coulston, Saint Mary’s Collegelast_img read more

First openly gay NFL player shares experiences in sports, life

first_imgMaria Luisa Paul | The Observer Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player, uses his experiences to be a voice of encouragement for the LGBTQ+ community.But Sam said his story of “resilience, overcoming adversity and owning his truth” did not begin there — in many ways, it began in his childhood. Before he was born, an older sister drowned. When he was five, his oldest brother, Russell, was shot while he tried to break into a home. These events, Sam said, led his father to walk out on them.Grief struck again in 1998 more when his older brother Julian disappeared after leaving from work one day. To this day, he remains missing. Without Julian, the family responsibilities fell on Josh and Chris, two of Sam’s older brothers. However, they were involved in gang life, and brought drugs and weapons into the household, Sam said.“I saw drugs and drug addicts come in and out of the house,” he said. “I saw loaded weapons in my room. If I was a curious child, I could’ve harmed myself, or my sisters or my mother.”Despite being raised in a place Sam called “a town without opportunities” — Galveston, Texas — he went on to become the second in his family to graduate from high school, an accomplishment he said he still remembers as the proudest moment of his life.“That night, as they called my name, I walked across the stage and saw my mom in tears because of a moment so little as seeing one of her kids getting a high school diploma,” Sam said.Sam was admitted to Arizona State University (ASU), Colorado State University and University of Missouri. Though he said he dreamed of becoming a student at ASU, but changed his mind after visiting Mizzou’s campus.“I felt like I was supposed to be in this campus,” he said. “I felt like it was my home.”Even though Sam felt he made the right decision choosing Mizzou, he said transitioning to college was hard because he was still figuring out his sexuality.“I didn’t know how to handle it, so I decided to experiment,” Sam said. “After I experimented, I knew I was pretty damn gay.”While in college, he met Vito Cammisano, a former member of the Mizzou swim team, at a party. The pair eventually fell in love and began secretly dating.“I was living a fairy tale,” Sam said. “He made me so happy and I felt so safe.”Too ashamed to come out at the time, their romance eventually ended, Sam said.“I couldn’t tell him I loved him, so we broke up in senior year,” he said.After the breakup, Sam said he decided to “own his truth,” choosing to attend St. Louis’ pride parade in the summer. Soon after, he came out to his teammates. Sam said his peers supported him completely.“Mizzou supported me so much,” Sam said. “They made me give the very best of me every weekend. I did everything for my brothers because they always had my back.”Even though his team and most students at Mizzou knew Sam was gay, he came out to the rest of the world Feb. 9, 2014, thus becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League (NFL). According to Sam, the NFL was not as supportive as his teammates.“The NFL was not ready for an openly gay athlete,” Sam said.Sam said he believes his sexuality caused him to fall down in the 2014 NFL Draft, in which the St. Louis Rams selected him in the 7th round.Sam was in San Diego the day he was finally drafted. Before receiving the call, he said he was by the beach anxiously contemplating his uncertain future. While he cried, he felt someone touch his shoulder. It was Cammisano.They received the news together, and shared a kiss that made national headlines.“The next day I woke up and thought the headlines would be ‘Michael Sam makes history,’” Sam said. “Instead, they were ‘Michael Sam kisses boyfriend.’”The media attention followed him to St. Louis. The press made it difficult to interact with his new teammates, he said; he felt he needed to earn their trust.He said this motivated him to work hard during the pre-season, where he led the team in sacks. However, the Rams ultimately released him in their final round of cuts. In September 2014, the Dallas Cowboys’ coach, Jerry Jones, offered Sam a position in their practice squad. A month later he was cut once again, and this was the last time he appeared in the NFL roster, Sam said.Sam said despite these challenges, he was determined to continue playing football. On May 2015, he signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League (CFL). But there, he was shunned by his former teammates for his sexuality.“Montreal ruined it for me. It was a totally terrible experience,” Sam said. “Everyone was against me. They chose not to shower because I was there and they wouldn’t have eye-contact with me.”In August 2015, Sam put an end to his professional football career. Since his retirement, he has dedicated himself to share his experience as a motivational speaker.Sam said one of the reasons he chose to become an LGBTQ-rights advocate came from talking with a former teammate’s cousin, who was a victim of bullying due to her sexuality. She had tried to commit suicide twice before connecting with Sam.“She said ‘You know, you saved my life?’ I started to cry,” Sam said. “There are people out there committing suicide because of their sexuality. I decided I was going to be sword and shield for these people.”By sharing his story, Sam said he hopes to help others struggling with their identity.“From this, I hope you learn that vulnerability is not weakness,” Sam said. “It is a sign of courage. So overcome the adversity and own your truth.”Tags: Gender Relations Center, Michael Sam, national football league, PrismND, University of Missouri Michael Sam made history in 2014 when he became the first-ever openly gay football player to be selected in the NFL draft. After a two-year professional career as a defensive end in both American and Canadian football leagues, Sam has dedicated his life to sharing his story with others. Monday evening, he spoke to the Notre Dame community in an event titled “From Hitchcock High to the NFL: I am Michael Sam.” The talk was hosted by the Gender Relations Center (GRC) and PrismND and held in the Dahnke Ballroom.Sam said he first came out as gay in his fifth year at the University of Missouri. His coach, Gary Pinkel, held an annual tradition where members of the team had to introduce themselves by saying their name, hometown, major and something nobody knew about them.“‘My name is Michael Sam. I’m from Hitchcock, Texas. I major in sport management, and … I’m gay,’” he said. “After I said these words, my whole life changed. Everything completely changed.”last_img read more