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IUSA gets nod from Oprah





It discussed the origin of Culture of Care and Straub’s willingness to expand the program from a Culture of Care Week last year to a long-standing initiative.

Culture of Care week was in April, and Straub noted that the idea gained strong support from students and administrators. The next goal was to figure out where to take that momentum, he said.

“To actually change the culture of the University, we need a year-long campus effort,” said Katy Flanigan, codirector of the Culture of Care initiative.

Culture of Care seeks to educate students concerning issues in four categories: mental health awareness, sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse and discrimination.

“A lot of instances have happened in the last few years that made us realize students need to learn when it is time to intervene,” Flanigan said.

IUSA has pushed Culture of Care at a number of events, including the Jill Behrman 5K Run, the Out of the Darkness Walk and IU Dance Marathon. At each event, IUSA received the chance to speak or hand out information, water bottles and other promotional items to participants.

Impact of Culture of Care is hard to measure since it is an abstract concept, Flanigan said. Despite this, the Culture of Care steering committee makes sure that someone records quotes and takes pictures at each event to document progress for future Culture of Care leaders, she explained.

Leslie Fasone is the adviser for the Culture of Care program and is also a doctoral student in health behaviors at the IU School of

Public Health. She has been at IU more than 10 years and said the movement is something she hasn’t seen before.

“The fact that the student leaders from various organizations are collaborating on these initiatives and are essentially creating a movement at IU is something that is new and exciting,” Fasone said in an email.  “I think that the Culture of Care is spreading in a number of ways, many of which we will never see or know about.” 

Getting students to speak about these issues is both the goal and largest setback of the Culture of Care program, Straub said.

“Everything Culture of Care embodies is hard to speak about,” he said.

Sexual assault and mental health issues, in particular, are considered taboo, Flanigan said. IUSA’s efforts seek to make it easier to discuss these topics. Teaching students how to respond appropriately to others who have these issues is a large part of this effort.

“Some ways people think are appropriate ways to respond are actually making the problems worse,” Straub said.

Because the issues have been stigmatized for so long, Straub sees success in getting students to talk about them at all. Shifting an entire culture is a daunting and abstract feat, Fasone said, but she is optimistic.

“If anyone can change the culture, the students can,” she said. “IUDM just raised $2.1 million this past weekend. ... IU students are a powerful force.”

The Step Up! Initiative is one way IUSA hopes to fight the unwillingness and fear of students to intervene when other students are facing one of these issues, Fasone added. Step Up! focuses on talking to students about the reasons they don’t intervene and finding ways to overcome these barriers.

While these campus-wide efforts are necessary, Straub said, IUSA found it hard to shift its strategy to reach the most students in the most effective way.

On Friday, Straub will participate in the Culture of Care summit, a meeting featuring the presidents and leaders of the 25 biggest student organizations on campus, in order to discuss the issues facing students.

“We’re trying to target key influencers on our campus to try and embody this culture,” Straub said.

Peer-to-peer communication is the heart of the program, he said, and he feels it is more effective than having administrators “talk down” to students on campus.

“Studies have shown that this kind of stuff does work, but we’ll just have to see,” he said. “It’s a lot of trial and error, but we’re trying.”

Culture of Care is still in its beginning stages, and Straub said he recognizes the difficulties at hand. He hopes others won’t be discouraged by this struggle.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle, especially at IU,” he said. “Pretty much everything we are doing is not easy, but it is important to confront these issues and get people talking.”

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