Christmas in October addresses violence in relationships

It’s on Us, a student-led initiative to prevent interpersonal violence at Baylor, displayed Christmas trees and played carols to educate students about the signs of an unhealthy relationship on Oct. 11 and 12. Photo courtesy of Paige Hardy

By Rewon Shimray | Staff Writer

‘Tis the season for It’s On Us’ annual public event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s on Us, a student-led initiative to prevent interpersonal violence at Baylor, displayed Christmas trees and played carols to educate students about the signs of an unhealthy relationship. The display was open on Oct. 11 and 12 from 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. outside the Bill Daniel Student Union Building.

The dissonance between October and Christmas was designed to reflect the inappropriateness of violence within a healthy relationship. The event was centered around the phrase “What’s more out of place than Christmas in October? Violence in a healthy relationship.” The display addressed all interpersonal relationships, not only romantic relationships.

The Christmas trees were decked with informational ornaments, or “informaments,” for visitors to take with them. Ornaments outlined resources for reporting and confidentiality as well as descriptions of ten main signs of an unhealthy relationship sourced from One Love Foundation, an organization working to educate and empower young people to end relationship violence.

It’s On Us president and San Antonio senior Paige Hardy said she has had friends go through struggles in relationships that she was not able to identify until she researched.

“The first thing people think of when they hear ‘domestic violence’ is physical violence, but there are many many couples that are in Christian relationships, and physically there may be no signs, but emotionally it is the unhealthiest thing,” Hardy said.

Hardy said she hopes the display helps the Baylor community learn the signs of a healthy and unhealthy relationships and feel less alone in their experiences knowing the resources available on and off campus. Resources in Waco include the Family Abuse Center and Advocacy Center. Confidential on-campus resources are the Counseling Center, Health Services and University Chaplain Burt Burleson. Reporting can go through Baylor’s Title IX Office or Police Department.

It’s On Us members staffed a table at the display, handing out ornaments during passing periods and answering questions. Hardy said she spoke with tour groups, saw students share pictures with the trees on social media and supplied professors with Title IX handouts. Hardy said the event has shown her how much public support for and education on healthy relationships can be a “comfort” for people.

“We’re glad that we’re able to reach a lot of different groups that we wouldn’t normally be able to,” Hardy said. “Even if we only affect one person positively, that’s enough for me.”

Springfield, Mo., sophomore Katie Groves said she saw the display on her way to work from class, picked up an ornament and pondered its content during her shift.

Groves said the event helped her reflect on her romantic relationship that ended six months ago. She said the ornaments highlighted the “red flags” she was unable to see at the time.

“It was proving to myself that I was right in feeling that that relationship was unhealthy,” Groves said. “It helps because now I can go into relationships knowing that if I see that behavior again to take it as a red flag and not try to justify it or make an excuse for that person.”

Sofie Hernandez, Houston junior and It’s On Us event coordinator, said unhealthy relationships are “such a difficult topic to approach,” because most people “don’t realize the things they’re going through until it’s all said and done.”

Hernandez said the signs of abuse are meant to act as a “two-way street,” causing reflection on both what has happened to them as well as what they may be doing to others without realizing it.

“I’m hoping that people will be able to identify these behaviors in themselves and in other people, then hopefully do something about it,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said the Christmas in October display was designed to be “eye-catching” and “almost startling” to attract people to “something they may not be ready to be taught.”

“If you have something where people are confused and it feels a bit out of place, they might come up and read one of the tags and that might impact them enough,” Hardy said.

Hardy said It’s On Us has learned that people are less likely to attend a seminar or meeting, so a display was the ideal approach for disseminating information.

Hardy said she began conceptualizing the idea for the event during the summer when she was thinking about how out of place certain aspects of a relationship are. After having a conversation with One Love Foundation, she began brainstorming ways to symbolize the message in the form of an event. In the fall, It’s On Us began coordinating resources for the event. For a few weeks leading up to the display, members made ornaments, Hardy gathered Christmas trees and Hernandez designed the informational cards.

Groves said she will stop by nearly any philanthropic or educational booth on campus. She said the It’s On Us’ display was “more effective” and “more interactive” than others she has seen. According to Groves, it was “a more light way to address a heavy topic.”