Aidan Jones became inspired to make a difference regarding interpersonal violence after he listened to a lecture at Hope College and a presentation in a class.

Gabbi Taylor found her calling to help after she spoke with a teammate.

Both sophomores on the Hope College cross country and track and field teams have taken leadership roles in the on-campus student group, Students Teaching and Empowering Peers, along with junior teammate Sarah Cannon.

STEP aims to educate, empower, and encourage members of the campus community to combat interpersonal violence. 

More than 1 in 3 women, and more than 1 in 4 men, experience intimate partner violence during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, the CDC reports that 1 in 3 teens experience dating violence and those who identify as nonbinary or LGBTGQ+ are often even more likely to experience abuse.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. STEP invites the Hope College community to take part in various events and awareness opportunities this month on campus

“STEP sees all of its educators as activists within their own communities, and athletes are no different,” Gibson said. “Athletes are leaders on Hope’s campus. Their words and actions are looked up to. They can be models of healthy relationships and ambassadors for prevention within their teams, but also for our campus as a whole.”

Christian Gibson, Hope College victim advocate and prevention educator

Emerging Leaders

Jones is working with STEP executive committee member Owen Beird this semester on educational programming for men. Topics include ‘What is masculinity?’, interpersonal violence, and sexual violence.

Aidan Jones poses for a portrait.
Sophomore Aidan Jones

“I was getting tired and frustrated with constantly seeing interpersonal violence and sexual violence stories show up on social media, especially among male athletes. I wanted to help make a difference,’ Jones said. “Then I participated in the Title IX lecture during an event at the DeWitt Center and a STEP education lecture in a health dynamics class. It is important for me to lead by example. I joined STEP to show that it’s unacceptable for males to cause any sexual violence.”

Taylor is involved with two STEP committees: The first finds STEP representatives from athletic teams and Greek organizations, and the second creates on-campus events throughout the school year.

“I’m really passionate about raising awareness about interpersonal violence and sexual assault,” Taylor said. “I have learned there are a lot of ways someone can experience abuse and project that abuse, abuse being how they deal with being raped, stalked, emotionally abused or physically abused. 

“There are a lot of ways people deal with being hurt. It is important to help people with what they’re going through. This is very apparent in our society right now, especially women, but men as well.”

Cannon, Jones, and Taylor are amazing leaders both on campus and within STEP,” said Christian Gibson, the Hope College victim advocate and prevention educator.

“Sarah has taken the lead on our communications, Gabbi is helping to lead the Press Pause Campaign, and Aidan steps in where he can!” Gibson said. “They all act as liaisons from our work to their team, both formally and informally. 

Encouraging Conversation

Gabbi Taylor poses for a portrait.
Sophomore Gabbi Taylor

“It has been exciting to learn about the conversations that the cross country and track and field teams specifically are having around healthy relationships, consent, etc., and how the culture is changing for the better,” Gibson said. “I am grateful for Sarah, Aidan, and Gabbi’s leadership in that change!” 

Student-athletes have a powerful role to play in the work of STEP, Gibson said. 

“STEP sees all of its educators as activists within their own communities, and athletes are no different,” Gibson said. “Athletes are leaders on Hope’s campus. Their words and actions are looked up to. They can be models of healthy relationships and ambassadors for prevention within their teams, but also for our campus as a whole.”

Gibson said STEP is actively recruiting student-athlete representatives. 

Sarah Cannon poses for a portrait.
Junior Sarah Cannon

“This position is unique from being a STEP Educator; athletic STEP reps are responsible for facilitating a connection/relationship between STEP and their athletic teams,” Gibson said. “You can read about the role here, and apply here! Email and for more information.” 

Jones and Taylor believe it is vital for student-athletes to realize the depth of the problem in interpersonal violence in society and be active against it.

“I believe students-athletes should understand that all too often their positions have been used to take advantage of others, resulting in sexual violence,” Jones said. “Our job as student-athletes at Hope is to change that culture and show that we don’t tolerate that kind of activity.”

Added Taylor, “Teams of athletes travel in packs. The younger students learn from older students. If people can just be role models and shut things down when anyone is exhibiting a bad idea, I think that would be really impactful. We need teams to say we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that.”

More information on this month’s STEP events: 

Van Wylen Library Display – Begins October 5

The Van Wylen Library is partnering with STEP in their October display. Stop by on the main floor to both learn about domestic violence and healthy relationships, receive resources, and get a glimpse at the Clothesline Project, which shows the strength and resilience of those who have experienced domestic or dating violence and gives a platform and voice to those who bravely seek to break the silence on issues relating to domestic and dating violence. 

Come As You Are – Every Tuesday at 11am 

STEP began a new weekly discussion program entitled Come As You Are (CAYA). The mission of this event is for STEP to engage in interpersonal violence prevention through conversation and discussion, each week focusing on a unique topic. October 6, we welcome Dr. Sarah Kornfiled (Associate Professor of Communications and Women’s and Gender Studies) who will be hosting a conversation on rape culture. On October 13, we welcome Sara Dorer, Equal Opportunity and Compliance Coordinator, who will be discussing the new Title IX Regulations. October 20 & 27 are TBD. Join us on Zoom via this link

Eavesdropping on the Experts: A roundtable discussion about the intersection of COVID 19 and domestic violence – Tuesday, October 14, 7-8:30pm

Join us in a virtual, town hall style conversation with local leaders who will discuss the question: “How has COVID-19 increased cases of domestic violence, and what does that look like for our community?” Our guests will be Jill Whitcomb, Hope’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Investigator, Brad Hiefjte, Trauma Therapist at Resilience: Advocates for Ending Violence, and Dr. Carrie Bredow, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Women and Gender Studies Department. Join us on Zoom using this link

Wear Purple Campaign – October 19-23 

STEP is excited to partner with the Kletz Market to promote a week of wearing purple. We all have a role in promoting healthy relationships and building a healthy community. Use wearing purple as a conversation starter and share why ending domestic violence is important to you. Share photos of you wearing purple with STEP via email or Instagram, @hopecollegestep. 

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