Grad student tackles gender-based violence

Allison Mueller

Victoria McKenzie/ Winonan

A student at Winona State University, who chose to remain anonymous, reported walking at night with a friend, who was a few paces behind her. A man jumped out of the bush at her. He then noticed her friend, who she assumed he had not seen before, and he took off in the other direction.

“I am glad that I was walking with a friend because I don’t even want to know what would have happened otherwise. From now on I will make sure to never walk alone at night, no matter how short the walk,” she said.

Groups on campus are taking initiative to put an end to this type of assault.

Rebecca Johnson, a Winona State graduate student, is working to change campus culture in order to reduce the instances of gender-based violence.

Johnson is the gender-based violence graduate assistant whose focus is peer education. She will be training Winona State students to become peer educators for the RE Initiative.

The RE Initiative focuses on recognizing equality between genders to reduce the perceived inequalities that are often the basis for gender-based violence.  The program incorporates education, advocacy and community outreach.

The program coordinator, Heather Gerdes, organizes the community outreach portion. Gerdes works to establish protocols of how gender-based incidences of violence will be handled with law enforcement, health services, county attorneys and the Winona County Primary Prevention Project.

Gerdes and Johnson, as well as others involved in the program, are using the RE Initiative to help limit gender-based violence on campus.

By educating students, they plan to change the culture from one accepts gender-based violence as a norm to one supports the survivors and holds the offenders accountable.

In the eighth grade, Johnson met her sister’s college friend for the first time when she was brought to Johnson’s house after being assaulted. At such a young age, she said she did not understand the complexity of what occurred as her sister helped her friend make decisions on exams and reporting.

However, the sadness and confusion of that weekend stuck with her, Johnson said.

Exposed to gender-based violence at an early age, Johnson wants to change how this variety of violence is handled and perceived.

As an undergraduate student, Johnson immediately began taking courses in the women, gender and sexuality studies department. She is currently a graduate student in the counseling education program, continuing work to help those who have survived gender-based violence.

Johnson hopes to use the RE Initiative to get more students on campus informed about gender-based violence and inspired to help reduce it.

“Winona State is a community of learners. As a community we can make a change, “ Johnson said.