By Nick McCutcheon
DWU Sports Information Director
Every college student takes on countless assignments while in school, but few have the potential to create a movement for change on a topic that hits home directly or indirectly for many.
Five Dakota Wesleyan University students, four athletes and one athletic training major, took the opportunity presented by an assignment to do something bigger. In the fall of 2014, Dr. Alisha Vincent tasked the students in her social justice class to select a cause that they showed interest in and wanted to advocate for.
Domestic violence has been a hot button issue in professional sports over the last year and this was a topic covered in Vincent’s class that the group of Luke Bamberg, Spencer Bloch, Augustus Haskell, Skylar Forgey and Rachel Reichel gravitated toward.
The five DWU students identified the need to create awareness to help end domestic violence amid the swarm of occurrences coming out of the National Football League and other professional sports in recent months. The members of the class and the male student-athletes at DWU have taken a pledge created by the group from Vincent’s class to help end domestic violence.
“We had reviewed the scandals involving athletes engaged in domestic violence, and so this group seemed to gravitate toward wanting to take that cause on at a collegiate level,” Vincent said. “During the research phase, they recognized how little is done to prevent, stop and educate college athletes about domestic violence.”
Reaching those at DWU was not enough for the architects of the pledge. They want more awareness and additional support from the rest of the Great Plains Athletic Conference and beyond. The GPAC Domestic Violence Pledge Challenge has been issued by DWU to the rest of the conference to say “No More!”
When GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra caught word of the movement coming out of DWU he passed it along to the rest of the conference. Westra went to the administrators, coaches and athletes of the other 10 GPAC members asking them to join the fight and take the pledge.
"To my knowledge this is the first time I can remember a school in the GPAC making a call for action from the other league members and that is pretty special,” Westra said. "This is a great cause to get behind and I think it's very important for our college male student-athletes to be reminded that they can do their part to end domestic violence."
The following is included in the pledge being sent out by Westra to the GPAC schools:
“We proudly pledge our support to become a part of the solution to end domestic violence. By signing this declaration, we are taking a public stand against domestic violence. We commit to creating a community that no longer tolerates domestic violence. In doing so, we pledge to further our knowledge and understanding of the issue and we pledge to use our influence to prevent others from using violence in their relationships. We pledge to use our position as men and leaders to help boys, young men, family members and friends understand that domestic violence is never acceptable and to teach that manhood and strength are not defined by violence or domination.”
For Reichel, a senior athletic training major from Mitchell, ending domestic violence is a personal cause. Reichel’s best friend had someone close to her that was killed by her boyfriend at the age of 19 after she broke off a relationship.
“She was only 19,” Reichel said. “I didn't know her personally, but her story hits close to home because she was so young. Her parents continue to speak about her situation to high school students.”
Senior men’s basketball player Luke Bamberg, a business administration major from Corsica, S.D., said Reichel’s story motivated the group and made them move forward even stronger with making the pledge as far reaching as it can be.
When the movement started at DWU, the response from students was very positive, according to Bamberg. He also pointed to the faculty and staff at DWU showing their praise for the pledge and adding support for what these five students have been trying to accomplish.
“This effort by our students exemplifies the character, courage and conviction our student athletes feel about domestic violence,” DWU President Amy Novak said. “Particularly impressive is their commitment to taking this pledge beyond the classroom and our campus in an effort to truly create positive change among athletes across our conference and the NAIA. This initiative reminds us that student athletes have the potential to impact more than just the game or the match, but truly the communities in which they live.”
Bamberg added that the group has looked into expanding the pledge by partnering up with the Mitchell Safe House to provide contributions and awareness.
“We had the mindset to take this project as far as it could go,” Bamberg said. “I think for the class advocacy project that we started, it has already been a success for where it was and what it developed into. Our aspirations were for men's football and basketball teams to sign the pledge and take action to stop domestic violence.”
Reichel and Bamberg, along with football players Spencer Bloch (Scotland, S.D.) and Augustus Haskell (Dell Rapids, S.D.), and track and field and cross country runner Skylar Forgey (Colome, S.D.) have taken a small class project from the drawing board to a movement that can build awareness. With the support of the GPAC, the pledge has moved to a regional level, but the students want to see the rest of the country get on board.
“It was important to get more colleges involved and understand the seriousness of the issue,” Reichel said. “A lot of times it gets brushed under the rug and no one wants to talk about it. I would love to see it go to every college in the country. I think it is already successful. It is already spreading to more colleges and teams.”