Making a caring culture the “norm”

Guest post courtesy of IU Bloomington student Rachel Green, who is a senior advisor to Culture of Care

College is a time for learning, exploration and self-discovery, for forging new and lasting friendship, for developing strong mentoring relationships — and it’s often a time for partying and late-night adventures.

Rachel Green has been involved with IU's Culture of Care as a director, co-chief and now senior advisor.

Rachel Green has been involved with IU’s Culture of Care as a director, co-chief and now senior advisor.

Often, when students leave for college, they think “Freedom! Finally!” now that parents and guardians are no longer watching over them. Although college is a time for learning, navigating these new freedoms can be challenging.

During my experience at IU, I’ve seen a number of students struggle for different reasons. Some of my fellow students have abused alcohol to the point of getting so sick I’ve had to hold their hair back as they puked onto the concrete. Others have struggled with anxiety, depression, overwhelming sadness or alcohol abuse. I’ve also personally seen how sexual violence has taken a toll on someone’s emotional well-being and ability to be successful at school.

The student founders of the Culture of Care program felt that these experiences shouldn’t be considered normal. They created Culture of Care Week at IU in the spring of 2012 to raise awareness about issues related to mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault and discrimination, with the overarching message to students to help one another. To not be idle bystanders. To intervene on behalf of one another.

In short, the goal of Culture of Care is to engage students to create a safer IU Bloomington community.

Over the past year and a half, Culture of Care has grown into a campus-wide, student-led, staff-supported initiative housed under IU Student Association Special Projects. We have four focus areas: sexual well-being; drug and alcohol awareness; respect; and mental health awareness. Our goal is to connect students to the multitude of on-campus resources available and to spread awareness about our four focus areas through a speaker series, workshops, training through our Step Up IU Bystander Intervention Program and our annual Culture of Care Week. We also maintain visibility on campus by handing out information at highly populated areas on campus.

The Culture of Care vision is to create a campus where students have the courage to care about one another.

Transforming the culture through the “courage to care”

I have been involved with Culture of Care since the fall of 2012 as a director, co-chief and now senior advisor. Through my experience leading Culture of Care, I have learned that the hardest challenge facing this organization as well as IU Bloomington and college campuses as a whole is the slow nature of culture change and the simultaneous necessity of culture change if we want to live in a healthy, safe, caring and productive society.

We live in a world where, when a party guest has drunk so much that she becomes physically ill all over the sidewalk, other party guests excuse her behavior saying, “Everyone has those days.” What kind of culture is that, where drinking to the point of physical illness is a normal and acceptable way to socialize on a weekend?

To me, it is terrifying that it’s acceptable for “everyone” to have those days. Those days are dangerous! Those days can result in serious injury or death! Those days should not be normal.

This is a cultural issue that spans generations of Americans. It cannot and will not be fixed in a few years with a few thousand T-shirts handed out with information at tables across campus. The students who started Culture of Care, the leaders currently on campus, the freshmen who have just arrived — none of them will likely see a total transformation of IU’s culture.

It will be a gradual, slow process. We’re taking steps in the right direction by talking to students face-to-face about bystander intervention; explaining what mental health stigma is and how to reduce it; providing clear definitions of consent; and talking with students about real-life situations so they can treat their sexual partners with respect. Our goal is to educate students with information about the resources and help available to them on campus. If we can create a culture where the “norm” is for students to intervene when they see someone in need, we can work to address the root cultural problems that condone dangerous binge drinking, violent and aggressive sexual behavior, and discrimination against people because of their race, sexual orientation or religion.

Culture of Care is taking steps to engage students in creating a safer environment, one in which students have the courage to care. We want students to feel empowered to act when they see another in need.

These steps are new on such a large scale and with such widespread administrative support for a student-led organization, but they are not new for IU. The university has been committed to providing a safe, rewarding campus atmosphere for students for years. What makes Culture of Care unique now is the level of collaboration and coordination among different entities across campus. I am so incredibly proud and grateful to be a student at IU during this critical point in time and to be able to offer my time and passion to help make IU an even better place for students for years to come.

Learn more

Those interested in learning more about Culture of Care should check out our website at http://care.indiana.edu. We also have a Facebook and Twitter. Please email if you have any questions or want to get involved: iucultureofcare@gmail.com.

Student groups, professors, student organization leaders can request a Culture of Care – Step UP! IU bystander intervention training to teach students who to step up and help intervene. Request a presentation here.

Tags: , , , , , ,