The VIP Project
VIP, also known as the Violence Intervention and Prevention Program, is a way for students to actively get involved in learning about issues surrounding sexual violence, and then to take action by promoting a community in which violence is not tolerated. The idea behind the VIP program is that each fraternity and sorority would have a VIP chair that would act as a resource and then create a community project about what they have learned at the end of each quarter. The importance of the VIP program is that it is a new way in which individuals can engage conversations about violence. In advocating for the creation of the VIP program, the VIP working group emphasized the importance of not simply recreating programs that are already established on campus, but instead it is necessary to have critical conversations about how and why violence occurs.
I originally found out about the VIP program when I attended a conference at UC Irvine called the STAND (Strategizing, Training, Advocating, Networking, and Developing): Against Sexual and Domestic Violence Conference. It was the second annual STAND conference put on by the UC SPEAC Coalition, Students Preventing, Educating, and Acting in California. The STAND conference was the first student UC conference on sexual violence, originally created by a former UC Santa Barbara student. There I learned that the UC Irvine SPEAC Chair had worked with their Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) office to form a program called VIP. The speakers of the workshop shared how VIP had been extremely successful on their campus in which at one event over 400 students involved in the Greek system attended, put on presentations, displayed information tables, and had built a strong coalition with other student leaders on campus through the common cause of wanting to end violence. In seeing this, I was inspired to begin a VIP program at UC Santa Barbara, and upon returning to my campus I spoke to individuals to ask them their opinions about the program. Annie Alexandrian, the 2012-2013 Commissioner on Public Health and Safety in the undergraduate Associated Students Office of the President, enthusiastically decided to work on the VIP program as her main project for the academic year. Together, we began to build a coalition of students interested in making the VIP program a reality on our campus. Throughout the fall quarter, Annie and I launched weekly working group meetings to discuss our goals and visions for the VIP program, and to discuss what we felt was realistic to accomplish throughout the academic year. It was established that we wanted to make the VIP program open for course credit. In our working group, we decided: we wanted the VIP course to be a 2 unit class that discussed what violence is, the root causes of violence, and the ways in which sexual violence is interconnected with other forms of violence, injustice, and oppression. Our goal was to make the VIP course something transformative for the participants who could truly engage in critical conversations regarding how and why violence occurs, and what we can do to build stronger coalitions to end violence.
In the beginning of winter quarter, members of our working group and I began to present at all of the Greek councils to describe what the VIP program was and to measure how much support we would receive. Several students involved in the Greek system expressed genuine interest in helping implement the VIP program on our campus. These students became a part of our coalition and began to attend weekly VIP working meetings to help make the VIP course a reality. We also met with Kristin, a staff member who coordinates Greek life at UC Santa Barbara. Kristin explained how all of the Greek chapters at UC Santa Barbara have national headquarters that establish guidelines about each sorority or fraternity, and how these entities outline what positions are available on each executive board. Kristin maintained; however, that local Greek chapters could vote to add positions in each of their executive boards, such as VIP Chairs. With this information, Annie and I began to draft a student-sponsored resolution, which was also co-sponsored by other student groups on campus, such as UCSB Men Against Rape, Students Stopping Rape (now PAVE), Associated Students Take Back the Night, Associated Students Womyn’s Commission, Associated Students Queer Commission, and all of the Greek councils at UC Santa Barbara. The purpose of the resolution was to gain support from our elected student government representatives. The resolution was widely supported and passed unanimously through the undergraduate Associated Students Senate. This resolution would later be used in our meetings to show faculty, staff, and administrators how the undergraduate student population at UC Santa Barbara was in full support of implementing the VIP program on our campus.
Annie and I then met with the Chair of the Academic Senate Professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani, and she recommended we speak to the chair of the Undergraduate Council for further information. According to representatives from the Undergraduate Council, the VIP course would not be an issue if a faculty member could sponsor it as a part of their department. Our first instinct was to ask the Sociology department to sponsor the VIP course. Kegan Allee, the Assistant Director for the Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) program and the Women’s Center program at UC Santa Barbara housed within the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexual Equity (WGSE), attended the meeting with us. Annie and I believed Kegan was extremely qualified to teach the VIP course since she has a PhD in Sociology and has well over 500 hours in researching, presenting, and teaching topics related to gender-based violence. We also believed Kegan was a good fit for the VIP program, because the program would remain within the CARE program. We thought this would make VIP sustainable. In our meeting with representatives from the Sociology Department, both individuals expressed concerns with the course not being taught by faculty within their Department. They stated they would email a Dean to correspond more with her before giving us a solid answer. Since that meeting, we have not heard back from the Sociology Department.
Challenges of this project included establishing the course for credit, making sure that the content was something accessible yet challenging, and working to make the program sustainable once I graduated from the University. Throughout this process, I have come to learn more about the bureaucratic process of the University and how to deal with institutional barriers that the working group and I have faced in attempting to implement the VIP course. Several course texts that we have used in Feminist Studies 190: Activisms: Theorizing Resistance and Building Skills for Social Justice have been useful for thinking through my project.
Annie and I met again with Professor Bhavnani who suggested we speak to faculty within the Feminist Studies Department. Kegan recommended we speak with Professor Leila Rupp since Professor Rupp was one of Kegan’s advisor’s when she was pursuing her PhD. Within the next day, Annie and I received an email from Kegan stating that Professor Rupp was going to sponsor the VIP course for fall of 2013, and that the course title would be Feminist Studies 186PV: Interpersonal Violence. While Annie and I were thrilled that we had finally been able to achieve solidifying VIP as a course, we wondered why it was so easy for Kegan to get the course sponsored while it had taken us so long.
Annie and I quickly realized that our VIP course was no longer what we had envisioned, but rather what others had envisioned. And so, Annie and I met with another staff member working for the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexual Equity (WGSE) who was planning a fall liaison program similar to our envisioned goals of the VIP program. As of now, our plans have shifted dramatically. We hope to construct a liaison program so that it reflects our earlier goals for the VIP program, through which students can attend monthly training sessions to discuss topics related to violence. This program would be a year-long commitment, geared towards the Greek community, but open to anybody, with the goal of having a community project at the end. Towards completing the liaison program, the students would be told about the Feminist Studies 186PV class that would further the conversations in a more rigorous, academic setting. The work that continues now is getting Greeks on board with the liaison program. Annie and I have scheduled to attend the Greek Awards Banquet in which we will be allowed to videotape willing individuals from the Greek community who pledge to be a part of the VIP/liaison program in the fall. The edited video will be shown during the annual Greek recruitment meeting in the fall. Our goal as a working group is to make sure we can get these next steps implemented before we graduate and to make the program sustainable for years to come. We have made sure that the SPEAC chair at UC Santa Barbara will have that responsibility next year.
Throughout the process of attempting to create a VIP course on campus, I have understood how coalitions can emerge from our common politics. In wanting to help create a safer campus climate that does not tolerate violence, students, from various parts of the campus community, came together to organize for this issue. This solidarity between various students helped to build a strong coalition that eventually led to our success in creating a VIP course. This is what scholar George Lipsitz (2008) defines as a “composite identity”, in which movements serve to develop alternative subjectivities and identities rather than our politics forming from our identities.
Additionally, I believe that the project helped me understand how activism does not always have to be what is traditionally thought of as activism. Activism can simply be our day-to-day interactions where every day is a protest. This idea, introduced by Asef Bayat (2010), is extremely legitimizing when institutional barriers often work to maintain the status quo. I often felt self-defeated after attending meetings with faculty, staff, and administration; however, understanding that life can be a protest was extremely validating.
Bayat, Asef. Life as politics: how ordinary people change the Middle East / Stanford, Calif. :
Stanford University Press, 2010.
Lipsitz, George. “Walleye Warriors And White Identities: Native Americans’ Treaty Rights,
Composite Identities And Social Movements.” Ethnic & Racial Studies 31.1 (2008): 101-
122. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 June 2013.