Student athletes turn to student activists

Jannae Mehaffey

This year, several student athletes are participating in the student-athlete peer educator program. This program aims to raise awareness about sexual assault by having current student athletes educate other sports teams and organizations. 

Program director Zach Draves feels like having the education come from fellow students rather than from faculty will make more of an impact on students. 

“It’s one thing if someone like me who works for the college goes and speaks, but it’s a whole different dynamic when a student goes and speaks to their fellow students,” Draves said. 

In previous years, faculty have spoken to students about sexual assault prevention, but this is the first year the school will have students run these educational seminars. 

“Knowing the power that student athletes can have on their respective campuses and that it can be a way for them to influence, educate and inspire others, I wanted to be able to create an avenue for them to be able to make that happen,” Draves said. 

Draves is also the faculty-advisor for the men’s lacrosse team, and through conversations with the team, he was able to inspire junior Rocco Boggio to join the peer educator program. 

“When he has talked to the team I could tell that he genuinely has a passion for his job and is driven to make Augie a safer and more inclusive place,” Boggio said. “I’d say that his drive inspired me to try it out.” 

Another student athlete who joined the program this year is senior Shaye Arwood, a pitcher on the Augustana softball team. She became interested in the program after taking a J-term class in which they openly discussed the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. 

“I used to tell my roommates everyday after that class what we’d learned about,” Arwood said. “That excitement to share what we’ve learned and the drive to take what I’d learned in class and bring it to my everyday life is what got me interested in being a peer educator.” 

Having student athletes educate sports teams about sexual violence allows for the athletic teams as a whole to demonstrate to the athletic community and to the entire school that it’s okay to openly talk about the issues surrounding sexual assualt. 

“When we educate athletes about sexual violence and abuse were educating a team,” Arwood said. “In doing so, we can create a new culture in that team of people that don’t just turn a blind eye to these problems, but step in and step up to prevent them, and a lot of prevention is truly changing the view on these topics.”

These peer educators have been training throughout the semester and preparing to eventually run their own sessions to different classes, athletic teams and organizations on campus.This past week they did the “Clothesline Project” in which they encouraged their peers to write phrases on shirts that raise awareness for sexual assault. The shirts were then hung on a clothesline in the quad. 

However, this project is just the beginning for these peer educators. They continue to work with different sports teams and groups on campus to make a cultural difference in the Augustana community. 

“We’re going to be working with the football team for an awareness event on Oct. 23, which is their next home game, in honor of domestic violence awareness month,” Draves said. 

Other topics the student athletes have been discussing throughout their training is bystander intervention. They plan to make it a crucial part of their sessions by educating students on the different ways to intervene as a bystander. 

“Bystander intervention is a really important topic that we’ve discussed in detail,” Arwood said.We’ve discussed how to be a good bystander without endangering ourselves.” 

Since Augustana already has a handful of student athletes involved in this program, Draves has high hopes. He wants more student-athletes to get involved every year as it continues. 

“My hope going forward with this program is to get at least one athlete from each men’s team and women’s team to become a peer educator, so that way, they could be sort of the ambassador for their team,” Draves said. 

The student-athlete peer educator program is off to a very promising start and perfectly illustrates how sports can be used as a platform to raise awareness. These student athletes, with the help of their program director, are working to make Augustana a safe and inclusive place for all students.