Even as I threw my duffle bag into the car early Thursday morning, I had no idea what the next few days were going to look like. I was excited, and maybe a little nervous, to be headed to Asheville with eight other UNC students on an Alternative Fall Break trip with the Carolina Women’s Center. While I hardly knew my team members, I had a feeling we would quickly become good friends, especially because we were all united under a common cause.
Our team partnered with Our Voice, a rape crisis center in Asheville, to participate in their bar outreach program. After a brief training at Our Voice, we split into small groups and began going to bars, restaurants, and clubs throughout Asheville. Our goal during these visits was to inform bar staff and patrons about drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA), create dialogue around alcohol impairment, and promote bystander intervention from bar staff. We accomplished these goals by posting fliers in each establishment’s bathrooms (the fliers also had tear-offs on the bottom with the number for the Our Voice rape crisis hotline). We were able to provide bar owners with information on recognizing DFSA and how they could best handle situations in which they suspected someone was trying to commit DFSA. Lastly, we informed owners and other staff members about upcoming trainings that Our Voice would be conducting. At this training, they could explore issues surrounding drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault more in-depth.
I had never participated in bar outreach before the trip, and I thought it was an incredible experience. In one of the bars we visited, I noticed that some of the bathroom stalls still had old “Our Voice” fliers on the doors. However, all the rape crisis hotline tear-offs had been taken. It was sad to think that men and women had experienced sexual assault, but at the same time, I was thankful that Our Voice could be a resource for these people and that the fliers were helping survivors. Seeing how the fliers were directly helping members of the Asheville community had a huge impact on me, and I knew when I saw them that our work was making a difference.
Another experience I will never forget was meeting “Anita.” Anita helped manage three local clubs, and she was locking up the building for the afternoon when we arrived. She told us that she was about to leave to meet some friends at a concert. But when we told her that we were with Our Voice, Anita quickly reopened the building and offered to help us in any way possible. Anita not only allowed us to post our fliers in the building, but she thanked us numerous times for volunteering with Our Voice. She was extremely grateful for our help, and Anita even shared some of her own experiences with drug facilitated sexual assault. Seeing how Anita made us a top priority really reinforced how important our work was, and it made me especially thankful for the opportunities we had throughout the trip.
In addition to having incredible bar outreach experiences, our team got to stay in a farmhouse that was built in 1806. We had so much fun cooking meals, sharing life stories, and taking crazy pictures during our time together. We also got to spend one morning hiking through the beautiful Asheville mountains! Our team had a lot of time to explore the city, eat at the local restaurants, and just enjoy a break from school! Even though our team was only together for a short period of time, I grew very close to the girls on the trip. Overall, it was an experience that I will never forget, and I would do the trip all over again if I had the opportunity.
Our next step is to bring the bar outreach program to Chapel Hill. All the girls on the trip agreed that UNC’s campus could definitely benefit from bar outreach. There are several bars throughout the town that directly impact students. Therefore, we want to work with the Raise the Bar Chapel Hill bar outreach program that is run by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center and Student Wellness. The program seeks to best help Chapel Hill bar owners recognize and handle DFSA. While establishing an effective program will certainly take time, we want to use Our Voice as a model for our efforts, and we look forward to seeing how we can use our experiences in Asheville to benefit our Chapel Hill community.
- Marissa Bane, Class of 2016