UMatter campaign aims to improve UMass experience

By Rose Gottlieb

A recent campus climate survey taken of University of Massachusetts undergraduate students revealed that many people feel disconnected and isolated from the campus community. It also showed that many students have witnessed incidents of violence, harassment or other behaviors that can be potentially harmful to others.

Courtesy of Dr. Rockland-Miller

According to Dr. Harry Rockland-Miller, director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, the results of the campus climate survey were not shocking. He did say, however, that the survey “was an important part in highlighting the need to do something.”

To bring about this change, Rockland-Miller and UMass Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye collaborated with other faculty, staff and student committees to develop a program that would address these issues.

This program, known as UMatter at UMass, is being launched this year. UMatter at UMass is a campaign that seeks to help students who feel disconnected on campus, encourage students to be proactive and reach out to those around them, raise awareness of the resources the University provides and ensure that UMass is a safe, caring and compassionate environment.

Rockland-Miller and Gelaye explained that at such a large school, it is easy for students to feel lost and disconnected.

“In a big community, it’s sort of easy to get lost in the crowd,” Rockland-Miller said.

This can be especially difficult for freshmen. Gelaye explained that freshman year is “a huge transition in a person’s life.”

“All of a sudden you’re here in a very large environment (and) you have to remake yourself,” she said. “You have to find your way in this world that is UMass.”

“For some it doesn’t come that easily,” she continued.

Students who feel isolated and alone may experience depression, engage in risky behaviors or even have thoughts of suicide. Often, their peers do not realize that they need help, or do not know how to get them the help they need.

In situations where students are experiencing violence, harassment, bullying, hazing or sexual assault, it can be hard for others to step in and help. Many people feel uncomfortable or unsafe intervening, or simply do not know how to help or who to get help from.

Students who feel isolated or unsafe often do not know where to turn either. Gelaye points out that these students are more likely to go to a friend than to a University staff member.

The UMatter campaign will work to inform students, staff and faculty on how they can step up and help in these situations, and where they can get professional help when it is needed. It will also give students the tools they need to feel empowered on campus, and encourage them to take a proactive role in making the most out of their college experience and making the campus a compassionate and caring environment.

“It’s an affirmation of what we already do well to begin with,” Gelaye said. “There are hundreds of people every day being kind to each other, helping people with resources, really being there for somebody in good times and bad times.

“We wanted to affirm that culture as much as possible and hold it up as the standard for the community.”

To encourage proactivity, the UMatter campaign is encouraging people to take an active bystander role. Gelaye and Rockland-Miller explained that to be active bystanders, students should intervene in situations that might be harmful or hurtful, or where someone feels isolated and alone. By intervening and helping someone out, students not only can change the life of that one individual, but they can also help make our community a more kind and caring place.

To demonstrate the idea of active bystandership, a student working on the UMatter committee created a poster as a visual. The poster describes active bystandership using three D’s: Direct, distract and delegate. The first “D” is about directly intervening to stop a potentially harmful situation. The second “D” involves distracting a person from acting inappropriately. The third “D” encourages using resources such as 911, campus police or other campus resources that can provide professional help.

“By promoting active bystandership, (we are) teaching people skills to be to comfortably step in if someone’s in trouble,” Rockland-Miller said.

Ed Blaguszewski, UMass executive director of news and media relations, is actively working to promote the UMatter campaign, emphasizing the importance of small acts, such as getting to know the people around you.

“If somebody reaches out – your roommate reaches out, somebody on your floor reaches out – it makes it easier to connect,” Blaguszewski said.

“Being actively engaged in each other’s life doesn’t have to be this heroic act,” Gelaye added. “It’s the small things that we’re doing in our communities on a day-to-day basis.”

Part of the UMatter campaign involves taking into consideration the language that we use. Rockland-Miller emphasized the importance of words such as “connection, care (and) compassion” being integrated into our language.

“What we want to do is get this into the student’s vernacular,” Blaguszewski said.

“Our hope is that one day when we say ‘the three D’s,’ people will know exactly what we’re talking about,” Gelaye said.

Another important aspect of the campaign is making sure that students are aware of the resources available to them. Gelaye and Rockland-Miller encourage students to seek help from professionals available on campus when they need it. Students can easily contact any services they may need by looking on the UMass website.

In the coming weeks, students can expect to see and hear more about this campaign. A webpage is being launched and posters encouraging active bystandership will be placed all over campus. The UMatter at UMass logo will also be appearing more frequently.

By calling the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life in the campus life office at 413-545-2300, students can take an active role in the program, or even just ask questions and learn more. Gelaye, Rockland-Miller and Blaguzewski encourage students to get involved in planning and implementing the program.

“This is about empowering students to take positive steps in their environment to have the kind of UMass experience they want to have,” Gelaye said.


Rose Gottlieb can be reached at [email protected]