Melissa Martin picked at her dinner of lasagna, breadsticks and salad. She thumbed through a pamphlet on the warning signs about domestic violence and noted the ones that applied to her former relationship.
“A partner shouldn’t try to control you or hurt your feelings on purpose,” she said, reading aloud. “'Emotional abuse, including insults, threats and not being able to see your friends.' I remember that. I wasn’t allowed to talk to any of my friends.”
Martin, a psychology senior, was one of the students who attended a domestic violence awareness dinner at ASU’s West campus on Thursday evening. The event was part of the Beyond the Shield series sponsored by Engaging Minds, a student organization, in conjunction with the ASU Police Department.
Michelle Di Muria, the president of Engaging Minds and a criminal justice graduate student, said the purpose of the event was to enlighten students on what resources are available to them.
“They need to know that we have people both on and off campus that can help them if they are domestically abused,” Di Muria said. “We’re hoping to open those lines of communication.”
For the first hour of the event, attendees milled around the room, piling their plates with food, finding seats and eating. Students ate cookies in the shape of purple domestic violence awareness ribbons and pinned cloth ribbons to their shirts.
At one table, Commander Michele Rourke of the ASU Police Department sat surrounded by students. They spoke easily with Rourke, as if she were a guidance counselor rather than a police officer. The students asked questions about domestic violence and shared their own personal experiences with the issue.
“Hearing that they already have stories to share, it makes me sad on one hand,” Rourke said. “But, it also lets me know that we’re doing the right thing as far as trying to get this education out there.”
Rourke, a small purple ribbon pinned on her uniform, sat listening to the students. She said she was in awe of how open they were with their experiences.
Rourke has worked as an ASU police officer for more than 20 years. She said she views events like the domestic violence awareness dinner as part of the job.
“It’s our job not just to enforce the law, but to educate the public and to try to help them to live better lives,” she said.
After dinner, Di Muria spoke at the event alongside Leilani Viscaina, global management sophomore and president of the Pacific Islander & Asian Organization on West campus and a sexual violence peer educator, and Michael Childs, communication senior and vice president of services for Undergraduate Student Government West.
Viscaina said it is critical to educate students on domestic violence because if something is happening in a student’s personal life. It can affect their academics.
“We do not have an on-and-off switch,” Viscaina said. “That’s always on, and it continues in the classroom and affects our grades.”
Michelle Martin, a graduate student in the Teachers College, listened to the speakers, who discussed the signs of domestic violence, how to get out of a relationship and how to help a friend in that situation. She never thought she would end up in a verbally abusive relationship.
“I thought I would know,” Martin said. “Even I was caught off guard. It can happen to anyone.”
Martin credited support from her mother and cousin with helping her leave her abusive relationship.
“For the longest time, I didn’t recognize the relationship for what it was until I was just like 'Why am I constantly on guard and walking on eggshells?'” Martin said. “I started recognizing the warning signs, but I think I probably would’ve recognized it sooner if I had resources like this to help me.”