Messages of Encouragement Installed on Family Justice Center Posters

by Elizabeth Sawka

Assistant Opinion Editor

There are posters on campus advertising the Family Justice Center, which is a safe space for survivors of domestic violence to connect with psychologists, social workers, and other professionals that help survivors in make a plan to safely exit their abusive relationship.  The Family Justice Center also offers legal aid, such as helping victims with an order of protection against their abusive partner.  The shelter has a Child Waiting Area, so in the case that a victim is a parent, there is a space for their children to play while the victim speaks candidly with a professional about their relationship, ensuring that the victim is able to be honest with their case worker about their struggle to exit the relationship.  

On the second floor of Old Main, there are posters advertising the shelter hung in the women’s bathroom (I cannot speak to the men’s bathroom stalls for obvious reasons).  The posters display the phone number for the shelter and in addition to advertising free and confidential support, an on one poster there are hand written messages, such as, “it’s not your fault,” “it doesn’t need to be this way,” and “you’re safe here.”   In a time where there is so much hate in the news, particularly the tragedy in Paris and the shooting at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, I was so happy to stumble upon an act of love on campus.

The notes on this poster may seem like a spontaneous act of a select few particularly empathetic individuals, but this is in fact an example of conformity.  In the context of social psychology, conformity refers to a social influence process that involves modifying behavior in response to real or imagined pressure from others.  This concept can be applied to Regina George, pressuring her friends to wear pink on Wednesdays, but it can also be used in a positive way.  In the film Freeheld, Detective Hester is running out of sick days because she is being treated for lung cancer, so her partner gives her the sick days he has acquired so that she can stay home without losing her job.  There is a scene in the film where her partner tells the office that he is giving up his days, and once he does this, other detectives begin giving up their days. The second detective to give up his sick day made the norm to give up sick days, so the rest of the office followed suit.  What the detectives felt was normative social pressure, which is the social influence in which a person changes behavior in response to pressure to conform to a norm.  Consciously or unconsciously, this pressure can be attributed to what people felt when the messages were written.  It is the same reason we feel obligated to donate to the Salvation Army bell ringers at the mall after our shopping buddy donates—we have an innate desire to belong to the group we deem the norm.  The first message created a norm of showing support, and other Griffs followed suit, offering their own words of love and solidarity.  It is important to note that it is easiest to pressure someone to conform to a norm when there is another person with them and that extra pair of eyes approves of the conformity.  The Griffs who wrote on the poster were alone, so we can presume that there was no immediate pressure to add a note.  There was a norm established with the first message, but the Griffs who wrote messages could have easily diffused the responsibility onto other Griffs.  I would argue that the driving force behind the writers was their desire to show support.

Explaining the messages on the poster through a psychological lens does not detract from the kindness of the act, or take away from the significance of the messages.  As an ally to victims of domestic violence, I can only imagine that someone in an abusive relationship would feel support from seeing messages on the poster.  We need to examine and explain the messages on the poster because rather than look at this as an isolated event, as a community we must strive to recreate these kinds of acts.  This is a wonderful example of our community embracing the ideal of being men and women with and for others by scrawling a message of love to show solidarity.  For clubs that represent marginalized communities with voices that are often ignored, this is a real life example of exactly the mission of your clubs.  By creating a norm of tangible support, perhaps we can see a change on our campus in the right direction.  

As Joy McBride pointed out at the solidarity demonstration in front of Old Main a few weeks ago, students of all races attend events hosted by the Student Programming Board (SPB), but Afro-American Society events are, for the most part, not attended by any white students.  I am not bringing up McBride’s speech to make Griffs feel guilty for supporting SPB over the Afro-American Society, because guilt doesn’t make change.  Action makes change.  As individuals, Griffs can create a norm within their circle of friends that is attending events on campus designed to celebrate diversity.

In June 2013, Pope Francis told a group in Saint Peter’s Square that “around us, there is the presence of evil, the Devil is at work, but I would like to say in a loud voice God is stronger.” He went on to say that “if on a dark night one person lights up a lamp, you can barely see it, but if each of over 70, 000 spectators switches on his own light, the whole stadium lights up.”  Pope Francis was referring to the Olympic Stadium in Rome or San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, but the message can be applied to us here at Canisius.  This one poster reflects what everyone in admission tries to sell potential students—that we are a warm community that stands in solidarity with those that are unlike us.

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