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'Bear Pact' gives students tools to combat alcohol abuse, sexual assault

By Public Affairs

From left, Berkeley undergrad Meghan Warner, grad student Gill Gualtieri and the Tang Center's Alicia Harris give a presentation on sexual assault and harassment, and the meaning of consent. (UC Berkeley photos by Kevin Ho Nguyen)

From left, Berkeley undergrad Meghan Warner, grad student Gill Gualtieri and the Tang Center’s Alicia Harris give a presentation on sexual assault and harassment, and the meaning of consent. (UC Berkeley photos by Kevin Ho Nguyen)

Standing on the stage of Zellerbach Auditorium, David Surratt, associate dean of students, welcomed an attentive crowd of 2,000 undergraduates to Berkeley with a challenge, and an invitation: to become active participants in managing the dangers of sexual violence and harassment, mental-health problems and alcohol abuse. His listeners were among 5,500 new Berkeley students who attended one of three 90-minute sessions Tuesday, joining in a “Bear Pact” to take responsibility for their own well-being and that of the larger campus community.

A look at one of Tuesday’s three Bear Pact workshops (UC Berkeley video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Phil Ebiner)

“Today you might hear some things that may be difficult to hear, that may be uncomfortable,” he said, backdropped by a huge screen reading “Bear Pact: Taking care of yourself and others.” The workshop, he said, would be about not only issues “impacting colleges and universities all across the country,” but about how students can “play a role in the community here at Cal” by making mindful decisions regarding their own and others’ behavior.

As Chancellor Nicholas Dirks explained at Monday’s New Student Convocation , Bear Pact “seeks to elicit a commitment from each and every one of us to come together and help address these challenges.” The new initiative is part of “Getting Your Bearings,” the campus’s expanded, three-week-long welcome for the incoming crop of undergrads. As one opportunity to affirm such commitments, students were given cards Tuesday on which they were asked to complete a simple sentence: “My pact is …”

Bear Pact “is our way to make sure that we give one message to our incoming students — talk to them about what it means to be a member of the Cal Bear community, teach them about our values, but specifically to talk about issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment, mental health and alcohol,” says Chrissy Roth-Francis, director of New Student Services, which spearheaded the initiative. “Those are the three issues that are the most prevalent across our Cal Bear community.”

David Suratt, associate dean of students

David Surratt, associate dean of students

While all new students are required to complete existing EmpowerU and AlcoholEdu educational programs, Bear Pact is a new format, conveying information and forging connections their first week on campus, and in a shared community experience.

During a presentation led by Alicia Harris of the University Health Services ( Tang Center ) EmpowerU program — with help from Berkeley grad student Gill Gualtieri and undergrad Meghan Warner — students learned the difference between an “enthusiastic yes” and a passive one, or one in which at least one individual is unable to consent to a given activity. They learned about “gaslighting,” a form of emotional or mental violence. They were asked to consider how they’d respond in various scenarios, real and hypothetical, and encouraged to “trust your intuition, and decide to act.”

In another, led by Karen Hughes, coordinator for PartySafe@Cal, and a group of seven Berkeley students, the focus was on alcohol abuse, with a message that students need not yield to peer pressure if they choose to stay sober. Those at Zellerbach heard stories — via video, and firsthand from their fellow undergrads — about the potential consequences of unmindful drinking and drug use, and about keeping friends and roommates from getting in trouble, or seeing them through an emergency.

Throughout the 90-minute workshop, students were introduced to a multitude of campus resources, entering them in their cellphones as the names and numbers appeared on the screen.

At one point, Tang psychologist Aaron Cohen asked students to use their phones to vote, via text, on such questions as their most likely sources of stress (“academic performance”) and their most likely coping tactics (“talk to friend” and “good cry” tying for first place).

“Remember,” he said, “stress is normal.”

Now, after less than a week on campus, incoming undergraduates are aware of that fact of life at Berkeley — along with all the places on campus to get whatever help they, or those around them, may need.

For student reaction to the Bear Pact workshop, watch the video, above.