SUNY’s Got Your Back helps survivors

Over 150 volunteers came together to pack comfort bags for victims of sexual violence from noon to 8 p.m. at Sheldon Hall on March 5 for Oswego State’s third annual SUNY’s Got Your Back event. 

Oswego State also brought in renowned DJ, producer and activist Zeke Thomas.

Event coordinator and SUNY Oswego Title IX Coordinator Lisa Evaneski said she hoped to fill over 1,000 bags for victims and survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence. 

“We are bringing our community together to fill these bags because we know that by involving our whole community in prevention and response that we can continue to make a difference,” Evaneski said in an email.

Evaneski said that, by learning what hardships victims endure, perspectives can change. Some victims leave interpersonal violence situations with only the clothes on their backs and may not have common necessities for hygiene, she said.

The event has grown in the three years it has taken place on campus. SUNY’s Got Your Back packed 100 bags in its first year and then partnered with a Service to Aid Families of Oswego County clothing drive in the following year.

 Evaneski said SUNY’s Got Your Back hopes to spread the message that there are caring professionals available to help victims and survivors of violence.

Services to Aid Families Oswego campus advocate Bella Winklestine helped organize the event for the first time and has seen the impact the care bags have for the survivors and victims. Winklestine said she always expects a great turnout for the event and believes it is an opportunity for people to make a difference directly in their community.

 “This event is a great way to have some fun but also to give back and support others,” Winklestine said in an email. “Many of the SUNY’s Got Your Back bags are given to victims and survivors right here in Oswego County, so this event is a great way to support our community.” 

Junior student volunteer Evelyn Sokolowski said she hopes other volunteers left the event feeling like they made a difference in someone’s life. Sokolowski said she was glad to help victims of sexual violence. 

“Victims can take these bags and feel whole again, coming out of the darkest part of their life,” Sokolowski said.

Student volunteer Orazio Ciaschi was thrilled that he got the chance to make a difference on campus. 

“It’s so great to see people from all around campus come together and just help whoever we can,” Ciaschi said.

Attendees and volunteers learned about sexual violence in the bag-filling process. The event featured practitioners and information tables, and the headline speaker DJ Zeke Thomas shared his story as a survivor of sexual violence.   

Thomas said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak at the event and engage with college students and change-makers. 

 “Every human being deserves to be treated as a human being, and … rape and sexual violence is dehumanizing for all of its victims,” Thomas said.

With an appearance on MTV’s “Catfish,” being the son of NBA legend Isiah Thomas and his stardom as a DJ and producer, he said he hopes to show that, even with his fame, he is not perfect.

 “Sexual violence is not an easy topic to talk about,” Thomas said. “It’s not a casual conversation that you have.”

He also emphasized that making the topic a casual conversation and raising awareness through education on the topic is key to making change.   

Since 2016, SUNY has packed comfort bags for victims of sexual and interpersonal violence. So far, SUNY volunteers have packed over 28,000 comfort bags and spread the event to 64 SUNY campuses and PGA Tour events. 

Photo by Maria Pericozzi | The Oswegonian

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