By Christine Bordelon
The Student Union for Diversity in Action (SUDIA) club at the Academy of Our Lady (AOL) addresses topics of concern and interest to students at the all-girls’ school in Marrero.
During the nationwide 30th anniversary of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, WWL-TV weekend anchor Kristin Pierce was invited to discuss her experience as a domestic violence survivor and share signs of domestic abuse she recognized after her episode. Her goal was to help the teen girls avoid becoming a statistic.
The Detroit native said she wasn’t as young as they were when she started dating the man who would abuse her over a two-year period. She was 21, and they began their relationship as friends. Once they started dating, though, that changed, and the abuse progressed slowly, she said.
At first it was pushing or pulling her. Then he spat in her face and slapped her in front of others and began name calling.
“It’s not normal,” Pierce said of that behavior. “Nobody deserves to go through that. … I didn’t ask for this to happen.”
It took her a year to admit to herself that something was wrong, and she began counseling to become emotionally stronger. Pierce said she is an ardent proponent of counseling.
“There is nothing wrong with going to see someone for mental health,” she said. Counseling played a major part in her returning to who she was before the abuse and before she could let anyone else close to her.
SUDIA first formed in the 2016-17 school year, said current president, sophomore Leigha Cox, “as a club that wanted to include more diversity in the school because we have a really diverse student body.”
Cox said the 40 current members are running with the original initiatives and now “making it our own” at monthly meetings. Other officers are sophomore Bella Pscenicka, treasurer; and senior Lauren Brown, vice president. Dues are $10.
“We discuss our hopes and topics such as racism, domestic violence – any topic that is a problem in our community,” Pscenicka said.
Pierce said openly discussing domestic violence was not common when she began sharing her experience five years ago. October is mostly associated with breast cancer, not domestic violence.
“It’s important that we talk about it because it is real, and it happens,” Pierce said.
She said she successfully hid what happened to her by wearing long sleeves and by locking the door to the bathroom in her close-knit family home so no one would come in and possibly see her bruises.
“I started acting differently by not talking as much, but when I was asked what was going on, I would make excuses,” she said.
One student asked what her classmates should do if they suspect a friend is in an abusive relationship.
Pierce advised them to talk to that person if they perceive something is not right in a relationship, even if it might be risk losing that friendship.
“They will be mad at you, but you are looking out for their best interest at heart,” Pierce said. “Friends being mad at you is a small thing compared to them being safe.”
A student mentioned how girls romanticize violence by men – due to its portrayal as something normal in movies and on television – and often allow abuse to continue.
“I agree,” Pierce said. “There is this cycle – ‘Oh, he’s so good to me when we make up.’”
“Oh, I’m going to change him,” chimed in AOL’s principal Salesian Sister Michelle Geiger. Then it happens again.
Pierce said she became strong enough to begin ending the relationship by building a case against her boyfriend – taking pictures of her injuries, getting a restraining order against him, moving back home with her family and getting her boyfriend a job out of state.
Worried about college
Another reason the AOL teens invited Pierce was to get advice about managing school and having a boyfriend, since many of them would soon be in college.
As for red flags in a relationship, Pierce told the students to examine if someone:
- Yells in an argument or goes from 0 to 10 on an anger scale in seconds;
- Pushes things or punches holes in the wall;
- Is manipulative and controlling;
- Can’t keep a job.
“I hope no one in this room encounters domestic violence,” Pierce said, but she quoted the statistic that 1 in 4 women will be a victim. “It makes me sad when I think of it. That’s too many.”
Pierce said covering stories about domestic violence doesn’t rock her to the core anymore, but it still makes her sad, having experienced what the victim is going through.
AOL students asked her questions about what to do when in a heated argument (walk away); when she recognized abuse in her relationship and how to help someone in a mentally abusive situation.
“You have to keep trying,” Pierce said. “People will accept help when they are ready.”
After hearing Pierce and the questions answered, club moderator and AOL choir and piano teacher Clark Knighten said, “There is never a time that it is ever right for abuse in a relationship.”
Sister Michelle pointed out that a guidance counselor is readily available as a resource for students at the Academy of Our Lady.
Pierce left the girls with an awareness to take note of any sign of abuse and to speak out about it so it doesn’t happen to them.
“She’s a survivor,” Knighten told students. “You are capable of doing the same.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.