Alumna’s Coasters for Sexual Assault Awareness Month Underscore Consent is Non-Negotiable

Photo via Kristine Irwin

Throughout the month of April, seven Pittsburgh restaurants have been serving drinks on a special set of coasters designed and donated by Kristine Irwin ’09, a rape survivor and founder of the nonprofit Voices of Hope. The coasters are colorful—they’re fun and playful, even. But on the back, each one carries the dictionary definition of consent, and Irwin hopes the Consent Coaster Campaign will help spread the critical message that consent is a non-negotiable.

Irwin was 19 when she raped by a man she’d worked for the summer before she began college. She had had a few drinks with him, but recalled nothing else when she woke up in a hospital bed the next morning. Still, she considers herself lucky, because on that morning in 2004 when she was thrown out of a car onto an unknown street with no idea of how she got there or that she had been raped, a woman happened to be looking out of her window and called 911.

“The police came, my parents were notified, and I was taken to the hospital,” Irwin says. “I owe my life, and the initial support I got, to a complete stranger.”

Irwin banked on this support to get through those early days and it helped her immensely when she came to the Altoona campus and then to University Park. During her college years, she found solace and strength in organizations like RAINN and PHREE, a Penn State peer education and support group. She became comfortable with speaking publicly about her experience.

“Everyone has to find their own way to heal and speaking is something that became very comfortable for me,” Irwin says. “Advocacy really helped me heal and led me to eventually set up Voices of Hope.”

Photo via Kristine Irwin

She founded the nonprofit in 2014 to encourage and empower both victims of sexual assault and their families to come forward and speak about their experiences. The lingering effects of sexual assault stretch beyond the victim, Irwin says, but the more people communicate with each other, the greater the awareness. Penn State, along with other university campuses around the country, marked Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April with a series of lectures, events, and round tables.

Education and awareness programs take place throughout the year, says Jennifer Pencek, programming coordinator of the Center for Women Students, “but having an entire month dedicated to sexual assault awareness is a good thing because people are more focused on the issue and we can really get their attention.”

Recently, the outreach and education programs have been moving more toward emphasizing the importance of consent and the resources available at Penn State that can help victims of sexual assault in terms of both prevention and after an incident. The shift is good, Pencek says, and shows that the conversation around rape and sexual assault is moving away, as it should, from “victim blame.”

More sexual assault cases are also being reported, but still, Pencek says, “In our office, we see between 100 and 130 sexual assault cases per year, including males. Those are not always reported, so though we are definitely at a point where education around consent is of a higher quality, I would say that sexual assault is happening all the time.”

Irwin, who works in human resources for UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, hopes to take the Consent Coaster Campaign forward and extend its reach by partnering with more restaurants, bars and even breweries. She has a two year-old son who keeps her busy and in general, “I have filled my life with positives that outweigh a lot of the negatives so it’s harder for my triggers to stick around.”

That said, the triggers will never completely disappear for Irwin, or for any other survivor of sexual assault.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

April 27, 2017 at 12:52 pm Leave a comment

Inside Our May/June 2017 Issue

A look back at some of the musical acts to make their way through Happy Valley, starting on the cover with Jon Bon Jovi.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, our May/June issue will help you relive some of the more memorable and iconic musical acts to play the Bryce Jordan Center since its opening in 1996. Starting with Jon Bon Jovi on the cover, longtime BJC marketing director Bernie Punt ’84 takes us backstage to talk about what it took to land Paul McCartney, the parenting skills of Gene Simmons, and what makes Garth Brooks a favorite among BJC staff, among other behind-the-scenes stories. The retrospective begins on p. 44.

The new issue, arriving in mailboxes soon, also tells how Dr. J. Richard Ward ’66, a civilian chemist, befriended a Russian defector in the waning days of the Cold War and unwittingly became a secret operative for the CIA. The tale of “The Accidental Spy” begins on p. 38.

You’ll also get a look at how Penn State experts are helping the Central American nation of Colombia move away from the cocaine trade by instead growing the key ingredient in chocolate (p. 30). You’ll meet Rob Turrisi, a professor whose research has shown that short, targeted conversations with teenagers can have a substantial impact on reducing high-risk behaviors like tanning and binge drinking (p. 52). Plus a look back at memorable seasons for Penn State wrestling (again) and men’s ice hockey.

What do you think about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

April 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Emily Frederick Forged Her Own Path to Rio

Photo via Cardoni

If it wasn’t for an error on a GPS, it’s possible that Emily Frederick wouldn’t have found herself in Rio for the Paralympics last fall.

No, so she didn’t drive all the way down to Brazil on accident or anything like that. Frederick, an Alabama native who was born with dwarfism and stands 4-foot-1, needs special pedals to drive. When she was in high school and eager to get her license, her mother drove alone to a facility in Birmingham, Ala., called Lakeshore.

There are two Lakeshores in Birmingham. The one they needed was a rehabilitation center that had those pedal extensions; the other was a training facility for athletes with disabilities. They’re right next door to one another. The GPS brought Frederick’s mom—an assistant high school track coach—to the training facility. She got a tour and realized it was the perfect place for her daughter, who grew up playing sports but had stopped because she struggled to keep up with her teammates.

Initially, Emily wasn’t on board with her mother’s idea. (more…)

April 26, 2017 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

Good Ol’ Garth

Photo by Mark Selders

Back in March, we spent a couple of very fun hours listening to Bernie Punt ’84 share his memories of 20-plus years of concerts at the Bryce Jordan Center. (Check out the cover story in the May/June issue of The Penn Stater, which Alumni Association members should be getting any day now.) And no one inspired more—or fonder—memories than country superstar Garth Brooks.

Brooks has played a record 11 shows at the BJC: a five-night stint in 1997, the arena’s second year in existence, and a six-night run in 2015. His popularity with concert-goers is hardly surprising: By at least one measure, he’s the second-best selling musical artist of all time, behind only The Beatles. But according to Punt, the BJC’s longtime sales and marketing director, Brooks’ success goes beyond the music. Despite his massive fame, Brooks might just be the most down-to-earth star in the biz.

We’ll let Punt tell it: (more…)

April 25, 2017 at 12:00 pm 1 comment

For Stephen Nedoroscik, A Moment of Perfection

Penn State gymnastics entered Saturday afternoon with 53 individual National Championships. Thanks to Stephen Nedoroscik’s performance on the pommel horse, the program ended the day with 54.

Nedoroscik, a freshman from Massachusetts, won the NCAA title on the horse with a score of 14.900. He became the fourth freshman in program history to take home an individual title, and is the first Nittany Lion to win a title in this event since 2005.

As Nedoroscik told GoPSUSports, winning a championship is “the best feeling in the world.”

You can watch his performance at the top of this post. Pay special attention to his teammates in the stands over the final 10 seconds or so—they all start standing up because they know Nedoroscik nailed his routine.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

April 25, 2017 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Talking Asia with the AP’s Ted Anthony

Ted Anthony ’95 grew up immersed in Thailand.

Before he was born, his parents—linguistics professors at the University of Pittsburgh—had lived and worked there. Their home was filled with Thai artifacts, so for Anthony, moving to Bangkok in 2014 as the Associated Press’s Asia-Pacific news director felt like “coming full circle”—all the more so because his parents had gone there with his recently widowed grandmother, and he with his wife and two children.

But Anthony—who was at University Park this week to receive an outstanding alumni award from the Department of History—landed in Bangkok at a tumultuous time. A mere three days after he took up his position, he told students in a history class on Tuesday, the Thai army staged a military coup against the government, suspending the constitution and imposing martial law. Naturally, the events left Anthony no time to indulge in the nostalgia of his family’s connection to Thailand.

(more…)

April 19, 2017 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

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