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Students exposed to harassment, assault issues in ‘No Zebras’ program

December 11, 2011
Andrew Westrope - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

LINCOLN - A student was harassed, one assaulted, another stalked and berated. They were familiar scenes to most of the crowd sitting idly by, though that was all part of the plan.

Alcona Middle and High School students got a vivid lesson in the gravity and causes of harassment, sexual assault, stalking, and partner abuse when 10 specially trained student volunteers in Central Michigan University's Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates group presented its patented "No Zebras, No Excuses" program in the high school auditorium on Friday.

Intially started by CMU instructor Kevin Carmody as a freshmen orientation program, "No Zebras" is now required viewing for all CMU students and travels to high schools throughout the state, as well as Marine and Navy bases, Trine University, Michigan Tech University, and other colleges. Trained student volunteers called sexual aggression peer advocates demonstrate the dangers of adult bullying by narrating skits, enactments, and anecdotes of real-world circumstances. Named for an analogy that illustrates its central theme, "No Zebras" refers to the idea that people can prevent certain types of social violence if they refuse to look the other way and assume it won't happen to them, the way zebras do when lions single one out from the herd.

It was Alcona's first time hosting the program, sponsored by Alcona Community Schools, the Alcona High School PTO, and Tawas Area Schools, as an eighth grade class from Tawas also attended.

Trained SAPA Richard Bronson said the program's impact depends on a combination of the vignettes' emotional appeal and reinforcing them with disturbing concrete facts, and by invalidating common excuses for not intervening. Speaking about domestic violence, for instance, Bronson said friends often dismiss the need to help because they think a victim can help herself.

"People put blame on survivors. People say, 'Why is she staying with him,' without understanding the dynamics of what's going on and how long it takes for somebody to get control of a person, and that person can't leave because they feel like they can't because they've been so smashed down," he said. "Or (for sexual assault) they say, 'She was drinking,' well it doesn't matter if she was drinking or not. The only way that she wouldn't have been assaulted was if (the agressor) decided not to do it or if someone stepped in and stopped it."

He said knowing the facts can be an important factor in changing people's behavior.

"The statistic for women is one in four. If you have four women in a room, one of them has probably, statistically speaking, been assaulted," he said. "So if you're making jokes about that, you have to think about how that's affecting someone and how that lets people get away with these crimes because they're making fun of it, and people get silenced that way."

The program received a round of applause and a thanks from school administrators. Recent CMU alumnus and educational programing coordinator Katie Kleve said the Navy asked the SAPA team to tour different bases across the country.

"We get really positive feedback so far," she said. "They've done studies reflecting on the effectiveness of the show, and they showed that over time the show sticks with them. They remembered the zebras idea."

Bronson said that although "No Zebras" has evolved over the years to include same-sex relationships and modulate intensity depending on its audience, Alcona students got the same lesson that everyone else has.

"The main point of this is, don't be a bystander, don't stand by and watch someone else get hurt," he said.

Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5693.



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