Tyler Burmeister, the director of student-athlete development at UND, has been named the first recipient of the UND Changemaker Award for his work to end dating and sexual violence on campus.
Burmeister was presented the award by UND's Community Violence Intervention Center on Thursday night, Oct. 15, at the annual Take Back the Night Rally on campus for his work improving violence prevention programming for student athletes, and ensuring every team gets violence prevention training every academic year.
Speaking at the event on Thursday, UND President Andrew Armacost emphasized his commitment and the university administration's commitment to eradicating dating and sexual violence in the UND and greater Grand Forks communities.
Many faculty and staff themselves have been profoundly affected by dating violence, he said, whether they are victims or their loved ones are victims. As a father, he said he frequently worried whether his daughters would be safe when they went to college, and hoped that should something happen to them, their university community would support them unequivocally.
"It's not so easy that you can snap your fingers and become better," he said. "That's where we as a campus come in."
Much of that work has been done by CVIC at UND, an office that was established on campus in 2018. Since then, the office has reached an estimated 2,500 students, estimates Allison Burkman, the campus prevention and education specialist for CVIC, including more than 400 students in 2021.
Armacost said the partnership between UND and CVIC is as excellent as any partnership between any university and nonprofit in the U.S. CVIC at UND aims to stop violence before it begins, and teaches students how to intervene in dating violence situations and help survivors.
CVIC President Coiya Tompkins, giving an abridged version of the agency's Green Dot violence prevention training, urged those in attendance to lead in small ways by being a voice for change and listening to survivors.
UND sophomore Amorelle Upton has spent her college career advocating for violence prevention. Upton, the keynote speaker at Take Back the Night, is a kinesiology student, the vice president of philanthropy at Alpha Chi Omega, and a survivor of dating violence.
She recounted to the audience how a relationship with a former boyfriend spiraled from perfect to frightening during her junior year of high school. At first, she was showered with gifts and kindness, but soon, friends on her contact list and social media began to be blocked until nearly all her loved ones had been cut out of her life. She said he manipulated her into deleting photos, quitting the swimming and gymnastics teams, and ignoring friends and classmates at school. Disobeying her boyfriend's rules resulted in threats and screaming.
"This didn't feel normal," she recalled. "But maybe this was my new normal."
A teammate's mom eventually reached out to Upton's mom. It was the first time her parents realized the extent of what was going on, Upton said. At the time, she saw it as a betrayal.
"What I didn't realize at the time was she could have saved my life," she said.
At her boyfriend's direction, she said she made up a story about how she didn't feel safe at home, and went to go stay with her grandparents. Isolated, without a phone, and unsure where to turn for help, she dialed a teammate's number from memory and asked her to come over. The teammate rushed to her house to help, and helped her end the relationship.
Since then, she's dedicated her time to spreading domestic violence awareness and raising funds to help survivors in any way she can.
"It's OK to not be OK," she said. "It's OK to seek help."