State University of New York’s Victim Support Program “SUNY’s Got Your Back”

“We Use It to Engage Students and Community Members in a Positive Way”

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Small crowd of people standing around and assembling comfort bags, some folks are wearing blue SUNY?s Got Your Back staff t-shirts. In the background, the SUNY?s Got Your Back social wall is displayed on a TV screen.

State University of New York (SUNY) is the largest public university system in the United States. It includes 64 institutions — among them research universities, medical centres, community colleges, etc. — all across New York State.

Map of SUNY campuses spread out all over New York State.
Source: SUNY

SUNY’s Got Your Back is a university-wide initiative launched in 2016 that aims to provide support for victims and survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence. People who seek help from shelters, hospitals, and so forth, often arrive with little but their clothes on their backs. The idea behind SUNY’s Got Your Back is to assemble bags that provide the most important personal care items to those people.

While multiple SUNY colleges had previously run programs to support survivors, SUNY’s Got Your Back initiative has massively scaled up that work by leveraging the whole university’s network, as well as partnering with many existing initiatives and organisations in the social sector.

Since its inception in 2016, the program has organised events in all 64 SUNY campuses and even held a presence at PGA Tour events. Items for bags are collected and packed, and the finished bags distributed to shelters all across the state. Fundraising efforts complement the program’s primary focus and, each year, the number of bags provided has grown.

In 2019, SUNY’s Got Your Back also set up a social wall to support the efforts of the program. We talked to Elizabeth Brady, SUNY’s Got Your Back Program Director and Joseph Storch, SUNY’s Got Your Back Principal Investigator, to learn more about the program and how it engages students all across SUNY.

Elizabeth Brady

Elizabeth Brady

SUNY’s Got Your Back Program Director

Joseph Storch

Joseph Storch

SUNY’s Got Your Back Principal Investigator

Could you tell us a bit about the SUNY’s Got Your Back program and how you are using social media to support it?

SUNY’s Got Your Back is a program that has two goals: assemble comfort bags for victims and survivors of crime, and educate the community, including those who have been victims of crime, about available resources for victims of crime.

We use social media to raise excitement for our events, but more so we use it to engage students and community members in a positive way, both for information about the program, and information about the resources available to victims of crime.

We have channels through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and YouTube, and have a number of partners who elevate our messages.

How do the social wall and the hashtag #SUNYsGotYourBack help you achieve your goals?

We use our social media wall at SUNY’s Got Your Back assembly events. Students and community members post photos and messages which are then rotated on the screens. This helps our attendees engage individually and collectively with the program in real time.

Photo from a SUNY’s Got Your Back event. Two staff members in blue SUNY’s Got Your Back t-shirts are talking in front of a screen showing the SUNY’s Got Your Back social wall. Focus is on the social wall in the back.
The social wall is displayed at a SUNY’s Got Your Back bag assembly event.

Concurrently, we push out brief messages about resources and ways to help those who are victims of crime, raising the understanding of those at the event and those who see the content on social media.

How has the program grown since its inception in 2016 and, what role has social media played in it?

We launched SUNY’s Got Your Back with the goal of assembling 2,016 bags in the year 2016. We conceived of it as a small, one-year program. Just over three years later, we assembled our 100,000th comfort bag. Those bags have gone to tens of thousands of victims and survivors across New York State.

We used to use rolling powerpoints with information at the events, but students weren’t always engaged with the content. We have added the social media wall, and it has helped with engagement. We look forward to the day when we can embed the wall in a PowerPoint slide, so we can have both types of content scrolling for attendees.

How do you promote SUNY’s Got Your Back and the hashtag, and how do you motivate people to share it?

We include the hashtag on our materials and encourage students and community members to use it to post. We then use the hashtag to educate readers about reducing the impact of violence on campus and in the community.

Where do you display your social wall?

We use the social media wall at conferences and bag assembly events.

Social walls are multi-purpose

Some universities use social walls as general, campus-wide, university-focused information hubs. But they work just as well for programs like SUNY’s Got Your Back.

The great thing about social walls is that you can use them in multiple ways. They can even help you achieve multiple goals at the same time — without necessarily having to change anything on the wall itself.

As we see here with SUNY’s Got Your Back, the program is primarily using the social wall to support its fundraising efforts and to collect what they need to assemble the bags. But at the same time, the social wall is also promoting the program itself and helping to raise awareness and point those people who actually need the resources most in the right direction.

Social walls are flexible and easy to use

SUNY’s Got Your Back previously used PowerPoint presentations during events to provide information to students. Slides can be a great way to put up some information, but you’ll always be limited to a specific space and time (and often also technology).

Meanwhile, a social wall can be opened, looked at and displayed anywhere at any time. You can open it on a smartphone, display it on a big screen, embed it on a website or even integrate it into an app. You could show the same social wall at the same time during different events on opposite sides of the globe if you wanted to do so.

The SUNY’s Got Your Back social wall displayed on a screen. In front of the display, there’s a blue banner with the SUNY logo and the SUNY’s Got Your Back logo. The social media post currently shown on the screen alerts people to a SUNY’s Got Your Back campus event in 3 days.
The social wall at a SUNY’s Got Your Back event, providing updates, information about future events, and how to get involved.

But, more than that, a social wall keeps updating itself with the newest social media content pulled from a variety of sources determined by you. No need to manually update information. Simply post a new tweet or Facebook status, and the feed will update.

If you want to, you can also circumvent your social media channels and upload content directly onto your social wall. And, of course, you can show other people’s posts in the feed as well.

More engaging than static content

As SUNY’s Got Your Back quickly found out, a social wall has been much more engaging for students than the previously used PowerPoint. Most people these days are already attuned to communicating and interacting on social media. It’s an easy and natural step for them to start posting away if they see a social media wall at an event.

And the fantastic thing is that, as an event organiser, you have an easy way to keep conversing with them as well. On a social wall, you can mix informative content you put out with engaging discussions about the topic. You can raise awareness, call people to action, fundraise, give last-minute updates, and much more.

Overall, a social media wall provides more flexibility and is way easier to handle and maintain than a slide presentation. Especially when you organise a load of different events throughout the year, the social feed effortlessly moves with you from event to event.

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