Shifting paradigm on physical abuse

President of ‘It’s On Us’ student organization says views on interpersonal violence matured since arriving at UND

Diana Bata

Diana Bata recalls her surprise when she was tapped for campus organizer and president of UND’s chapter of It’s On Us, a national movement against interpersonal violence. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Only days after her manager had assaulted her, Diana Bata met him at a café to talk about sexual abuse. She cringed at the prospect of confronting him but it was crucial to relay the impropriety and harm of his actions.

“By the end of it, he understood,” said Bata, president of University of North Dakota’s ‘It’s On Us’ student organization. “But it was difficult. I realized afterwards if I had not talked to him that it was pretty likely that it would have happened to more women.”

She cast her eyes down as she appeared to sink into her thoughts.

In seconds, however, her upbeat temperament resurfaced.

There is an aura of quiet fortitude and genuine cordiality about Bata, whose steady cadence often breaks in laughs.

“I am a very smiley person because I want people to feel comfortable around me and I am not comfortable around people that are super serious,” she said.  “So, I laugh and smile all the time.”

Content and composed, she even took jabs at herself. Through chuckles, she recalled her surprise when she was tapped for campus organizer and president of UND’s chapter of It’s On Us.

The latter is a social movement, spearheaded by former Vice President Joe Biden and the White House Council on Women and Girls to cease sexual violence on colleges around the nation.

At the end of her freshman year, Bata applied for the position, prompted by a mass email. She did not expect to be picked.

“I didn’t think that anything was going to come out of it because I thought, ‘Oh, a lot of people want to do this and I am just not qualified,’” she said. “I mean, I just do not have a ton of confidence when it comes to that stuff.”

What is more important, though, is that Bata possesses the passion and resolve to take on an issue that has affected her and many of her friends and acquaintances.

“I should not know as many people as I do who are survivors,” said Bata.

An early change

Bata’s first brushes with interpersonal violence occurred in elementary school, where she knew it was wrong but would mostly go along with it – like the majority of her peers.

This changed, however, when she and a friend, who was often bullied, switched schools in ninth grade. Bata wished she had taken a stance earlier.

“Throughout the summer before we started, I was just thinking about that and how crappy she probably felt,” she said. “I went and hung out with her and apologized to her.”

Since then, Bata has initiated her own precepts of respectful behavior and polite communication. No gossip. No inappropriate jokes. No snickering at offensive and offbeat remarks.

“In reality if everyone just stopped encouraging and stopped letting this stuff be said, there would not be anyone left saying it and we just have good conversations,” said Bata.

Drive from within

Bata’s views matured even more when she arrived at UND, where she’s a junior majoring in criminal justice and philosophy and minoring in political science.

In a tone that belied both concern and curiosity, Bata said, “Other campuses say, ‘We have zero incidents of sexual violence.’

“I don’t want to go to your campus because that either means that no one is reporting it because your offices aren’t good enough or you are hiding it. It is just physically impossible unless you have some sort of a bubble where you really screen people hardcore.”

Still, even at places like UND, misconceptions linger.

“I am going to educate; that is what I am here for,” Bata said.

Diana Bata and It's On Us

Bata assembled a core UND It’s On Us team of five in about two months after receiving the task from the organization’s national headquarters. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Educator and leader

Bata has proven to be not only a skilled educator, but also a deft leader.

She assembled a core UND It’s On Us team of five in about two months after receiving the task from the organization’s national headquarters.

They were quite surprised, she said, telling her that fledgling campus presidents frequently struggle with getting a chapter off the ground.

But Bata took to the challenge. She asked her friends to join; she encouraged theatre peers to consider; she posted about it on Facebook pages.

Today, there are six executive members and at least a dozen familiar faces at every event. Now that more and more students know about It’s On Us, Bata plans to expand it further.

The campus support that Bata has found at UND, from students to administrators, is a testament to how seriously the institution takes the matter of interpersonal violence and abuse of any kind.

She is also growing in her engagement with It’s On Us. Aside from leading its presence at UND, she is a regional adviser responsible for reaching out to universities in the Upper Midwest.

Almost two years after she responded to an email urging UND students to apply for the president role, she is now sending such messages to other campuses, impelling them to establish their own It’s On Us chapters.

But where will Bata channel that ardor upon graduation? She is not sure yet. For now, she just wants to keep helping.