Posted in Community, New Perspectives

Remembering History: Visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center


As a secondary social studies education major, history has always been a topic of fascination to me. History gives us all a chance to learn from what went right in society, what went wrong, and how we can continue to learn from one another. Today, if there is one thing I learned, it’s how we each have a chance to turn a world of hate into love.

With Central Michigan University’s Residence Life program, Resident Assistants, Multicultural Advisors, and residents got the chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. This excursion is meant to help us all learn something new about the world, about social justice issues in society and the past, and the experience helps us relate what happened to how it affects the world today.

The day started off by being broken up into touring groups as Central Michigan University had a really big group there overall. Our tour guide sat us down in front of the memorial pictured above her and explained the meaning behind it. All of the countries affected by the Holocaust are named up on the memorial. However, these are the countries that had people die in the Holocaust whether they were Jewish, had a disability, LGBTQ+, and more. The numbers of people that died were reflected under the country names.

In addition to this, there were a list of the concentration camps next to the countries overall. A lot of the names, I have heard of before from visiting other museums. But what caught my eye in the middle of this area was an eternal flame: a flame that never goes out to keep the memory of the affected alive. The tour guide explained that many people believe for a soul to die, it dies twice. The first time is when a person actually dies. The second time is when the last person to have memories with the person dies. This is why the flame is kept lit because it is important for history’s sake and because of this event that we do not forget the people who went through such tragedies. So, we make sure we keep their souls alive and in our memory.

From here, the tour guide walked us through the historical exhibit where we learned about the history of Judaism. We learned how this religion was one of the first ones to have a monotheistic God, which means one god. What this did was create anti-semitism for years as people saw the Jewish religion as a disgrace, or as the “different” religion. Eventually, this inspired the events of the Holocaust.

After this, we learned about the history of Adolf Hitler along with the uprising of the Nazi Party in Germany. We learned of the Nazi agenda, which consisted of three things: To create a superior race of Germans with blonde hair and blue eyes, to exterminate all of the Jewish people, and to expand as much as possible to be the dominant society. However, what we saw is that Hitler along with other officials changed policies one step at a time, making subtle changes in the ways that people thought, and changes in the way that people viewed the Jewish people. Hitler even said once that by using the press as an enemy, it could be easy to lie to big groups of people and make change. We learned how even though Hitler had an agenda, it took a group of people to make it happen. This is where things started to get emotional.

At this point, we learned about how the Jewish people were treated in these camps. From being worked to death, to marching to death, and even being sent to death camps to die right away, over six million people were exterminated from the Holocaust. What put this into more perspective is when we walked into this room with a very narrow path, and six video screens. The tour guide told us that if the images were too disturbing, we could come down to the end of the hallway with her. You see, General Eisenhower went into Europe to these concentration camps. He decided if you were not there, you could not understand it. That is why he and his crew decided to record what they saw with videos: and these videos came up on the screens.

The dead bodies of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust kept playing on one screen to another. Bodies piled on top of one another, bodies so skinny that their bones were easy to see, bodies that had eyes out of the socket holes. The only thing I could do along with everyone else is look in shock and disbelief. Eventually, after moments of silence and shock, we continued on. This was one of the most scarring things I have ever seen and I still have the images in my head.

From here, we learned about the end of the war. The Nuremberg trials occurred with only a dozen people being sentenced to death. There were a total of twenty two people tried at this time as well, but not too much more from there. But one of the most surprising things I found out is that after the war, Holocaust survivors were helped out to be rehabilitated back into society. At this point, there was a huge increase in babies born. The reason why is because at this point, love had gotten so many people through the tragedies they faced. This was something I did not hear much about, but it made me happy to know that love was a catalyst to helping so many people to survive by giving them something to live for as they endured horrible conditions.

Finally, we looked over to our left to see a video screen along with a clock. The number on this clock was over 100 million or so. Every nineteen seconds, this huge number went up by one as every nineteen seconds, someone dies from genocide around the world. This huge number was a number of all the genocides committed since the end of the Holocaust. The fact that this number is such a high rate overall shocked me along with everyone else. Even after such a tragic event, hatred still occurs in the world today.

At the end of all of this, we got to hear about the Holocaust from a different perspective: The perspective of a survivor. She stood at the front of an auditorium as we all walked in. Her name was Rae and she kept on asking us what our majors were, intrigued to hear more about each one and to see the diversity in the room. After we all sat down, she began to share her story. When the war began in 1939, the Germans evacuated her family from Poland and moved them over to the U.S.S.R, which made them refugees. At one point, the Russians essentially imprisoned her family and others to an area in northern Russia where the family everyday had to complete different labor tasks. Eventually, they returned to Poland when the war ended, but they realized all of their family from Poland was practically dead and did not have much to offer. The family made the decision to try and flee over to the United States in 1946. However, tensions were still high, making it hard for the family to escape. They had to sneak over boarders illegally to attempt this. However, during one of the trips, her parents were killed, leaving her and her siblings (four others) to be orphans as they escaped to America. Finally, they made it to Detroit in 1948. She then told us about her family today and how many of them graduated college including herself, she showed us her siblings later on in life, and she talked about her late husband who was also a Holocaust survivor. She told us so much about her life, we all could not help but stand and clap for her at the end thanking her for her time and the opportunity to hear from here.

One big thing that she told us at the end is that America provided her the opportunity to work hard in life and essentially gave her a chance to be successful. She also mentioned that in some ways, America has gotten better about things, but has gotten worse about things. The biggest pieces of advice she gave us were the following: 1. Do not be afraid to work hard. And 2. Choose to spread love over hate in this world.

This leads me to reflect on the bigger piece of things: what could I walk away and say I learned overall? What stuck with me most? From this, I would have to say the meaning of empathy, as well as the difference between privilege and oppression in society.

In regards to empathy, it was amazing to hear about the history of the Holocaust from more of an emotional view with some facts incorporated. None of us knew what it was like to go through such horrific experiences in life. However, the stories shared, the imagery, and the intentionality with everything in this museum made us feel empathy for all of the people who were affected by tragedy in life.

If there is one idea I want you all to take away from this, it is the following right here: the difference between privilege and oppression. Privilege is a special right or advantage available to a group of people in society. An example of this could be a privilege of being part of a majority religion, being part of a wealthier class, etc. Now compare this with oppression. Oppression is the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment towards other people based off of traits or privileges. Essentially, there is a bridge between privilege and oppression. When people notice their privilege in society, they can oppress others and hurt other people because not all people have the same advantages, or privileges, in life. This brings up a huge moral to all of this: We all need to take a look at who we are, what we believe, how we operate, and need to choose to spread love over hate.

Events like this one in life are tragic to even think about. I still cannot even fathom some of things I saw or heard about. However, instead of being a bystander in life and not do anything when others are being oppressed, go up to the oppressed individual and show them empathy. Let them know you are there for them to help them, love them, and be with them even when the world is not. This is something I hope you all can take away from reading this today: Choose to love other hate.

This is how we can stop these events from happening again…


-Michael Greco

Posted in New Perspectives

Student Affairs Spotlight: An Interview With Brooke Oliver-Hempenstall, Director of SAPA


Information about Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates from their homepage. For more information, visit SAPA.CMICH.EDU


As Domestic Violence Awareness Month passes (October 2016), I take the time to reflect on an influential interview about a transformational department that has not only been an innovation on students in the Central Michigan University community, but has also made a difference around the world. Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates, or SAPA for short, is a confidential source that helps survivors through any form of sexual aggression including but not limited to stalking, sexual harassment, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. SAPA is available to students through a confidential support line (989-774-CALL), online chat, and direct in-person services which are available 24/7 to help survivors. One of the most amazing aspects of this organization not only includes the extensive, over 40+ hours of training each member of SAPA receives, but also how the University grants this organization confidentiality to do their work effectively and for the betterment of survivors.

As I look into the student affairs profession, I look to make sure I see all sides of student development that makes the campus experience safe, meaningful, and influential on students. For one of my courses, I began to look more into SAPA to not only find out more, but to hear more about the amazing impact this organization has had on the community. I was given the opportunity to interview Brooke Oliver-Hempenstall, the Director of SAPA at Central Michigan University. Originally before publishing this article, I wanted to take parts of the interview and write it like an editorial with parts of the interview. However, the interview between Brooke and myself was so passionate and natural, I feel it is best to leave it in the question and answer format below to show all pure aspects of the conversation.

Please feel free to read about SAPA below through Brooke’s eyes followed by my learning outcomes from this conversation.


Michael: Thank you very much for meeting with me Brooke. Please tell me about yourself and your experiences that brought you here.

Brooke: “Well, I never intended to come here. I originally was planning on going to Arizona State University. However, I changed my mind at the last minute. School started on a Monday, I called CMU on a Tuesday, and decide to go to CMU that day. It was close to my hometown, which definitely was a benefit. I moved into Robinson on a Saturday, and suddenly Central became it for me.

During my first year, I got involved with SAPA (second class overall, 1998). Honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and was here for five years. I tried accounting, but I fucking hated it. Eventually, I decided to go with a major with psych in family studies, and a minor in substance abuse.

During my time, SAPA changed my life. No matter how difficult or overwhelming I might be attached to this work, I loved it! Finally, I graduated in May of 2001. I was scared, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I was good at SAPA, but did not want to do the ResLife route in Higher Education.

Right before 9/11, I applied for jobs and worked at a domestic abuse shelter. I went to Law School (Cooley Law School) and went to school on the weekends and summers for two years. My last year during my internship for Law School, I realized I fucking hated it. I quit because I only wanted to do prosecution, not the other stuff that came with it.

I dropped out on Friday, January 6th of 2006, felt good, and called the counseling center program at CMU for the Counseling Master’s program. I came back to CMU in August 2006 after taking a short break and graduated in December 2008 while still being an advocate in Gaylord.

SAPA used to be funded through a grant, and I slid into the SAPA Dedicated Counselor position for SAPA until April 2011 when the grant was not going to be renewed for the position. The program has always been funded through the school, but the SAPA Dedicated Counselor was not at the time. I left CMU and began to work at Child Protective Services for nine weeks because I was not a fan of the work there.

After that gig, I became a Director of a Women’s Safe Home and Shelter in Grayling called River House until September 2013. Eventually, I came back to CMU and eventually stepped into Director role for SAPA (Interim currently). I want to make SAPA a permanent Director position, but I have to say I am truly amazed with how the experience has gone up to this point.”

Michael: From your point of view, what is one of the biggest problems facing college students today?

Brooke: “Well, that is a great question. For the broad scope: You still have students with issues of depression, anxiety, and adjustment. But I think more folks nationally are becoming more aware with mental health, are happening to be diagnosed already, and trauma especially with SAPA with the work I do. They are at a place where they deal, process, and go through trauma currently. They all can coexist.

For the safety and the well being, you always have to be mindful of self-care and self-harm. I like to tell the SAPA’s , ‘Confidentiality is like a mini-Las Vegas in the way that what happens here stays here, meaning if someone is telling you something, it remains confidential. However, it cannot if it comes to harm to others or if little ones are being abused or neglected.’ It is becoming more recognized in regards to sexual assault trauma and DV (Domestic Violence) with how pervasive this is.”

Michael: It sounds like there has been a lot of aspects that go into the history and development of SAPA overall. How has the University supported you and others alike in your position to succeed?

Brooke:I cannot say enough about how the University for nineteen years has been qualifying SAPA as a confidential resource. For us to do our job in regards to working with SAPA and the services they provide, for the University since 1997 to give that privilege to these students, is remarkable. A while back, Title IX issues were not under the scrutiny they are now since the 2011 Dear Colleague letter came out and issues pertaining to sexual aggression have become heavily focused upon nationally within the university environment. It was a different world, and for the school to value the importance of what advocacy is and means to folks and to offer that, and even if we had to piece or way through it, providing the confidentiality has been the best gift especially since this topic has become a hot issue for folks.

The relationships in the University between ResLife especially with confidentiality, and to be able to work together, has been amazing because these are not easy issues to work around. There has always been that amazing consistency.”

Michael: Looking into the world of higher education, one can see how safe spaces is changing the environment of diverse students. Some universities have released statements openly telling the world that they will not be providing safe spaces for students anymore for any real life situation or social issues. What are your thoughts on this?

Brooke: “It’s not about coddling students; it’s about knowing that triggers can put someone back into the time when the first events occurred. When you are triggered, your body has the same action that has happened during that event.

Essentially, whenever we talk about violence in these regards, we need to remember, we all have a common goal just to start with. That is why we provide safe spaces for people. We did this for SAPA because there was a need, and this was the right thing to do. The starting of this was so genuine and came from a place of needing. Our services have developed, adjusted, and tweaked because our student advocates are hearing what students’ need, and start adjusting.”

Michael: In your field, there definitely is a lot of give and take that goes into your work as you work with students, survivors, and work to change life on a daily basis. What would you define as proper self-care in your line of work?

Brooke: “With life and this line of work, it used to be running. It all depends personally with the different stages that I have been with my personal life. I have to take healthy self-care moments. They look a little different. But my first year, I did not practice self-care. I dove into the work world full time and over seventy hours a week, and I was not healthy. I was burning out. In the field I work in, folks do burn out. And their ability to have passion and empathy can fade away. This is not the type of work where that works to not be passionate and supportive. It is about letting folks know they have options, rights, and control to do anything besides what they are told.

Healthy self-care is paramount to do this work long term. Since I have been volunteering with SAPA since I was twenty, whether it is with running or driving, take your vacations. I never get sick, but you need to take your own fucking health days. This cannot be your life, and I am glad that people can be passionate. But if you are not in a good place, you cannot be in a good space to help others. That is why I do not mind the commute from Gaylord to Central everyday because that is even my time for self-care. And I don’t feel bummed to go to work. This work I find very uplifting because I get to work with folks and even though it might be the worst time of their lives, I have seen the light when they get to that place of their healthy balance and it is very incredible.

There is always a need for help. There are forty plus shelters in this state that need help, volunteers, pillows (because people will take them when they leave shelters), and people to volunteer to help with crisis lines. Even as simple as CMU and SAPA partnering with Women’s Aid and the Tribe to collaboratively work together, it shows that we all have a common goal.”

Michael: In regards to the University, What are your favorite things about CMU as a whole?

Brooke: “What I love about SAPA and CMU is that the training could not happened if we did not have our alum coming back. Last year, we had over one hundred alum come back for those training weekends. We need extra folks, but people who are well versed in these areas. Our alumni have been truly amazing. That is something that CMU cannot fix for me; the alumni are something that we need. Even if we had a ton of money for this, I need alumni. We still have folks coming back from the first year in 1997 and they come back with all different skill sets. They all come back from different fields, or even for certain time periods.

And my favorite moment is last year, it was Steven’s first year not being a Director. The rookies go through a clapping tunnel created by the alumni, and they did the same thing for Steven. This common goal with SAPA is still carried on through our alumni and for people at CMU.

Currently, we are trying to create a SAPA alumni survey. We want to see the results of SAPA on people’s lives years after they leave CMU.  We also want to see how SAPAs network with alumni.

With Central, it’s never been about “don’t report” like it can be with other college campuses. What’s reportable for Cleary is very specific. But in all the years I have been here, I have never felt that we needed to be hushed because the school does not want that stuff coming out. If anything, since the 1990’s, it has been about creating an atmosphere that makes people feel comfortable with reporting and speaking, but it is their choice and there’s resources for whatever choice they want to make. Or pick none: That’s a choice, too. It’s always been about doing what’s right at CMU, especially with the SAPA program.”

When talking about higher education, the one thing that keeps people remaining in and excited about the field is passion. Brooke absolutely displays this through her commitment and willingness to help members of the community. From this interview, I learned the following outcomes that can be remembered for future development:

  • The importance of self care and commitment to the work no matter what field you are a part of
  • The impact confidentiality and University support can have on a person’s work
  • The importance to make sure students know their resources on campus
  • The essential impact SAPA has created on the community, and even the world and CMU abroad
  • The power of connecting with others to learn, create, and empower student development

SAPA continues to make the community aware through programming, meeting with organizations, and with the guidance of Brooke along with other SAPA staff members. Thank you for the work you all do to make CMU a better place!