Campus & Community / News

Student works to end relationship abuse

DU student Stephanie Lopez — a sophomore criminology and Spanish major from Denver — was among seven individuals and organizations throughout the state recognized with an “Advancing Equality Award” on Dec. 8 from the Colorado Gay and Lesbian Fund (CGLF.)

The youngest recipient at age 19, Lopez was awarded the “Outstanding Youth Advocate for Excellence Award.”

According to the CGLF, the Advancing Equality Awards “honor leaders and powerful voices in communities across the state — people who speak out when others are silent, and help inform, educate and generate thought-provoking conversations around equality and inclusion, for all people.”

Lopez was nominated and acknowledged for her work at Denver’s East High School, where she established a student organization called “Angels Against Abuse,” and working to create a community organization at DU aimed at ending relationship violence.

“The goal of Angels Against Abuse was to create awareness and promote understanding about dating violence and healthy relationships,” Lopez says.

The idea came from a course offered at East by a local nonprofit called Project PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence through Education.) PAVE provides students with resources about issues such as bullying, dating violence and domestic violence.

“Just like PAVE, one of the goals of Angels Against Abuse was to educate people as early as possible about healthy relationships, in order to prevent some of those issues in the future,” Lopez says.

As part of the Advancing Equality Awards, honorees each received a grant of $5,000 to be allocated to a nonprofit of their choice. Lopez chose Project PAVE. She says Project PAVE is completely responsible for her interest in these social issues and for motivating her to create the club.

 “A lot of my experiences with Project PAVE really shaped me,” Lopez says. “They helped me decide what kind of career I wanted to pursue. I hold that organization close to my heart because I feel like there was something inside me that was just waiting to come out. Before, I was a really shy person, and in some ways, I am still am, but now I’m really passionate about these issues. Everyone deserves a healthy relationship.”

Adam Evans, director of PAVE, nominated Lopez for the award from the CGLF.

“It takes the kind of vision that Stephanie has to make lasting change in our community,” he says. “People are drawn to her, to work with her. She is a compassionate, relatable person. So when she talks about making changes, there’s a receptivity that people find that maybe they wouldn’t with other people. She’s amazing to watch — youth can relate to her, adults can relate to her. Plus, she’s a very good student, one of the best writers we’ve seen, and all these skills come together and position her well to be a leader in this field.”

Although Lopez’s vision for the community project at DU doesn’t have a name yet, it has a clear purpose.

“To get Latino men talking about relationship violence and how to prevent it — whether they have experienced it firsthand, or witnessed it among their friends and family,” she says. “It’s so taboo in our society for men to talk about their feelings. I think we can create a change within our community, so that men don’t see it as weakness to express their emotions.”

Lopez is on track to be the third child in her family to graduate from college. She passed up a full-ride scholarship to Colorado State University to attend DU, with the hopes of earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work in five years. 

“I heard about the social work program at DU, so I applied kind of on a whim,” Lopez explains. “When I received my letter of acceptance, I started crying. I called my mom in from outside, and we were both crying and dancing around the room.”

When asked what the award from the CGLF means to her mother, Lopez blushes. “She keeps the plaque in her bedroom, if that tells you anything.” And what it means to Lopez herself?

“On the plaque, there’s a quote that says, ‘There came a moment in the middle of the song, when she suddenly felt every heartbeat in the room, and after that, she never forgot she was part of something much bigger.’ I believe that pretty much says it all.”

So what is in Lopez’s future? Tracey Peters, director of DU’s Center for Multicultural Excellence, is certain that Lopez is destined for greatness.

“I saw Stephanie at the MLK Parade last month, and it just reminded me of how committed she is to her community and her future,” Peters says. “Every time I see her, she has a bright smile. Every time I talk to her, she is enthusiastic and genuine in her engagement. I have no doubt that whatever Stephanie sets her mind to, she will excel. With students like her, I am sure our future is in good hands.”

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