Marist College students show their support in the fight against domestic violence.
From pizza parties to nights on the town, college is about making memories and forging unforgettable friendships. It has been said that these four years are the best of your life, and the experiences you have while at school are the ones you want to capture and remember forever.
What happens when your worst nightmare, something you’ve only read about or seen on television, becomes a reality? New Jersey native Danielle DeZao came to Marist College ready to start the next chapter of her life on a successful foot. What she didn’t know was how quickly her world was going to be turned upside down.
DeZao, 22, a domestic abuse survivor, and current awareness advocate, didn’t want any other young person to have to go through what she endured. Her experience led her to found heart 1 on the Marist campus as a resource for domestic violence survivors. The club aids in informing others about the horrors of dating abuse, and promotes the idea of classy co-eds everywhere surrounding themselves with healthy, loving relationships.
DeZao, a fashion merchandising major while at Marist, turned her traumatic experience into an impetus to help others. At just 22, she has not only founded heart 1, but has also become a coalition leader for Liz Claiborne Inc.’s Love Is Not Abuse, worked with Tim Gunn, Kelly Cutrone, Joe Torre, Willie Mays, and Judge Jeanine Pirro, spoke at the White House, appeared on ABC’s “What Would You Do?” and has been featured on Cosmogirl.com, as well as in Cosmopolitan and Seventeen Magazine.
While domestic abuse is a difficult topic to discuss, DeZao is breaking down the walls surrounding this issue and has made it her mission to “remove the one,” so that no man or woman ever has to feel less than perfect.
DeZao sat down with CL to discuss her experiences, goals and how anyone can come out of the darkness shining brighter than ever.
College Lifestyles: What was your personal experience with domestic violence?
Danielle DeZao: “I remember feeling like I was on a cloud my freshman year of college. I was so happy! I loved everything about the school and my life there. The guy I met in the spring seemed so perfect. He was complimentary and caring and would tell everyone how much he adored me. The caring led to over-protectiveness, jealousy, paranoia, controlling behavior and eventually, to physical abuse.”
CL: What inspired you to found heart 1?
DDZ: “I had no intentions of starting a club. I was so angry that this ‘thing’ almost ruined my life [to the point] I began to avidly research [abuse]. I found out that one in three young adults are in an emotionally and/or physically abusive relationship. How could something terrible happen so often [and] remain such a secret? To me, enough was enough. I thought I was too smart to ever be the victim of an abusive relationship. I thought I was ‘too good for that.’ I’ve learned the hard way that no one is, that it sneaks up on you and grabs a hold of you before you have any idea what you are involved in.
CL: Where did you come up with the name for the club?
DDZ: “I just remember doodling in my notebook during class, trying desperately to consolidate what I was feeling into something. I came up with h<3rt1 [pronounced heart1], an acronym for my goal to “heal a heart, remove the 1,” for the one in three affected by abuse, the one in three I became.”
The h<3rt1 logo.
CL: What advice do you have for domestic violence victims?
DDZ: “While in an abusive relationship, you don’t know you are a victim of dating violence. I was the girl that always said, ‘that just would never happen to me.’ It was irrelevant to my life. But based on the statistic, it isn’t irrelevant to anyone’s life – if it isn’t happening to them, it is still happening to a scary amount of people in their lives. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, the best advice I can give is to trust yourself. Don’t ignore that little voice telling you something is wrong, that you deserve so much better, and that you cannot and never will be able to change your significant other. You will see that you are not even close to alone in this and that while walking away may be the hardest thing you can do, it will be the smartest.”
CL: Where can domestic violence victims go for help?
DDZ: “We have found that so many people find comfort in the mere community-feel of our Facebook page. It’s nice to know it’s a huge group of people who don’t want to be victims. They want to be, and are, survivors. There are also many hotlines and live chats that are available to anyone 24/7, such as Love is Respect.”
CL: What can friends and family members do to help domestic violence victims?
DDZ: “I am always honest in telling people that yes, your friend may hate you, he or she may stop talking to you, he or she may say you are totally out of line. But it’s only because he or she knows you’re right, and that you have verbalized his or her greatest fears. Don’t let it stop you. You could be saving a life, and while it may be hard, think about how you would feel if something did go terribly wrong and you hadn’t spoken up.”
CL: What are some ways that victims of domestic violence can find peace with themselves and others?
DDZ: “Victims have to realize it isn’t their fault, that changing their outfit or ‘obeying’ all of their partner’s rules and answering to their ultimatums, would still not have fixed them. Once I understood that and realized [my ex] was genuinely an unhealthy person, I almost felt sympathy for him. Without professional help, he will never know real love, he will never know normalcy, and now I have the rest of my life to find it.’”
CL: What is the most rewarding experience of founding a club and watching it grow?
DDZ: “Reading the messages that say, ‘heart1 saved my life,’ or ‘if I never heard your story, I would have never been able to find the strength to leave him.’ To know you can change a life is a feeling I can’t even describe.
CL: Now that you have graduated and heart 1 is in place at Marist, do you still plan to fight against domestic violence? If so, how?
DDZ: “In a year or so I plan to work in event planning. I am taking some time to establish heart1 more officially and write a book. It’s been such a special experience, and I want people to know a bad event in your life will only ruin it if you let it.”
Danielle DeZao with fashion consultant and TV personality Tim Gunn.
Follow heart1 on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Email them anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
What have you done to positively impact your campus community?
Casey Galasso is junior at Marist College. Follow her on Twitter at @omggcasey. To stay tuned to more articles for classy co-eds, be sure to follow College Lifestyles on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.