Recruited by five different NCAA Division 1 schools to play for their baseball team, Keith Labelle ended up at the University of Rhode Island hoping to make it to the majors. When he did not make the Major League Baseball Draft list in 2000 during his senior season, he decided to continue his education at the University of Rhode Island studying communications.
As captain of the varsity baseball team, the Dartmouth, Massachusetts native was involved on campus participating in various interviews and community service events. Labelle recalls that one of the most important organizations he was a part of was RAM Choices, which stands for “Responsible Alcohol Management for Athletes.”
“It opened my eyes to what everyone else was doing on campus, really being involved,” Labelle said. “I got to know people outside of the baseball team and athletics.”
While earning his graduate degree in communications, Labelle continued working with the Office of Student Life as a graduate assistant. Part of his responsibilities in this position included conducting health and safety presentations to all the incoming freshman during their URI 101 classes. In 2003, when the Women’s Center received a Department of Justice grant to “combat violent crimes against women,” they hired Labelle to assist in creating the violence prevention program.
“Even in grad school I hadn’t really seen that at URI,” said Labelle. “Having two sisters, I hadn’t really ever heard much about abusive relationship.”
Labelle chose to continue his professional career at the Women’s Center after completing graduate school. Not only did his new position require him to pursue educating freshman, but to also recruit peers to become involved in spreading awareness about sexual violence prevention. Still an organization on campus today, it goes by the URi-STANDer Bystander Intervention Program.
Looking to make a difference in the community with this program, Labelle said, “I never thought it would expand and help this many people.”
Having grown extensively over the past 15 years, Labelle also supervises the Bystander Intervention Program. A course offered by URI (CSV 302) provides education and awareness to the campus community regarding violence and promote active bystanders in order to prevent these crimes. In the beginning not many men were involved. Now he has student athletes from the men’s basketball, baseball and football teams participating in this program: truly buying into the message they are trying to sell.
“It needs to be men and women working together to role model healthy relationships,” Labelle said. “It is truly important to stick up for others.”
The URI grad also teaches an internship program through URi-STANDers, were students can get more involved and hands-on experience. Since the program began there have been over 200 interns: half of whom have been student athletes and over one-third being men. Furthermore, Labelle works with award-winning mentoring program, We’re Offering Women Wisdom (WOWW), which works with first year female students on campus and teaches an online gender and women’s studies course.
In his section of gender and women’s studies, Labelle notes the importance of masculinity and how boys are raised from a young age. “It is important to educate men,” Labelle said regarding the curriculum and idea of masculinity. “We need to teach men about what feminism is, but also what it means to be a man.”
In addition to making a huge impact on the URI campus, Labelle has traveled across the country to speak about educating others on sexual assault, dating violence and related topics. Labelle is apart of the NCAA Speakers Bureau which has given him the opportunity to travel to numerous colleges, most recently the University of Minnesota. He also has spoken to the NFL for eight years in a row and even traveled to Europe to get male athletes overseas involved in this intervention.
“It is pretty cool that I’m the guy that gets to go to these places,” said Labelle.
His favorite part about his career is his ability to really connect and interact with students. Regardless if it is with athletics, Greek life, or individuals in his classes; Labelle thinks it is extremely rewarding to see how influential this program is.
One day, Labelle would love to see this innovative and message spread worldwide. His ultimate goal is for every college or university to have their own i-STAND program.
“It doesn’t have to be just about sexual violence,” said Labelle. “It can be to prevent racism or homophobia, to prevent any wrongs in society.”
Labelle accredits his success to the support of URI Athletics and Office of Community, Equity and Diversity. He feels that their encouragement has truly allowed his position to exist and have the chance to collaborate with the entire University of Rhode Island community. Keith Labelle prompts all those interested to get involved whether it be through his program or another offered here on campus.
“Far too often everyone is focused on that final result of graduating and getting a great job, or getting an A in their class. Focus more on the process of learning and gain the experience.”