Gnomes are descending on Denver. Yes, they’re cute, but they also have an important message about healthy relationships. Last week, staff at the Center on Domestic Violence (CDV) in CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs and youth leaders at four DPS high schools kicked off the student campaign #GnoMo Violence.
CDV’s Maria Limon, who is facilitating the project as part of a Tony Grampas Youth Services grant, has been working with teens since November. The students are part of a youth leadership program to raise awareness about healthy relationships. Using a curriculum developed by SAFE Austin called Expect Respect, Limon and the high school leaders created the GnoMo Violence campaign.
The gnome idea was born from necessity. “What kind of project can we take on during the pandemic?” Limon asked. “How can we get a message to travel without being physically there?” The answer: gnomes. Healthy relationship gnomes, to be exact.
Each of the gnomes comes with a message attached to the bottom: “Hi. I am a traveling end violence gnome. What do you think a healthy relationship looks like?” The message also includes instructions for taking a photo of the gnome and putting it on social media. The students are using Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok for their campaign.
Caprice Agassounon, who will start her senior year at Thomas Jefferson High School in the fall, put it simply: “Gnomes are the greatest, cutest thing ever.” Agassounon, who is currently the social media manager for GnoMo Violence, added, “I really liked the idea of using gnomes as traveling partners who show up randomly all over Colorado.”
For Agassounon, “Gnomes represent innocence, healing, and protection.” Everyone involved in GnoMo Violence hopes the gnomes will attract attention. “Come look at me,” they say. The idea is that people’s curiosity will get them to investigate the gnomes, who are ambassadors for healthy relationships. “The GnoMo Violence project is a representation of being aware, finding resources, and making resources accessible to everyone, kids and adults,” she explained.
Many of the youth leaders participating in GnoMo Violence come from diverse backgrounds, so they want the campaign to be as inclusive as possible. “They are people of the global majority, people of color,” Limon said. They wanted the gnomes to reflect different races, ethnicities, genders, and religions. So they ordered gnomes from a manufacturer who makes them in different skin tones, and they dressed them in clothing that reflects different cultures and religions.
Where in the World?
The gnomes are already traveling near and far. “The gnomes are going to make their way all over the place,” Limon said. “As we speak, there is a gnome going to Oaxaca, Mexico and a gnome going to Paris, France … Who knows how far they will go?”
They will likely make their way to the CU Denver campus, because the GnoMo Violence campaign is for everyone. “The grant is about changing our culture overall,” Limon said. “In order to see that kind of change happen, we look for ways to achieve change on a personal level, then expand out to family, friends, our communities and institutions that make up the larger fabric of our lives. The teen leaders will be working on enacting change at each of those levels.”
What Is a Healthy Relationship?
Agassounon feels she began learning about healthy relationships too late in life. “When I was 13, I was in an abusive relationship,” she said. “You can’t stop teens from being in a relationship; they’re going to do it anyway. These kids, including me, we go into this shadow realm of the unknown, knowing absolutely nothing about how relationships should be, how to communicate, what’s worth communicating about, and what are signs that you need help.”
Limon said that most people don’t speak openly about healthy relationships. “I certainly did not have dinner conversation with my family about what a healthy relationship looks like,” she said. “I learned that the person with the most power determined what the relationship looked like. We can all benefit from these conversations.”
Unrealistic Media Culture
For teenagers like Agassounon, who have grown up with social media as part of their everyday lives, healthy relationships may be even more mysterious. “When you look at social media, it’s hard to find a normal relationship,” she said. “Media is everything we have—these toxic forms of display and communication.”
Limon may not have grown up with social media, but she also points out the relationship between culture and domestic violence (as well as dating and intimate partner violence). “Very few people were able to think about the types of relationships they want to have without being influenced by unrealistic media culture.”
Something to Talk About
Limon, who loves working with the youth leaders, wants the project to foster conversation. “GnoMo Violence is about raising some level of awareness in a fun way,” she said. “At the same time, getting people to start thinking about what makes up a healthy relationship.”
Agassounon wants everybody to get involved. “Society pushes men to bottle their emotions and swallow their fears and insecurities, meanwhile teaching women that they don’t matter and aren’t anything more than their assigned gender. We push these narratives on everyone, hurting every single person on this planet,” she said.
But the gnomes can help—if they can get people talking. “A culture of silence puts everyone at risk,” Agassounon said. “GnoMo Violence attempts to put a needle in the big balloon of silence.”