“Buddy Up” campaign designed to promote student safety in warm weather

Senior uses personal story to spread a public message, prevent accidents



Story by Katy Macek, Currents Editor

He drowned.

When Matthew Rieckhoff, a freshman then, dropped his wrestling teammates at an ATM on Water Street in August 2011, that’s last thing he expected to hear.

But that’s what happened after his friend and mentor Ricardo Gonzales was separated from the group.

“There’s a reason he was captain of the team, just a really awesome leader, super hard-worker, really looking out for younger guys,” he said. “He took me under his wing, made sure I was adjusting well to wrestling and school.”

After the accident, Rieckhoff, now a senior, has worked with the Center for Alcohol Studies and Education to share his story, teach students to stick together when drinking and prevent others from suffering the same loss.

To continue to spread his message after he leaves UW-Eau Claire, Rieckhoff and other CASE members created Buddy Up, a campaign to prevent students from walking home alone.

“I think it’s important just for students to be aware of the importance of sticking together and the dangers of not doing that,” he said.

CASE launched Buddy Up in early March. The group set up tables across campus and handed out bracelets and information about pedestrian deaths, Rieckhoff said.

CASE also compiled a Powerpoint presentation for the campaign, which they’ve given to Greek sororities and fraternities with an alcohol awareness talk, he said.

“We decided to tie that in with that, since that’s such a huge family-type group on campus that can really be an advocate for a program like that,” he said.

Peggy O’Halloran, director of CASE, said the idea for the campaign came from several places, but Rieckhoff’s personal story and passion has driven much of it.

“A lot of this also came from (Rieckhoff’s) initiative and his passion around making sure other students don’t experience what he has experienced with the loss of Ricky and his family as well,” she said.

O’Halloran said the Water Safety Task Force at Eau Claire has shown interest in supporting the campaign because it highlights the dangers of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers.

“As far as drownings that have occurred in our river, it’s often been young men and they’re usually alone at night,” she said. “Alcohol has usually been involved in the majority of those cases, so we thought something that kind of highlighted that and really asking students to not let students walk home alone.”

O’Halloran said she thinks Buddy Up is another component of bystander intervention programs the campus provides. She hopes students use programs like this to create a safer campus community.

“Having this culture on campus of helping each other and looking out for each other,” she said. “Whether it’s a hate or bias incident, if it’s violence against another student or if it’s something like this.”

Because the program has only been running for a few weeks, O’Halloran said she hasn’t seen concrete results yet, but she’s heard positive feedback.

As students start going out more with warm weather, O’Halloran said she hopes they’ll remember to look out for friends, even if it’s something as simple as telling them to buddy up on the walk home.