April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a period during which open dialogue about the presence of and response to sexual assault is particularly encouraged. Coming in the wake of a number of incidents and discussions around Wesleyan’s campus that have made the topic especially salient, the month is being brought to the attention of the University community by students and administrators alike.
On Wednesday, April 2, President Michael Roth sent out an email informing the community tof the month of awareness. In the email, Roth discussed the problems surrounding sexual violence and gender equity on college campuses around the country.
Roth explained that this issue has recently received increased attention in the press. The University has several students committed to understanding the issues and speaking out about their concerns on their own.
“Although every report is painful, the problem is made worse when it’s hidden away,” Roth’s campus-wide email read. “[The students] understand that the problem of sexual violence is not one that can be completely resolved by some administrative ‘fix.’ For that, we need the commitment of the whole community.”
The student group of volunteers, the Peer Health Advocates in the Office of Health Education, is responsible for organizing peer-led education programs on different health issues. Peer Health Advocates expressed the pertinence of acknowledging Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a great opportunity for Wesleyan to encourage students to look out for each other and know what resources are available on campus,” said Peer Health Advocate Lydia Rex ’14. “I think it’s important that an emphasis be put not only on helping survivors, but teaching students how to give and receive clear consent.”
WSA President Nicole Updegrove ’14 noted that this month is a reminder that hundreds of students are sexually assaulted every year.
“It’s a haunting reminder that we all need to ask for and attain consent–for enthusiastic consent–every time,” Updegrove said. “Consent is an issue in every relationship, every friendship, every hookup, and we are all responsible for changing rape culture on this campus, one ‘do you want this?’ at a time.”
Roth stated that, in addition to the programs currently available on campus, the University intends to make every effort to support survivors in reporting incidents and to reinforce the zero tolerance policy regarding sexual violence.
“It’s important that our whole community understand the issues around sexual assault, and that we all participate in making sexual violence not just uncommon, but unacceptable at Wesleyan,” Roth said.
The University has developed other initiatives as well, such as the Bystander Intervention Program. The goal of this program is to empower bystanders to intervene in high-risk situations. The program will educate students on the dynamics of sexual assault and provide students with the skills needed to safely and effectively assist in these situations.
“We just want awareness of [sexual assault] education,” said Peer Health Advocate Kimberly Berry ’15. “People need to take more bystander intervention training because that has proven to be successful in stopping assault on campus.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Michael Whaley added that students on campus have been taking initiatives throughout the year.
“Although April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, my team has been working on the issue throughout the year, as have many dedicated student groups,” Whaley said. “I hope that the programmatic efforts during April will widen the conversation to groups that have not already been engaged. ”
Roth intends to congregate with several student groups this month to find more methods for eliminating sexual assault at the University. He added that additional student and faculty input is welcome.
“This month is a good time to talk about these issues, and I look forward to participating in some of the student-organized events,” Roth said.
On Thursday, April 24, members of the community will have the opportunity to attend Take Back the Night. This event allows students to individually and collectively speak out against rape culture on campus.
Rex said that the Peer Health Advocates plan to collaborate with other student groups to host the annual SexQuest event, a movement to foster sexual health knowledge. It will be held on the same evening as Take Back the Night.
“This is an opportunity for students to come learn about a wide variety of sexual health topics, including tips on how to prevent sexual assault and how to intervene in situations where you may think someone is at risk of assault,” Rex said.
Berry added that the Peer Health Advocates also anticipate creating new programs centered on the prevention of sexual assault in the future.
“Another initiative we are trying to take is making athletes and [fraternity and sorority] pledges do mandatory bystander intervention training next year so that [more people] are aware of this issue,” Berry said, ‘When you see something, say something is what we are trying to push.”
With these upcoming events and initiatives, Roth stressed that the discussion surrounding rape culture on campus should extend beyond this month.
“It’s important to remember, though, that this isn’t just a month-long thing,” Roth said. “To eradicate sexual assault we need renewed awareness, vigilance, and care by every member of the community.”
In order to raise such awareness and continue facilitating conversation about sexual assault at the University, Mari Jarris ’14 and Chloe Murtagh ’15 created the website silence-is-violence.org, on which survivors can anonymously share silencing and stigmatizing things that were said to them regarding their experiences. The Argus will report on this, as well as the WSA’s recent discussions about the place of fraternities on campus with regards to sexual assault, in upcoming issues.