“StandwithUs,” the theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Week, will be celebrated on campus this April with the sponsorship of Housing and Residence Life, the Office of Institutional Equity, the Counseling Center and various other campus organizations.
According to the Office of Women’s Health (OWH), one in five women in college experiences sexual assault, a statistic in general that often goes unreported. OWH attributes the heightened risk of assault on college campuses to be influenced by factors such as peer pressure and intoxication from alcohol or drugs.
Various events will occur throughout the month of April to raise awareness of sexual assault, starting with the internationally held event Take Back the Night on April 11. The event has been held on campus in previous years and often includes rallies, marches, speeches and performances intended to protest rape and other forms of sexual violence.
“I believe that the Take Back the Night campaign is the most impactful event for students to witness because it truly puts [them] in the shoes of the victims, which is enough to gain more and more support against sexual assault,” said Michael Slattery, a resident assistant on the StandwithUs planning committee.
The #MeToo movement has accelerated conversations of sexual assault across the country in the past year, though the movement itself began long before. According to the campaign website, Tarana Burke founded what was known as the “me too. movement” in 2006 that has been building a community of survivors since its creation, a community that has expanded greatly after the hashtag circulated.
“I think this is the best time to have conversations about [sexual assault] and I’m hoping that the students here will recognize this and come out to get their questions answered, or just find other people that they resonate and connect with that they may not have been otherwise connected to,” Sea Gull Square Resident Director Eileen Harrington said.
A committee of residence life assistants was formed to help plan the events. Including students in the design process was an effort to expand the program from what it has been in recent years.
“We’ve always done sexual assault awareness week, but in evaluating from year to year, one of the things I saw is that it was very hyper focused in certain areas,” Harrington said. “For example, Take Back the Night is a wonderful healing program, but the committee wanted to incorporate things that were both preemptive, like in the moment what are your resources, and then if something were to happen what are your supports, so I think that is kind of the approach we took here.”
Signs and ribbons will be displayed throughout campus on April 22 containing statistics about sexual assault as well as information about resources students have available to them here in Salisbury. A 5K walk/run is scheduled to take place on the same day to build visual awareness of the issue.
Various items will be collected in residence halls and academic buildings the week of April 22 to benefit the Life Crisis Center for victims of sexual assault. Programs relating to bystander prevention, student sexual assault rights on campus and sex education will also be held.
“The numbers [of sexual assault incidents] are staggering, and if we can draw more attention to sexual assault and focus on belittling those who choose to take part in such an egregious act, we can begin to see the number of sexual assaults diminish,” Slattery said.
Salisbury University “prohibits sexual violence in all of its forms,” as per the Student Code of Conduct, and has many guidelines in place to protect victims of sexual assault, including sexual misconduct and stalking policies. Students who are targets of sexual assault have a variety of campus resources to utilize such as the Counseling Center, Student Health Services and Campus Police.
By HALEY DICK
Gull Life editor
Featured photo: Michigan State University image.