With 23.1% of female undergraduate students and 5.4 % of male undergraduate students experiencing rape or sexual assault during their college careers, colleges are necessary hosts for conversations surrounding sexual violence (RAINN, “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics”). West Chester University is now one of the many schools who celebrates the “It’s On Us” campaign started in 2014 by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The task force, established by former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden, created four pillars that emphasize the need for consent, bystander intervention and a positive environment for survivors of sexual violence. The Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE) included these four pillars during their October 24 “It’s On Us” event, explaining, “At West Chester University, It’s On Us to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”
The “It’s On Us” event was relaxed and casual, stressing the fact that conversations about assault and consent should be part of our daily conversations. Upon entering Sykes Ballrooms B and C, I was greeted with lively music and an array of students, faculty and staff from different organizations who are passionate about ending sexual violence. I talked to Emily Sheehan, Coordinator for Violence Prevention and Healthy Masculinity at the Center for Women and Gender Equity, about the campaign. Over the summer, the CWGE received a grant from the governor’s office, allowing them to officially launch the campaign here on campus. According to Sheehan, the event’s aim is to introduce people to both the “It’s On Us” initiative as well as resources on and off campus. One of the biggest components of the event was signing the pledge to follow the campaign’s four pillars and to do whatever one can to personally mitigate and eliminate sexual violence. Sheehan explains that events such as these are the perfect opportunity for community building, as she notes, “We all have a part to play to prevent violence and end violence on this campus.” One of the first things I noticed upon entering the ballrooms was a table for the Clothesline project, “a living arts representation of how we support survivors of violent acts and honor those we have lost (Clothesline Project, Informational Display in Sykes Ballroom C).” The project, started in 1990 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, attempts to address the issue of sexual violence by creating a visual display that anyone can contribute to with positive messages and words of encouragement. The Clothesline Project’s official website presents startling statistics, such as “women are battered every 10 to 12 seconds in the United States by their significant others or husbands” and “every minute of every day more than one woman reports being raped in this country” (The Clothesline Project, “The Project”). Participants had the option to write a message on a small paper shirt or a large tee-shirt to express their support for sexual assault survivors or honor those who have passed from sexual violence. The tee shirts will be displayed in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Besides speaking with Emily Sheehan, I stopped by the Center for Women and Gender Equity interactive display about consent and boundaries. I spoke with Charlotte Stone from the CWGE who talked about the importance of consent in our day to day lives. Stone noted, “We use consent every day, but we don’t think about it.” She referenced questions, such as “Can I pet your dog?” “Can I borrow your charger?” and “Can I try a bite?” to illustrate this fact. After talking about consent and boundaries, participants were encouraged to spin a wheel labeled with categories like “Roommates,” “Friendships,” “Sex/Consent,” “Online Dating” and “Social Media.” Participants were then quizzed with questions related to the categories they landed on, such as “Do same sex couples still have to use consent?” and “When your roommate is out of town, do you ask to use their bed or to let someone else sleep in it?” The activity served to reiterate the wide array of situations where consent is required as well as the importance of consent and boundaries in every aspect of relationships.
After talking with Stone, I moved to the Green Dot table. Green Dot is a bystander intervention program designed to empower individuals to be proactive and reactive bystanders. Their mission is exemplified in the third pillar of the It’s On Us campaign, which encourages intervention in situations where consent is either missing or impossible to give. The Crime Victims’ Center (CVC) of Chester County also attended the event. According to their pamphlet, “The Crime Victim’s Center of Chester County, Inc. is a nonprofit agency providing free, immediate and confidential crisis response and compassionate support to children and adults impacted by crime and violence.” The Counseling Center here on campus is another confidential resource who can either provide services on campus or connect students with resources off campus. The event provided an excellent opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with resources for survivors of sexual misconduct on and off campus. Even if you are not immediately affected by sexual misconduct, someone you know may be, and being educated through events like these can help you become an ally.
The It’s On Us campaign is an attempt to generate conversation about consent and sexual assault and create individuals who pledge themselves to being active bystanders and allies. Since the movement launched, students and faculty have hosted over 1,400 events on their college campuses (It’s On Us, “Get Involved’). As Sheehan noted, “when it comes to issues like sexual violence, one of the greatest ways that we can respond is through a community-based approach.” If you missed the CWGE’s Oct. 24 event, don’t fret. You can still show your support by taking the pledge online at https://www.itsonus.org/pledge/.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual misconduct, you can utilize these resources on campus and in our community:
24/7 Confidential Professionals
- On-call psychologist may be accessed by contacting Public Safety: (610) 436-3311
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN): 1 (800) 656-4673
- Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County (CVC): (610) 692-7273
- Counseling and Psychological Services: (610) 436-2301 *Confidential and Privileged Resource
- Student Health Services: (610) 436-2509 *Confidential Resource
- Title IX Coordinator/Social Equity Director: (610) 436-2433 *Non-Confidential Resource
Celine Butler is a third-year student majoring in psychology and minoring in French and history. CB869017@wcupa.edu