April marked National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and in response, colleges and universities all over the country took part in initiatives to raise awareness about sexual violence and educate their communities about its prevention.
At Chestnut Hill College, this was done in partnership with the It’s On Us campaign. Launched by the White House in 2014, It’s On Us encourages everyone to make a personal commitment to become a part of the solution to the problem of campus sexual assault.
This year’s event took place in the first week of April during which students, faculty and staff were asked to sign the It’s On Us pledge to end sexual assault, harassment and violence across college campuses.
“The goal of getting people to sign the pledge is getting them to commit to stepping up, taking responsibility and intervening when appropriate. Essentially, not to be a bystander, but to be an advocate in the fight against sexual violence,” says Emily Schademan, director of student activities and a member of the Title IX committee that planned the week’s events.
CHC’s involvement in the Clothesline Project kicked off the week.
Started in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women, the project gives women (who have been affected by sexual violence) a way to express their emotions and experience. The decorated shirts were then hung on a clothesline and publicly displayed as testimony to the problem of sexual violence.
“The idea for the Clothesline Project was brought to us by Megan Geerdts, a faculty member from the psychology department who had been involved with it at other institutions she had worked for,” explains Krista Murphy, Ph.D., dean of student life and the College’s Title IX coordinator.
“The motivation behind choosing to work with the Clothesline Project was to get this visual presence right in the middle of Fournier Hall, where people would stop and notice the shirts and the powerful messages written on them,” she adds. “Hopefully it would cause them to stop and think about what they could be doing to prevent some of the issues seen on the shirts in their own roles on campus.”
Many of the CHC athletics teams participated in the project as did several clubs including the Black Student Union and the Anime Club. The latter used its shirt, and a presentation the members gave during the week, to discuss an issue that is close to their heart — a movement referred to as “Cosplay is not Consent.”
Cosplayers are individuals who wear costumes and fashion accessories representing a specific character from TV, film or books, and have experienced inappropriate contact at conventions. The Cosplay is not Consent movement promotes safety and respectful treatment of these individuals, allowing them the right to establish boundaries and to say no if someone wants to hug them or take a picture with them.
“It just goes to show that sexual harassment and violence take many forms,” says Murphy. “I really loved that the Anime Club took an issue so personal for them and told their story as it relates to sexual violence in a way that many of us would never have even considered.”
Closing out the week was a new event for the College called the Title .9K, a short walk around campus to show solidarity for the victims who “may feel voiceless,” according to Murphy, and to educate people on what it means not to be a bystander, but rather to get involved, if and when you might be able.
The walk began with a prayer: “We take this short walk today as a sign of solidarity for our brothers and sisters both near and far. While our journey may not be long, we carry with us all those who feel that they walk alone. You are not alone, for at Chestnut Hill College we know it’s on all of us to be part of the solution!”
At the end of the walk, participants gathered in McCaffery Lounge to hand out stickers and share facts with others about bystander intervention and about the various resources on and off campus available to students.
Murphy hopes the walk will grow and become an annual event.
“It would be great to do a Title 9K and pair it with other health initiatives on campus as well as encourage students to train together,” she says. “If possible, I’d also like to see a fundraising component attached, where we could raise money for local domestic abuse shelters.
“Sexual violence. It’s a very uncomfortable topic for a lot of people but it’s an important one,” Murphy adds. “It’s important that we empower victims to come forward, to educate that this is not a problem happening in the shadows and that it effects everyone, across gender lines and sexual orientation.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14