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‘It’s on Us’ campaign proves to be a success

October 1, 2015

UWRF’s Student Senate officially launched the “It’s on Us” campaign for the 2015-16 school year Monday night, Sept. 28, screening a documentary and hosting a panel discussion in an effort to combat sexual assault on campus.

The “It’s on Us” campaign was started by the Obama Administration last year, in an effort to bring to light the facts and statistics about campus sexual assault, and to decrease them.  A follow-up to the “1is2 Many” initiative, which was centered around the same issue, the “It’s on Us” website describes the mission of the initiative as “a cultural movement aimed at fundamentally shifting the way we think about sexual assault…a declaration that sexual assault is not only a crime committed by a perpetrator against a victim, but a societal problem… to create an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”

Christopher Morgan, who began working on his term as student senate president this summer, said that the campaign was actually brought to campus last year, but it fizzled out. When the new administration met for the first time to talk about what they wanted to work on, they all decided this was a worthy initiative.

“We sat down and asked ourselves, ‘What can we do that will have the most impact?’ One of the first things we thought of was the ‘It’s on Us’ campaign,” Morgan said.

The event was held in the Lydecker Center, located in between the South Fork Suites and Ames hall. Students were lured to the event by a Chipotle-catered dinner. Despite a small mishap — Chipotle was an hour behind schedule with food preparation — the line was wrapped around the room’s perimeter and out the door. Students sat in rows eating their Mexican cuisine while a panel of experts on the night’s topic began a discussion, answering questions posed by a student senate speaker.

A total of nine experts spoke on the panel: Patty Forsberg, a campus officer specializing in sexual assault; Gregg Heinselman, associate vice president of student affairs and title IX coordinator for UWRF; Brooke Marlow from the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Response Team (SART); Desiree Wiesen-Martin, professor of sociology and criminology; Andrea Fult, assistant director of Student Conduct and Community Standards (SCCS); Alice Reilly-Myklebust of Student Counseling and Health Services; Erin McNiff, a representative from SART; Sydney Walsh, president of the Student Feminist Organization; and sorority girl, representing the Greek community at UWRF.

Questions were asked about points such as “What should I do if I’ve been assaulted?,” “What services are available to me if I’m assaulted?,” to more lawful topics like “What exactly is Title IX?”

Gregg Heinselman, title IX coordinator, talked about the law at length, and why it is so important for students to know about. Title IX deals exclusively with sex discrimination on college campuses. This law is often referred to in athletics, regarding equal rights of men and women’s sports teams, but it also applies to sexual assault- right students have to feel safe on campus, and what the school must do if you report being sexually assaulted.

Title IX was enacted in 1972, part of the United States Education Amendments. Because education is regarded as a civil right, if a student files a title IX complaint, the university must do something if a student’s ability to learn is being infringed upon as a result of a sexual assault. This law has been heavily utilized in activism to stop sexual violence on college campuses.

In addition to briefing students on these rights, Heinselman also talked about ways to stay protected against acts of sexual assault. He said “I’m a firm believer that we can’t address this problem without also talking about alcohol.” In addition to being aware of your own alcohol consumption, he suggested watching out for your friends too, and not letting them get into situations they might regret later, as well as “not putting yourself in a situation where you may be vulnerable to sexual predators.”

Erin McNiff from SART, who has worked with UWRF for seven years and described her position as “not just a job, but a passion,” replied to the comments made by Heinselman. While she conceded how it is important to “monitor what you’re drinking, keep an eye out for your friends, wear your seatbelt…” etcetera. She said finally “Also, don’t let your friends rape somebody” to which she received cheers and applause.

Students generally found the panel informative and helpful, answering many questions they might have had. Naomi Egger, who studies biology and art, said “I thought it was cool that they had the police officer. And, the administrator who was talking about all the title nine stuff was really cool, and interesting, and good to know. I liked the diversity on the panel.”

Within minutes of ending the panel discussion, the documentary “The Hunting Ground” was started, and just over 90 minutes. Produced by Amy Ziering, the film originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in February, and has shown in select theaters since then.

The film starts with three students at the University of California – Berkeley, who reported being sexually assaulted to their college administrators, to no avail. After months of being revictimized and getting nowhere with their cases, they decided to act on their own, investigate this problem on other campuses, and ultimately ended up becoming activists for ending sexual assault on campus, as well as combating the complacence shown by many administrators when it is reported. The film highlighted numerous cases of students other than the three it focused on, from campuses in every corner of the nation, making the point that the problem isn’t exclusive to any one campus; it’s unfortunately pervasive everywhere.

Prior to starting the film, it was reiterated several times that it was very graphic, and that it may be a “trigger” for people that have dealt with situations presented in the film. Kleenex stations were pointed out, and a member of Counseling Services was made available outside the showing to anyone who might want to talk about topic more personally. When the lights were flicked back on, it was apparent how closely this affected people – mascara and tear lines ran down the sides of many students cheeks.

Talley Halverson, a sophomore in the Health and Human Performance program, was impressed with the film. “It was very eye opening,” she said. “You often hear statistics but don’t often get to hear the raw stories of people affected, and actually hearing first hand what happened to them, and unfortunately so many college students makes it seem a lot more real.”

Another student, Naomi Egger, who studies biology and art, said she was surprised that it can be such hassle to report a sexual assault case on campuses. “It amazes me how bureaucratic it is… it seems like a lot of the time people are getting screwed over because some college administrations want to protect their donor interests over students,” she said.

Non-traditional student Christine Marriott, who studies political science, said she knows personally people who have been assaulted on campus. Because of this, she said “I thought the film was very emotional, but it was time well spent. It needs to be seen by everyone. I know too many people, even here, that have been assaulted.”

The Student Feminist Organization was also highly involved in the event, the start of what will most likely be a year long collaboration with Senate. Sydney Walsh, who was a member of the panel, spoke to what the feminists role was.

“We were asked by senate to get involved right away- helping getting the word out, volunteering, and really just our thoughts and feelings about the issue. As well, we’ve been very forward with Chris about our thoughts on the subject. I didn’t want to, I felt it would be wrong, to go on this panel and just say ‘everything’s fine,’because it’s not,” she said. “These crimes are very under-reported. If you speak to people and hear their stories, you realize that’s not at all what’s happening.”

This event, hosted by senate, comes at an unfortunately coincidental time- less than a week after the New York Times published an article analyzing a newly released study conducted by the Association of American Universities. A survey given concluded that 27.2 percent of female college seniors had experienced sexual contact or some sort that they did not consent to, 13.5 percent of which had been forcible sex.

While the University of River Falls annual Crime Report 2014 only listed one conviction of sexual assault that school year. While that is the official number, judging by student anecdotes could suggest it is not entirely accurate. This is why Morgan wants to continue battling sexual assault, and working on reforming how administrations deal with it.

“We can’t control human behavior, but we can make sure we prevent things from going wrong in the first place, but when they do we’ll be there for the victim, and hold the perpetrator accountable… it’s how we go about handling this issue on the administration side, that I think we can work on,” he said.

“It’s the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign, not ‘it’s on you’,” he said.

With students gathered at a bonfire to reflect after the film screening, Morgan, his administration, and others working on this were already talking about what they’ll be doing next.

Annual events like Take Back the Night, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes are a few events that Morgan said he’s like Senate to be an aid to. He also talked about possible sexual assault seminars, speakers on the topic, and showing the film wherever and whenever they can, to reach as many students and target audiences as possible.

One thing he was sure of, though, was that the events for “It’s on Us” won’t be small; he found the panel and film screening extremely successful, with over 200 students in attendance at the high point. He hopes future events for this campaign will be just as large.

“It’s big events like these that get people talking,” he said. “What I hope is by the end of my time here, is a campaign that never ends. That we lay down a message going throughout this University’s tenure that loudly proclaims that sexual assault is not tolerated here, and that if you perpetrate these crimes you will be held accountable, and that the victims of these crimes will be given the support they deserve.”