Last Friday, President Obama and Vice President Biden launched a national campaign to stop and prevent sexual assault on college campuses. Their “It’s On Us” campaign was launched Sept. 19 with an event at the White House to kick off its efforts of “preventing sexual assault at colleges and universities, changing the culture on campuses and better engaging men in this new effort.”
Nearly 200 colleges and universities in the United States have officially partnered with the “It’s On Us” campaign but University of Richmond is not yet one of them. However, because the Atlantic-10 Athletic Conference is an official “It’s On Us” campaign partner, Richmond’s Athletic Department is directly involved with “It’s On Us.” Richmond is currently one of 76 schools under investigation by the federal government because of a Title IX policy complaint. The complaint was possibly related to a case of sexual misconduct, which is not necessarily sexual assault, and subsequent treatment of the case or lack thereof by campus officials.
“This [the campaign] just came out last Friday so we haven’t had the time and space to sit down and actually become one of the colleges involved, but I foresee it happening,” said Elizabeth Curry, Coordinator for Sexual Misconduct Education and Advocacy, a brand new position on campus.
“Our university is part of the A-10 Athletic Conference so we are involved that way. I’m in constant communication with the athletic department with regards to what we can do with athletics and how we can get more skills training for the athletic staff and the student athletes. It’s really important to engage them and to especially engage more men in this issue.”
Tina Tchen, assistant to the president and the chief of staff to the first lady, is overseeing the “It’s On Us” campaign, and stressed the importance of changing the dialogue surrounding sexual assault, particularly with men. “Men in particular need to take ownership and leadership of this issue," she said. "Many men feel uncomfortable about sexual assault and they think that other men approve of that behavior when in actuality, other men don’t. As a result, men don’t talk about sexual assault so it’s up to everyone to interrupt this way of thinking and change society as a whole.”
Curry agrees with the presence of misleading and inaccurate perceptions, particularly among college males. “There tends to be a hyper masculinity environment or attitudes and what research shows is that most men don’t agree with this behavior and never will condone or commit this behavior. But there’s a lot of pressure and difficulty in standing up to say that, ‘No, I do not agree with that.’”
The “It’s On Us” campaign includes a public service announcement featuring celebrities such as Jon Hamm, Kerry Washington and musician Questlove, along with President Obama and Vice President Biden, that urges the nation to step up and take an active role in stopping and preventing sexual assault. The PSA message, “It’s on us to stop sexual assault,” has received more than two million views on YouTube since the campaign launch last week.
The president and the vice president created a task force in January 2014 to first address the problem and prevalence of sexual assault in this country. Last April, the task force issued its first report, which identified four target areas and steps for student bodies and campus administrations to take in the fight to end sexual assault. The “It’s On Us” campaign seeks to follow through with these four action steps, which includes identifying the scope of the problem through campus climate surveys, preventing campus sexual assault and engaging men, helping schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted and making the federal government’s enforcement efforts more transparent.
Tchen stressed the importance of a full campus community effort to engage with the “It’s On Us” campaign. “This is a call to action for all members of college campuses – student body presidents, members of Greek life, athletes and faculty to come together, get informed, train in bystander intervention and most importantly, hold your school accountable,” Tchen said.
The campaign’s website, itsonus.org, offers a pledge that LaRee Sugg, Richmond's associate athletic director, recommended those involved with campus athletics take immediately. “Our first step will be to encourage all our student-athletes, coaches and staff to visit itsonus.org and take the pledge,” she said.
Anna Johnson from Generation Progress, a national organization that “works with and for young people to promote progressive solutions to key political and social challenges” is partnering with the White House for “It’s On Us.” She described the campaign as an “all-hands-on-deck kind of campaign, urging the nation to come together and shift the way we talk about and deal with sexual assault.”
Despite no official campus-wide involvement with the campaign outside of the athletic department, Curry is leading an effort in bystander skills training. “My goal is for the first training session to be the first of many throughout the year for students. It’ll be a lot of scenarios and group practice, as well as one-on-one practice,” she said. She said she believed this would get everyone involved and consequently help shift the campus culture.
National research indicates that one in four college women will be sexually assaulted, and Curry said there was still plenty of work to be done here at Richmond. “Some of the messaging that was sent out in the past on this topic was not always accurate or helpful. It might have actually harmed victims if a message was going out that wasn’t what research showed was the best way to work with this issue.”
The first campus bystander training session will take place from 12-2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28 in Tyler Hanes Commons. Students who are interested in attending are encouraged to email Hayley Durudogan at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, Sept. 26.
Contact reporter Katie Thomson at email@example.com