Issues regarding campus sexual assault have routinely garnered national attention throughout this year, as everything from White House plans to investigate Title IX violations, to mattress-carrying advocacy efforts by undergraduate sexual assault survivors, to last week’s harrowing story of a gang-rape at UVA, have thrown the national spotlight onto how colleges confront this widespread scourge.
But if it were up to Hayley Durudogan, a Westhampton College freshman who is working to transform the conversations about sexual violence at University of Richmond, the scourge would be gone for good.
“A lot of times people ask me, 'Doesn’t it bother you to focus on such an emotionally stressful topic?’” Durudogan said. “But these stories don’t just make me sad as much as they galvanize me to act.”
And act she has. In her brief three-month tenure as a Richmond student, Durudogan has spearheaded Spiders for Spiders, a movement focused on preventing campus sexual violence through education and awareness. Through the Spiders for Spiders platform, she has launched multiple programs and campaigns, including helping to organize a series of bystander awareness training for students interested in becoming visible sexual misconduct advocates and peer educators on campus.
Once students have completed the training, they are given bracelets and stickers that identify them as peers who are available to talk and step in during many different social situations at Richmond. Durudogan said turnout had been good.
“It’s been really nice to see how many people have wanted be involved,” she said. “I love it when I see people walking around with the Spiders for Spiders bracelets, or I see people with the stickers on their water bottles.”
Durudogan’s initial interest has exploded into a devotion toward preventing sexual violence at Richmond, and she has already accomplished part of her goal – to help change the conversation and raise awareness.
“Student involvement is key to cultural change, which is what needs to happen on this and every college campus, and in our society as a whole,” said Elizabeth Curry, the university’s newly hired coordinator for sexual misconduct education and advocacy, who has worked with Durudogan to develop her initiatives.
“Rape culture is what promotes the atmosphere of sexual violence,” Durudogan said. “It’s what enforces the gender roles that play into sexual violence. My approach to sexual violence prevention is predominantly a cultural change model, so I think it’s been interesting to see that a lot more students seem to be taking up this idea that it’s about cultural change. It’s not just about education, it’s about how education can change different aspects of your society.”
Durudogan’s discussion about rape culture mirrors those occurring at many universities, where sexual misconduct is tacitly encouraged by a lack of bystander awareness, and a widespread prescription to a set of societal norms that ignore, rather than prevent, rape.
Durudogan said this could come at any level of social interaction – even those that are seemingly harmless, but are actually detrimental, such as humorous conversations between friends.
“To my mind, the most harmful micro-aggressions are those that utilize humor to downplay the seriousness of an issue,” Durudogan said. “I think one of the ways people on campus could really cut down on what I tend to call subtle sexism is by confronting those jokes that either belittle the struggles of survivors or downplay the extent to which this issue is harmful … To deal with this issue you have to come at it from the perspective that it’s something that impacts everyone.”
Hitting home on how widespread of a problem sexual violence really is, Durudogan and other Spiders for Spiders advocates launched an awareness campaign called: “I want to end sexual violence because…” in which people fill out cards that complete the statement, which are displayed on Facebook and in the Heilman Dining Center. Participants cited a number of reasons, some of which Durudogan said might surprise people.
“I think it’s an opportunity for students, faculty and the community at large to understand the pervasive nature of sexual violence, and how it’s not something that just affects the survivors – it’s something that affects their friends, families and communities,” she said.
Durudogan has tied her Spiders for Spiders work with her academic interests. She’s an anthropology major with a double-minor in French and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and is a newly elected member of the university’s Women in Living and Learning program.
“My classes have provided me with different lenses through which I can look at this issue,” Durudogan said. That includes her FYS, Global Medicine and Healing, which has challenged perspectives of sexual violence from around the globe, and her WGSS coursework, which has analyzed how gender and sexuality contribute to sexual violence.
All in all, Durudogan said she felt supported by the administration. “I’ve seen a lot of people within the administration – especially Beth Curry – be very supportive of all the things I’ve been trying to do. It’s been very comforting to know they’re there. It’s helpful to have an administration that doesn’t try to sweep this issue under the rug.”
Durudogan knows changing campus culture might be a difficult task, but she said she was up to it. “Hopefully, some of the work I’m doing is helping people and is cultivating a change that will eventually cause UR to become a campus in which rape and sexual assault are not accepted as part of any conversation.”
Contact reporter Chase Brightwell at firstname.lastname@example.org