Sexual violence occurs most frequently in the first six weeks of a first year college student’s time on campus.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted during their time in college.
According to the Huffington Post, college students who identify under the umbrella of LGBT often experience sexual assault and harassment more than students who identify as heterosexual.
85-90% of sexual assaults happen by someone the victim knew.
Roughly 60% of assaults involve alcohol.
These facts and figures often don’t resonate with us unless we know someone who’s a survivor or has been affected by sexual assault in some way. Here, student affairs professional Kristen Perry shares her reflection about what it’s like to tell her own story and how we can continue to become better practitioners in the field of higher education.
Looking Back: My Pecha Kucha Talk
I gave my Pecha Kucha talk at the 2016 ACPA Montreal Convention and it was terrifying. It’s been a over a month since I shared my heart and soul with higher education professionals and I felt like I was showing them the darkest side of me. I was nervous about what they would think of me after I shared my story.
One of the questions I kept replaying in my head before the talk was: will people appreciate the talk, or call me a liar?
What I received after my talk was more than I ever expected. I quickly realized that telling my story and being vulnerable was one of the best decisions I made to push the conversation forward. I didn’t realize the impact of my story until strangers hugged and thanked me, my graduate school cohort gave me a group hug and wanted to continue to celebrate and support me, I was Twitter famous for a day, and suddenly there were emails and Facebook messages from people I’d never met.
I received so much support and I didn’t know how to react exactly. I thanked people for sharing my Pecha Kucha video and for caring about my story and the topic of sexual violence.
As I responded to people I thought to myself,
How long will their passion last? (Mine will last forever, because this is a lived experience for me)
Will people who saw my talk change something on their campus?
Will people offer more support and resources to survivors? How will support change?
Will people forget about this topic in six weeks like a New Year’s Resolution?
Sexual Assault Education is Everyone’s Responsibility
Sexual assault on college campuses is all too often a common experience and needs to end. What can we do? What’s the next step after awareness?
1. Learn resources on your campus who help victims in the situation like a Title IX Coordinator, Counseling Center, Public Safety, and Health Services. Talk to these campus resources to understand how to best support students when they reach out to you.
2. Understand how your institution listens to victims stories and learn more about your institution’s process. Are students heard? This is an important piece lets students know they’re not alone. They’re not the only person on campus who has experienced this, and they don’t have to heal alone.
3. Clearly state, show, and physically make resources available to students. Make your campus more welcoming by introducing these resources on your institutions website and go over the process at orientation to make the topic a priority among first year students.
Seek out resources whether it be an on-campus or community training, find a mentor, or colleague to talk to so we’re making sure we all can relate to our students. You might read an article, retweet it on Twitter, and share it on Facebook, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve fully reflected on the topic and have internalized what it may mean to you and the people around you.
Educating ourselves on best practices and resources is not left in the hands of our Title IX Coordinators or the survivors – so please don’t leave it up to us. Everyone can do something on their campus to help create an environment that is free from violence. This is something everyone needs to be concerned with as we determine how to best support professionals and students in this situations at our institutions.
Extending Awareness & Education Beyond April
We need to commit as professionals to continuously improve on practices like prevention, response, support and the investigation of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual violence.
At Canisius College, we have planned a variety of educational events and campaigns on prevention sexual violence. This past fall, we began bystander intervention training where we had students sign pledges about consent, hand out magnets with our definition of consent on it to spread awareness, and showed the film It Happened Here on campus.
There many ways campuses can spread awareness and boost knowledge of sexual assault on campuses, what students can do to support other students, and how to best support victims. Here I’ve highlighted a few ways you can get involved:
The Art of Survival
Read stories through survivor inspired artwork. Student affairs professionals Craig Bidiman and Katy Hamm started The Art of Survival, a non-profit collective of painters and professionals to spread awareness of stories of sexual violence survivors and the art they inspire. The site is dedicated to creating a safe space through creativity and community. Read all of the shared stories here. Here is my art inspired piece below from my Pecha Kucha talk:
We Believe You
We Believe You is a compilation of students from every type of college and university sharing their stories of trauma, healing and everyday activism. A diversity of student voices are represented in the book and helps to further inform student affairs professionals. Reach out to professionals on campus to get a group together to read and discuss the book or bring it to your student affairs divisional meeting. Purchase the book electronically, participate in a book exchange, or see if professional development funds can cover the cost.
photo from thoughtmatters.co
It seems like new lawsuits and investigations keep popping up in higher education news with both students and professionals. It’s important to stay up to date with news (like reading The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed) to understand how to critically reflect and improve your own institution’s practices. I’ve come to learn that no one knows how to truly handle these situations completely, and that’s okay. As a survivor, I’m not sure I always know exactly what to do in the moment but I remember what I know, what I’ve learned, and my own lived experience. For that reason, it’s important for you to listen to others’ stories, learn about statistics, collaborate with other campuses, and help create an environment that is violence free.
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Over to You
Thanks for reading. We’d love to hear what has been the most helpful to you as a professional in the higher education field. What challenges or obstacles are you experiencing with your staff/students? What is something that you feel all SApro’s should know or be aware of when it comes to sexual violence? Tweet us at @CheckImHere & @MissKris_23!