Campus initiative combats sexual assault

A new student movement swept campus this fall, bringing with it a flurry of changed Facebook profile pictures and a new campus-wide attitude of responsibility. The “It’s On Us” campaign was introduced this year by the Student Government Association SGA, in partnership with the Sexual Assault Resource Network SARN and the Wellness Center.

The campaign strives to educate the student body and raise awareness in order to create a campus culture that will not tolerate sexual assault and harassment.

The mission of the movement, found on the “It’s On Us” pages on Facebook and Oleville, is to “recognize that non-consensual sexual contact is sexual assault, to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”

The movement is part of a nationwide “It’s On Us” campaign launched by President Obama and Vice President Biden, which has been endorsed by celebrities including Jon Hamm and Kerry Washington and implemented in schools across the country. SGA President Rachel Palermo ’15 and Vice President Nick Stumo- Langer ’15, along with Chair of the Wellness subcommittee Olivia Luther 15, planned to address sexual assault prevention this year, and thus were eager to join forces with the White House. They tailored the national movement to fit the needs of St. Olaf, with the help of SARN and the Wellness Center.

“The value of having so many different groups on the subcommittee means we can bring to light ideas and voices from different parts of the St. Olaf community,” said SARN co-chair Jo Treat ’15. “This is important because sexual assault can happen to anyone, not just one group of people.”

“It’s On Us” in part works to combat rape culture. Rape culture is defined as the normalizing and trivializing of sexual assault. This toxic cultural mindset ranges from victim blaming, in which the survivor of sexual assault is blamed for somehow bringing on or asking for the assault, to seemingly harmless jokes about rape.

The campaign strives to replace this destructive attitude with a culture that fullysupports survivors in the healing process and assumes shared responsibility for preventing sexual assault and harassment.

“If we do not tolerate rape and sexual assault on our campus, we can eliminate rape culture and prevent it from happening altogether,” Treat said.

“Although people may think that sexual assault doesn’t happen at St. Olaf, the reality is that it does happen, which is why we believe it’s on us to step forward and help our peers,” said Palermo. “Our mentality is that one is too many. If our campaign helps prevent even one sexual assault, or if it helps just one person feel comfortable enough to report something or seek resources, we will view our movement as successful.”

“Sexual assault is present in our community,” said Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser. He stressed the need for students to personally intervene in a situation that seems like it may lead to sexual assault or harassment.

“Talk to your friends, think about this issue when you are in situations where you recognize that risk is present and take care of each other,” said Kneser. “Often people expect the police to handle it, the school to handle it, or assume organizations like SARN will handle it.”

Treat agrees about the importance of speaking up.

“When students have an awareness about this issue, that it can and does occur on this campus, they are more likely to step in when they see something happening and come forward if something does happen,” she said.

Students can join the campaign on social media by changing their Facebook profile picture to the “It’s On Us” logo, available through the “It’s On Us- St. Olaf College” Facebook page. There is a pledge available on the website, to express solidarity with the campaign’s goals and commitment to taking responsibility for sexual assault. There will be more ways to get involved throughout the year.

Graphic Courtesy of Carina Lofgren