The Student Association for Sexual Safety (SASS), the Wellness Resource Center (WRC), and Maria Mendez, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) have collaborated for the month of April to provide programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). “We wanted it to be a cohesive thing that we’re doing with the three partners, and so really what we want is to get more people talking about sexual assault awareness,” said Mendez.
The coalition seeks to bring conversation and awareness of sexual assault through different types of events that are designed for support, education, and empowerment. “SASS’ mission for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a balance between providing education for the community as a whole as well as creating spaces that allow survivors and their allies to be supportive,” said SASS co-chair Abbie Richards. The supportive programming includes events like “Take Back the Night” on April 26 while “Queering Sex Education” on April 10 serves to provide educational resources for all students. Events like “Eroticizing Consent” on April 27 serve to empower individuals and further healthy sexual relationships. “This month can be hard, and it can be draining, and we want also to bring people up,” Richards said. “We want them to feel empowered sexually as well.”
Programming and conversations include discussing and deconstructing the many factors that contribute to or are interwoven in instances of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. “So often there’s a big part of our community that has the privilege of not thinking about sexual assault or not having to engage with issues of sexual assault or intimate partner violence for most of their lives, because they haven’t been affected, or they don’t know anyone that’s been affected, or they just aren’t engaging with the person they know that’s been affected by those issues,” said SASS co-chair Emma Martin.
She continued, “It’s important to recognize that because of the patriarchal, white supremacist society that we live in, sexual assault affects different groups differently and disproportionately. So Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a month to bring the community together to try to gauge what accountability we have within our community to support survivors and to also prevent and tackle the issue of sexual assault and all of the myriad issues that occur—like rape culture on college campuses and racism and white supremacy. [They all] definitely play into sexual assault and the way that sexual assault affects different communities. It’s a month to bring awareness not only to sexual assault but the issues that perpetrate sexual assault as well.”
Efforts include specific student groups partnering with SASS for discussions on how sexual assault affects their specific communities. Senior Spencer Spotts is also leading an event on queering sex education to deconstruct what students think of as sexual education and normalizing other sexualities in sexual assault education.
While discussing the many different manifestations and factors of sexual assault, discussants must practice intentionality with their language. “In all of the conversations that we have, we try to be very inclusive in our language,” said Mendez. “When we’re talking about sexual activity, we do not just talk in a heteronormative way. We know that sexual assault doesn’t just happen in cis, heteronormative instances.”
SASS co-chairs advised students attending SAAM events to be prepared to listen and learn. The events are open to the public and the participants and facilitators assume best intentions. The language used in spaces can seem hard to master when balancing sensitivity with conversation, but Martin said to simply “center the survivor and always listen to their experiences and their needs.” Most of the engagement from allies and students comes from listening and “not privileging your voice in that space,” said Martin.
Richards reminded the student body of the importance of engaging with these conversations. “It’s an issue that everyone is affected by whether or not they know it,” she said. “We all know a survivor, whether or not we know it. I want people to know it’s okay to talk about it, we’re here if they need anything. I want the survivors to know that we stand with them, we believe all of them.”
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a national event that college campuses across the country participate in.
“The conversation is ongoing,” said Mendez. “The goal is that it’s not just this month, that this is the focused month, but the conversation goes on throughout the year.”
Martin emphasized the importance and vulnerability of this month in that ongoing education. “We know it’s a difficult month and during SAAM we are examining the depths of intimacy and sexuality and violence and trauma in our community, and what we consider love,” she said. “It all is wrapped up into the issue of sexual assault and it’s important for everyone to engage as much as they can while taking care of themselves.”