Gov. Snyder hosts statewide conference on campus sexual assault

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Student Senate President Ella Fitzemeier speaks at the Holton-Hooker Learning and Living Center dedication on Friday, August 26, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Student Senate President Ella Fitzemeier speaks at the Holton-Hooker Learning and Living Center dedication on Friday, August 26, 2016.

Hannah Lentz

Focusing on breaking the stigma surrounding sexual assault, first lady Sue Snyder and Gov. Rick Snyder hosted the second annual conference on campus sexual assault Wednesday, Sept. 28 at the University of Michigan. Inviting leaders from universities across the state, the conference looked to bring student leaders, administrators and community members together to brainstorm preventative and educational measures around sexual violence.

Grand Valley State University student senate President Ella Fritzemeier attended the event as well as GVSU police department Captain Brandon DeHaan, who currently serves at GVSU’s Clery compliance officer.

“Sex is seen as a taboo topic and sexual assault is too, but this is something we have to talk about because it’s something that is hurting all of our campuses,” Fritzemeier said.

Though the main focus of the event was on preventative measures for sexual assault across the nation, it also featured smaller, specified sessions that looked at educational methods between departments at a university. One of these sessions was a panel discussion including athletic directors and coaches from the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Eastern Michigan as well as several high school coaches.

The panel talked about promoting a “top-down” approach to sexual assault education, especially within the athletic department, Fritzemeier said.

“When someone tells you that they are a college athlete, you hold them to a higher profile,” Fritzemeier said. “Athletics is an audience we haven’t really focused on yet and I would love to start incorporating work with them into our efforts to prevent assault, whether that’s in video form or just an advocate’s presence on campus.”

Currently, a group of student senators at GVSU are working on creating a campaign to present to athletics that is modeled after the strong involvement of GVSU administrators and student leaders, Fritzemeier said.

“We have done a pretty good job at having people like President (Thomas) Haas and Jesse Bernal present at things like town hall meetings,” Fritzemeier said. “Our campus leaders really care about making this university the best it can be.”

Another topic of concern was the involvement of men in cases of sexual assault advocacy.

“When you looked around at the conference, you noticed immediately that the audience was predominately female,” Fritzmeier said. “I would love to see more men involved in preventative measures.”

This plan is something GVSU’s student senate has already set into motion and is also a focus for the GVSU police department.

“This is more than just an issue for females, it’s a man’s issue as well,” DeHaan said. “We have to focus on changing the conversation.”

Though DeHaan stressed sexual violence is not only something that women experience, he also pointed out that women are more likely to experience sexual assault by a male than vice versa. Additionally, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, women aged 18 to 24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely.

One way Fritzemeier has considered combatting violent behavior on college campuses is through the education of high school students on the realities and definitions of sexual assault.

“Education about this topic needs to start occurring in high school to help with the rape culture on college campuses,” Fritzemeier said. “This is something that should be talked about more and it shouldn’t only be about safety, it should be about sexual assault and what is right and what is wrong.”