It’s on us

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - The Its On Us table stand is open to the public on Nov. 10 inside the Kirhof Center.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – The “It’s On Us” table stand is open to the public on Nov. 10 inside the Kirhof Center.

Hannah Lentz

According to the 2011 Campus Climate survey at Grand Valley State University, one in four women and one in ten men reported having been sexually assaulted while at the university in the 12 months prior to the survey. The new Campus Climate survey will be released during the winter 2016 semester, and activists at GVSU are hoping to see a change in these reported statistics.

This week, as part of the National Week of Action, the collaborative work between Eyes Wide Open, the Title IX office and the Women’s Center has launched the “It’s On Us” campaign, encouraging students to pledge to become active bystanders from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12. The goal of the event is to work toward preventing sexual violence on campus, instead of only focusing on what happens when to a victim or victim survivor.

An active bystander is someone who steps in during acts of oppression, sexism or racism. GVSU’s Victim Advocate Ashley Schulte said this is something that can be done in many ways.

“Hopefully, we’ll see a big increase in students not only knowing what the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign is, but actually taking the pledge,” Schulte said. “We want everyone to feel as though they have a big role in addressing gender-based violence on campus and in their lives/communities.”

On a national level, the “It’s On Us” campaign was created by Vice President Joe Biden in response to the fact that in the last 20 years since the Violence Against Women Act has been put in place, statistics have gone in the right direction for every demographic except for the 18-to-24-year-old range, where reports have stayed the same.

“It’s On Us” is only a year old, with this year being only the second Week of Action that the campaign has held since it first began in September 2014.

“Statistics for college-age students do not look good, and this is a very real issue at GVSU,” said Giselle Gomez, a member of the National Student Advisory Committee for “It’s On Us.” “‘It’s On Us’ is about taking a stand finally to those numbers and saying that it’s not right. Things need to change.

“It’s time for everyone to stop turning a blind eye to the problem and start facing it,” Gomez said. “‘It’s On Us’ is about doing just that and agreeing that you will not be a bystander to sexual assault. You will intervene when your gut is telling you something is wrong.”

Since the majority of students at GVSU fall into the 18-to-24-year-old age range, this is an issue that really hits home for the campus community, Gomez said.

For the November Week of Action, organizers are looking to get students to sign a physical sheet of paper, representing a promise between the individual and a personal responsibility to preventing violence.

Organizers of the event have worked to spread awareness through social media, tabling in the Kirkhof Center and through the “Talk Back Tuesday” event put on in the Women’s Center.

Other colleges and universities are doing events like bystander intervention trainings and showing “The Hunting Ground,” both of which GVSU did in October. On Facebook and Twitter, students are also encouraged to change their profile pictures to the “It’s On Us” logo to let others know that they took the pledge.

Eyes Wide Open held a small pledge drive for a few hours one day during the April Week of Action last spring. After the efforts of Eyes Wide Open in April, students who took the pledge were asked to become more involved in the campaign, Gomez said. Those who sign up this year will also be contacted to work toward reducing campus violence.

“We are continuing the lens of bystander intervention in many of our ongoing programs, training and educational presentations,” Schulte said. ‘We’re continuing to share how every single person on campus has the ability to be more than a bystander to gender-based violence.

“It might be something as small as interrupting a sexist joke to having safety plans when going out with friends to supporting a victim/survivor if they’ve chosen to disclose to you an incident of violence.”

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