Shedding light on sexual assault

GVL/Mackenzie Bush - Kelsey Fraser performs at Oppression Out Loud Poetry Slam, presented by Eyes Wide Open, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 in Area 51.

Mackenzie Bush

GVL/Mackenzie Bush – Kelsey Fraser performs at Oppression Out Loud Poetry Slam, presented by Eyes Wide Open, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 in Area 51.

Jenna Fracassi

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is right around the corner. Observed during the month of April, the annual campaign is designed to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate on how to prevent it.

In observance of SAAM, various Grand Valley State University campus organizations will be hosting events. Eyes Wide Open, a sexual assault peer education group at GVSU, will be hosting programs to support the cause.

“We are doing Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which we do every single year, and that is part of the longer event of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month on campus,” said Maddie Rhoades, student senate vice president for diversity affairs and treasurer of Eyes Wide Open.

The events will kick off Monday, April 3, with an “It’s on Us” banner signing from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. The purpose of this is to educate students on the importance of being an active bystander. The GVSU chapter of the national “It’s on Us” campaign promotes the message that all Lakers are responsible for stopping sexual misconduct on campus.

Tuesday, April 4, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, there will be a “Q and Eggs” brunch. The event will host different speakers, who will be discussing what the investigation and legal process of a sexual assault incident looks like.

Following last semester’s poetry slam, another will be held Friday, April 7, from noon to 3 p.m. This event is open to everyone, and all attendees are welcome to perform if they feel comfortable doing so.

“It was a platform where people could go up on stage and kind of in a new way express different occurrences of oppression,” Rhoades said. “This one is a little more targeted toward romantic violence and things like that, but obviously anyone who has felt that sort of oppression is more than welcome (to speak).”

Eyes Wide Open will host their “Take Back the Night” program Thursday, April 6. Rhoades described this as the biggest event the organization does every year.

“Usually, one or more speakers come in, and they share their survivor stories, as well as how it has empowered them, and any other connecting issues they may want to touch on,” she said. “There is usually a student on campus who speaks out about what they have also experienced.”

The group starts off at a designated location on the Allendale Campus and then marches silently to the Cook Carillon Tower. On their walk back, they all make noise to “take back the night.”

“Usually, we are carrying signs of statistics and other sorts of informational tools to kind of bring awareness to what happens around the stigma of night,” Rhoades said.

Another campus organization that will be hosting an event for SAAM is ReACT!, a GVSU theatre group designed to help prevent domestic violence and sexual assault on campus. The event will take place Monday, April 10, in the Kirkhof Center Pere Marquette Room from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“Every year, we kind of have a closing event,” said Lindsey Normington, ReACT! troupe member. “That’s what this is going to be, kind of our end-of-the-year wrap up. We’ll do some stuff like talking about consent, victim blaming, how to be an engaged bystander, how to step in and change a situation or influence a situation that comes across as dangerous.”

Normington said they will also talk about the power of language and how different words pertaining to sex and sexual violence mean different things depending on the situation.

“Having events like the awareness month, and specifically coming (to college campuses) to talk about these issues, is also really important because there are a lot of instances where people are just uncomfortable to talk about it in the first place,” she said.

Rhoades stressed the importance of providing college students with information about sexual assault.

“Being able to bring (sexual) awareness and education in college is kind of a pivotal point,” she said. “At that point, you’re free, you’re on your own, able to develop your own ideas. Hopefully, you are able to be enlightened on the issues that are around sexual assault and be able to carry those for the rest of your life.”

Rhoades encouraged everyone on campus to look into the events that will take place during SAAM and to participate in them as well.

“We can’t have an event if no one comes and participates,” she said. “There is no point of an educational aspect if there is no one to educate.”