‘It’s on Us’ campaign focuses on getting men to advocate against sexual violence

Shae Slaughter

Sexual assault is often thought of as strictly a women’s issue, but Grand Valley State University’s Women’s Center is partnering with President Barack Obama’s “It’s On Us” campaign to combat this very mindset. The Women’s Center’s champions of change kickoff event Friday, Oct. 7 started a brand new initiative targeted specifically toward men to help prevent sexual violence.

The Women’s Center was excited to have an event focused on men because it gave them a unique opportunity to focus in on topics that are sometime forgotten when it comes to the discussion of sexual violence.

“Just allowing them (men) to be a part of the conversation, I feel like it’s really important in bridging the gap,” said Betsie Schoedel, Violence Against Women Act graduate assistant.

At the event, a variety of speakers and mixed media worked to show the importance of men in raising awareness, preventing violence and speaking up when it comes to issues regarding sexual consent or assault.

“We’re hitting in a lot of areas because we have complex problems so we need complex solutions,” said Ashley Schulte, leader of the event and Violence Against Women Act grant coordinator and victim advocate.

The presentation stressed that men have a lot of power in these situations and should utilize that power positively.

As one of the guest speakers at the kickoff event, GVSU President Thomas Haas shared a couple of his own personal experiences dealing with sexual assault and how it affected not only him, but others in his life. He stressed that an abuse of power by men was the driving force behind every one of those instances.

“Power in the right way, with champions, can really make a difference,” he said.

Vice President for Inclusion and Equity Jesse Bernal was also was able to recount his own negative experiences with assault and violence, pairing with Haas’ stories to help encourage the men in attendance to acknowledge the need for change and their ability to help enact it.

“I encourage you all to think about how this work relates to your own experiences,” Bernal said. “We will do all that we can to make sure our community is educated. It requires all of us.”

The event honed in on these ideas even further with a TED Talk featuring Jackson Katz, an anti-sexist activist.

“How can we change the socialization of boys and the definitions of manhood that lead to these current outcomes?” Katz said in the TED Talk. “These are the kinds of questions that we need to be asking and the kind of work we need to be doing.”

GVSU’s ReACT! peer theater education group also performed at the kickoff to show those who attended different examples of what is and is not considered consent in a more visual way. Through ReACT!’s skits, the audience was able to see that men can hold power in a variety of different ways they may not have noticed before. For example, the group showed that relationships still require consent and that nothing means “yes,” except a verbal, informed “yes.”

At the conclusion of the event, Schulte then asked participants to look into signing up to become leaders in the “It’s On Us” campaign. With one year of learning the ropes, they would be able to help lead and the organization is always looking for more male voices for these issues.

One of the attendees, Mitchell Perkins, a member of the executive board at Sigma Phi Delta attended the event to help voice his own thoughts.

“It’s a way of getting your point across,” he said.

GVSU’s “It’s On Us” campaign has more events scheduled throughout the year, including bystander intervention training Tuesday, Oct. 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center Grand River Room.

For more information, visit www.gvsu.edu/itsonus.