Discussion on sexual violence prevention hosts Sue Snyder

Courtesy / Valerie Wojo

Courtesy / Valerie Wojo

McKenna Peariso

Sexual assault awareness has become a very common and important topic of discussion at Grand Valley State University, especially in the past several years. Much of this conversation is a result of an increase in campus safety alerts that have notified the community of the numerous sexual assaults occurring on and off campus. To continue this discussion, an event was held Oct. 10 with various campus officials and Michigan First Lady Sue Snyder, who gave their input on preventing campus sexual violence.

“It doesn’t matter if it happened across the street or this street, it’s our students and we need to take care of them,” said GVSU President Thomas J. Haas at the event.

Multiple campus organizations were present at the discussion to provide their viewpoints and obstacles when it comes to preventing sexual violence. One of these organizations was Student Senate, a group who created a sexual assault awareness committee to understand sexual violence prevention from the student’s perspective.

“We have had a sexual assault awareness committee now going on its second and a half year,” said Student Senate President Rachel Jenkin. “It was created in response to a higher number of sexual assault alerts from campus security last year. More than anything else, I think it gave us ideas of what students were aware of and what they weren’t.”

The committee is currently working with local restaurants and liquor stores to provide students with consent flyers off-campus. This project aims to engage students in different settings to spark conversations about consent and sexual assault awareness. Student Senate will also be holding a small gathering with campus officials to identify areas of risk on campus.

“For the first time ever this year we are going to be doing a campus safety/night walk, on November 1 we are going to have a very small selected group of students that represent a number of populations, identities and involvements,” said Jenkin.

The night walk will give students the opportunity to show administrators the parts of campus they feel unsafe walking through at any time. This will assist university officials in noting the areas of concern to potentially increase lighting, GVPD patrolling or any other safety precaution forms in those areas to make students feel safer.

Another group that presented at the sexual violence prevention discussion was the It’s On Us student organization. President Haas has actively participated in campus efforts to end sexual assault violence through teamwork with the It’s On Us campaign. The group sponsored an event in 2017 to have students pledge to intervene in harmful situations, help prevent sexual violence and support their fellow Lakers. The group also offers a variety of resources on their site and continues to host campaigns to promote sexual assault awareness and prevention.

The discussion event gave Snyder the opportunity to see how different groups on campus are working together to prevent sexual violence and support victim survivors. Snyder has been actively canvassing universities across the state about their efforts toward sexual assault prevention, an initiative the First Lady began in 2015.

“Now more than ever, people are talking about sexual assault on campus,” Snyder said. “While we’ve made significant progress, we still have more work to do. Preventing sexual assault and helping survivors sends a message to our young people that they matter. With Grand Valley’s help, I know we can make more supportive and safer environments.”

The First Lady applauded GVSU’s collaboration between different groups and departments to reduce assaults. Moving forward, many of the campus organizations present at the event plan to continue these discussions to remove sexual violence concerns from campus and its surrounding area. Grand Valley currently has a variety of resources for victim survivors and advocates against sexual assault, however Jenkin believes these resources need more promotion to students.

“I would argue that our university has amazing resources, but I think a lot of that isn’t necessarily communicated to everybody,” Jenkin said.

To combat this, Vice President for Inclusion and Equity Jesse Bernal announced at the meeting that the university will soon begin funding a campus initiative. This program would aim to educate students about campus resources while teaching sexual violence prevention advocacy.