This week on campus, Undergraduate Student Government, the RISE Alliance and the Trojans Respect Consent campaign joined forces to orchestrate USC’s first National Week of Action, a week of events aimed at fighting sexual assault and expressing support for survivors on campus.
A part of the White House-led #ItsOnUs initiative, the National Week of Action is hosted on campuses through the nation. USC’s programs hope to promote the campaign “Trojans Respect Consent,” and help students define consent on a personal scale, as well promote the idea of bystander intervention during cases of assault.
In timely fashion, Rolling Stone magazine’s expose on mishandling of sexual assault cases at the University of Virginia was published early Wednesday, and shared more than 38,000 times before the end of the day. Thousands of stunned readers took to social media to voice their dissatisfaction with university handling of the case described in the article, of a freshman student who was gang raped by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at UVA.
USC is no stranger to flak regarding mishandling of sexual assault cases, and every story written and reported about the 2013 Title IX investigation seems to offer yet another survivor’s story of rape as a student at USC.
Groups such as RISE and the Women’s Student Assembly are working hard to change that, and most importantly, change the mindset of USC’s students and how they regard sexual assaults.
“I’d love to see the culture on campus change, and it all depends on the students,” said sophomore Shyann Murphy, executive director of the Women’s Student Assembly. “I hope campaigns like this make people question things that they haven’t questioned before.”
Programming throughout the week was dedicated to jump-starting conversations about consent, sexual assault reporting and survivor support. Speakers have included representatives from the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center and a healthy relationships expert.
Friday will feature an open house at the Center for Women & Men’s new location in the Engemann Student Health Center, Suite 356. Students can enjoy free food and giveaways, and get to know the current staff from noon to 2 p.m.
Both Murphy and USG Vice President Rini Sampath, however, agree that programs like these often present to students that are actively involved in sexual assault prevention on campus, and overlooked by increasingly busy students.
This issue is also reflected on a national scale: the White House @ItsOnUs Twitter account has just over 700 followers, a tiny fraction of the thousands of students at universities at which it is being implemented. A search of the University of Virginia online media hub ULoop: UVA Classifieds and News yields a single article on the campaign.
Student leaders at USC believe, however, that any steps in the right direction should be reflected as such. Over the summer, the Greek community assembled a Greek task force to address the pressing issue of sexual assaults especially on The Row and have since implemented a certification process for all chapters of the Panhellenic Council and the Interfraternity Council. As a part of this certification, chapters must attend training and show 80 percent attendance in order to avoid sanctions on their next class of new members, according to senior President of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity Joey Backs.
“I think at the very least, it’s better than nothing, and at most it’s one of the most proactive efforts the school has seen in a while,” he said. “If anything, it got a lot of chapters talking about it, which hasn’t happened a lot before.”
Sampath and Murphy both agree that student-led action has been a driving force of change in regards to sexual assault cases at USC over the past few years. Sampath says the formation of the task force shows student commitment to change.
“I’m proud of Greek leaders for acknowledging that it does happen on The Row, that they can have a culture that perpetuates harassment towards women,” she said. “For them to come forward and say we need to re-evaluate the way we see each other and self-impose this training, it’s phenomenal.”
The idea of a culture shift is one that comes up time and time again in conversations about sexual assault on university campuses, where more often than not, students are wholly aware of the incidents of violence taking place around them. In the case of UVA student detailed in the Rolling Stone article, her peers encouraged her to keep quiet, in order to preserve her social standing. The power of peers in many cases is reflected in the initiative of “Trojans Respect Consent” to encourage bystander intervention.
Sampath believes this is one of the ways in which programming can have legitimate and perceptible effect on campus.
“I would say that if there’s anything that we can learn from these stories, it’s that we have a shared responsibility for protecting our students,” Sampath said.
Murphy agreed and included the USC administration in the shared “we” who have a responsibility to student safety.
“It’s a very extremely real problem at USC that a lot more light needs to be shed on it,” Murphy said. “Let’s really look at the way we act, the way we treat each other and the culture on campus.”