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How to Make Your Campus Friendly to Sexual Assault Survivors

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and activism against sexual violence is in full swing. From Vice President Joe Biden’s recent advisory to American universities about their duty to “promptly and effectively” redress sexual violence to student activists at American University holding sit ins in reaction to their administration’s refusal to apply for a grant to reduce violence against women on campus, there is no shortage of inspiration to make students wonder what they can do to make their campuses safer when it comes to sexual assault.

The Department of Justice did a study in 2000 [PDF] that found one in four college-aged women as victim of rape and attempted rape, which makes it clear that campus sexual violence is at epidemic proportions. This can make addressing campus rape appear to be a daunting task to potential activists. Fortunately, students actually do have a lot of power to initiative change to prevent and adequately address rape on their campuses.

If you are scrambling for guidance on where to start—look no further. The following steps will lead you to creating a safer campus for you and your fellow students in no time.

1. Find other activists who care about sexual violence.

There is strength in numbers. Not only does it show that it isn’t just one individual that cares about rape, but it also allows you to learn how rape affects different students in different ways on your campus. With different points of views and connections to different members of your community at your disposal, you are well on your way to creating a firm foundation for change.  

Try going to your campus women’s center to potentially meet some likeminded students; the staff could connect you with student leaders of groups that would be interested in the cause. Creating  a Facebook page and encouraging your friends and their networks to “like” fighting sexual violence on your campus can be a good way to gauge how many people are willing to get involved.

2. Find your school’s current sexual assault policy.

Student Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), a nonprofit organization that empower students to lead campaigns to fight sexual violence on their campuses, concentrates on the use of campus policy as a tool to create the proper campus environment that is hostile to rape and conducive to survivor healing after assault. Policy can serve as a comprehensive umbrella to cover everything necessary to meet the needs of students. While you are looking for your school’s policy, it is important to keep in mind questions such as: (1) How easy was it to find the policy? (2) How easy is the policy to understand? or (3) Does a policy specifically for sexual assault even exist?

A good place to start is with a simple Google search with your school’s name and “sexual assault” or “sexual misconduct.” If there is nothing on the internet, check the student handbook and/or student disciplinary procedures manual.

3. Identify the changes you want to see in your school’s sexual assault policy.

You may have some trouble with knowing what your school should offer you. Fortunately, SAFER’s Campus Accountability Project holds a database of school sexual assault policies, with a walk-through guide on what to look for in a policy. You can also bring a SAFER representative to your campus for a teach-in where that trainer can help you pinpoint the ideal policy and what you should ask for from the school’s administration. After analyzing your policy, you should be able to list the changes that you think your school needs.

4. Figure out who your university's stakeholders are.

Find out who has the power to make the changes you want to see at your school; the answer may surprise you. For example, your Dean of Student Affairs may be in charge of the disciplinary process, but the President or the Board of Trustees are the true powerholders that have to be engaged. When my friends and I first tried to change the sexual assault policy, the Dean of Student Affairs agreed to a meeting, but during the entire he kept repeating that he cannot do any changes we asked for.  It may take a little bit of digging, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run from wasting time trying to negotiate or meet with administrators who cannot make the change.

Asking staff members, professors, upperclassmen, or student government members can get you on the right track. Was there a recent campaign to change campus policy on another issue? Ask those student leaders with whom they had to meet to make the change. Speaking to a student government member can provide great insight into the process of change on your campus. If this is proving to be difficult, do not be afraid to start near the top; depending on the size of your school, a sit down with the school president can be a great place to start. 

Wagatwe Wanjuki studied International Relations at Tufts University. She currently is the web coordinator for Students Active For Ending Rape and the online marketing intern for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

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