Student organizations work to raise sexual assault awareness

By Annie Giffels | 4/12/18 2:25am

GVL / Emily Frye GVSU students create signs before participating in a "Slut Walk" on campus on Saturday April 7th, 2018.

Sexual assault is a serious and prevalent issue on college campuses across the U.S. Children grow up learning strategies that are meant to protect them from that very threat, such as avoiding walking alone in the dark, never leaving drinks unattended and carrying around a bottle of pepper spray, among other things. 

In 2009, former President Barack Obama declared the month of April Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and at Grand Valley State University, many student organizations are stepping up to the plate, educating fellow students and spreading awareness. 

With the month of April also being the last month of the semester for GVSU students, upcoming final exams tend to be students' first priority and focus. To give students time for their educational pursuits while also providing the opportunity to participate in SAAM, student organizations at GVSU that are dedicated to educating others on this topic decided to emphasize the first week of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Week. 

“We’re hoping that next year we will be able to do more for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, rather than just celebrating a week of it,” said Maddie Vervaeke, a member of It’s on Us as Lakers. 

Along with It's on Us as Lakers, Campus for Consent also held various events during the first week of April. 

Last week, Campus for Consent hosted a keynote speaker, held a round-table discussion on rape culture and had a group discussion over tea to learn the ins and outs of consent. Similarly, It's on Us as Lakers hosted a slam poetry event about sexual assault, tabled in the Kirkhof Center with games like “Fear Pong” and hosted a Slut Walk on campus. Most of these events were LIB 100-approved (though a few were not because of their confidential nature).

On college campuses, educating and spreading awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault is considered by many to be essential in creating an atmosphere of safety and security for community members. For Jessica Goodwin and Madison Brooks, both members of Campus for Consent, seeing improvement on GVSU’s campus in terms of sexual assault is a major accomplishment. 

“Having conversations is the biggest thing that anyone can do,” Goodwin said. 

In a perfect world, Brooks said, this club would not even have to exist, and students would be able to advocate for and take care of each other on their own. 

“You work in the social climate that you’re placed in and make do with what you can,” Brooks said. “Ultimately, the goal is to have everyone know what consent is and how to take care of each other.”

Vervaeke said she is hopeful that sexual assault on campus will be diminished. Though she knows their work is nowhere near finished, Vervaeke remains confident that GVSU is beginning to see necessary changes. 

“The climate on campus has definitely changed slightly,” Vervaeke said. “It’s sparked a conversation.”

Though it will take more than a conversation to change an issue so deeply rooted in society, both campus organizations are feeling positive, and the resources GVSU offers and the student participation in their events are encouraging.

“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish and all the things that I’ve been doing," Brooks said. 

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