By Cassandra Balfour, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 3, 2013
One in four women and one in ten men will experience sexual assault during their four years in college.
Armed with these statistics, the support of various University departments and their own personalized networks and talents, four seniors are undertaking a sexual assault awareness campaign called “I Will,” which will be unveiled this Monday at the annual student athlete charity event, Mock Rock.
Their goal is to help educate and empower the community to stop what is characterized as a “silent epidemic” across college campuses.
With guidance and backup from the Sexual Assault Prevent and Awareness Center, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and the Athletic Department, LSA seniors Elisabeth Hindert, Josh Buoy, Seth Klapman and Yonah Liebermam — who is a former Daily columnist — are launching a series of public service announcements at campus events and on the campaign’s website, which also debuts Monday.
They’ll also be facilitating short workshops and targeting student groups to raise awareness. In addition, they’re teaming up with the Athletic Department to design teal-colored Adidas Michigan gear, the symbolic color of sexual assault awareness.
“What we’re trying to do is start a conversation around sexual assault because it’s absent on this campus; it’s absent nationally,” Buoy said. “It’s a taboo topic, and it’s so pressing.”
Citing the viral “It Gets Better” campaign aimed at isolated LGBTQ teens and the pink-hued Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns, the group hopes to adopt similar methods in order to educate the entire campus community about sexual assault. They want to create a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault and allies alike.
Buoy emphasized that the group doesn’t want to point fingers or blame anyone.
“Sexual assault and violence takes so many forms beyond rape, and that’s what we really want to do — we really want to educate — what qualifies as sexual assault, because I think so many people, especially of the male gender, don’t know what it is,” Buoy said. “With this campaign, we’re working with everyone where they are.”
The group of seniors, brought together through chance, a shared goal and, in the case of the three boys, a shared freshman residence hall, are focusing on education and dialogue. As a result of social media campaigns, events and film shorts shot by the student group Filmic, which Buoy heads as a co-creative director, they’re hoping the whole campus will be awash in teal come spring.
Hindert’s ties to the athletic community as a former student athlete who now works for the athletic department helped the group get the involvement of the University’s athletic community. They’re planning to display their sexual assault awareness posters at the Big House, Crisler Arena and Yost Arena with the hopes of tying together sexual assault awareness with some of the University’s most visible students.
“Imagine Tim Hardaway Jr. slam-dunking the basket and he has a teal bracelet on,” Buoy said. “Then you have on the poster his ‘I Will’ statement, so you see how that campus icon is making a commitment to this cause.”
Although the group acknowledges that male student athletes are statistically more likely to commit sexual assault, they emphasized that sexual assault is a college-wide issue and that they’re addressing the whole community and not singling one demographic out.
LSA sophomore Carly Manes, president of Students for Choice, said her organization plans to participate in the “I Will” workshops. She said student groups will craft their own “I Will” statement that will articulate a tangible goal for what the organization is planning to do to stop sexual assault.
“We want to be a part of giving women and men who were sexually assaulted or people who are allies the tools to combat that in their communities and in their own lives,” Manes said.
The group aims to change how students discuss sexual assault. They want to challenge conventional wisdom that teaches women and men not to get sexually assaulted and steer the conversation toward teaching people not to sexually assault others.
“It comes down to the bare minimum of you can’t grab a girls butt,” Hindert said. “Or, what she’s wearing doesn’t define who she is.”
A recent University Police crime alert reported that there have been unconfirmed occurrences of students at off-campus parties having their drinks spiked with drugs. Both Buoy and Hindert said many of their acquaintances blamed the woman for drinking too heavily.
“That’s the prime example of the conversation that we want to remedy, we want people to see that crime alert and say, ‘Yes, that’s an issue,’ not ‘Why would she drink so much?’” Buoy said. “A friend of mine said, ‘Sounds to me girls just shouldn’t be drinking drinks that people hand them,’ and that was a girl who said that. That’s the rape culture that we live in.”
Hindert added that blaming survivors of sexual assault is still common and that it’s that attitude that the “I Will” campaign aims to combat on multiple fronts.
“When people hear those statistics they’re really blown away,” Hindert said. “But we just want to get the point across that those statistics are your roommates, your teammates, your classmates and your friends.”