In a three-night roundtable policy discussion examining and critiquing the University’s approach to sexual assault, about 70 University students joined the conversation held on campuses nationwide. The sessions corresponded with the White House’s National Week of Action to promote the “It’s On Us” campaign — a recently established federal initiative to raise awareness and end sexual assault on college campuses.
Spread over three nights, each discussion engaged different age demographics, targeting underclassmen and upperclassmen for the first and second night, respectively. The third night provided an open forum.
“Students can discuss their individual role as students to help prevent sexual assault on campus,” said LSA senior Jacob Abudaram, an event co-organizer. “But also address some of the places where University policy is in position to address the issue and where the University can be doing better.”
The “It’s On Us” campaign, launched by President Barack Obama in September, reached out to colleges across the country to host events that promote the campaign and conversations about sexual assault prevention and awareness. About 200 campuses across the country are holding events this week to address sexual assault at their respective schools.
Public Policy senior Laurel Ruza was approached through Generation Progress, a D.C.-based organization that works with the White House to inspire social change, to organize the roundtables this week. She said she invited students from different organizations who were passionate about sexual assault awareness to help organize the event, including leaders from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and the Central Student Government.
“It’s very purposefully not affiliated with an organization,” Abudaram said. “A huge issue like sexual assault on campus can’t just be addressed by one organization on campus or one group of people. We want to address the issue as holistically as possible.”
The students at the roundtables hoped to work with the University administration to enact the changes they discussed. Ideas included providing consistent sexual assault education throughout a student’s time at the University, modifying the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy to be more proactive in preventing incidents and improving training for residential advisers and University Police.
“You don’t realize how powerful you are,” said Law student Nikita Mehta. “We are the University of Michigan, and we’re the ones who can make the changes.”
Throughout the week, students were split into small groups to share their thoughts, and facilitator presented the group’s ideas to the rest of the participants.
Many of the discussions focused on the success of first-year programs like Relationship Remix, which teaches students skills related to consent, and the need to host similar classes for students of all ages.
“We need to continue sexual assault prevention education throughout our college careers,” Ruza said “There was an overall consensus that we need to do better on that.”
Students also hoped the University would enact proactive policies to prevent sexual assault on campus, rather than only react when an incident happens.
“A lot of focus is definitely trying to get the University to have a sexual misconduct policy very much geared towards and focused on the survivor,” Abudaram said. “We want to make sure there is more of a focus on providing as many resources as possible to the survivor and making sure that survivors know what those resources are, as well as just making sure that in the end you end up with justice.”