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Western Spreads Hope During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Various outfits hanging on gallery wall

According to the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and one out of every six American women have been a victim of sexual assault. On college campuses, the DOJ found that women are three times more at risk of being assaulted, and the Association of American Universities found that 13% of all college students are sexual assault survivors. This issue is not one that Western Colorado University takes lightly.

Making the Campus Safe

To combat these tragic statistics, Western takes steps to help prevent and address sexual assault on campus. Title IX and Student Conduct Coordinator, Shelby Schuppe, is dedicated to the safety of the student body.

“Western has a lot of policies in place to address assault and harassment, but we also have a lot of people who want to go above and beyond to make sure our campus is safe,” said Schuppe.

Along with her work as student conduct coordinator, Schuppe is the staff advisor for Western’s Sexual Violence Student Advisory Committee. The goal of this group is to implement strategies to prevent sexual assault as well as hold events to spread awareness. Having a student advisory committee at Western allows the student body to have a voice in addressing this issue that heavily affects them. While the committee works year-round, they’re exceptionally busy during the month of April, sexual assault awareness month.

Reaching a Wider Audience

Schuppe said that while awareness building needs to happen all year, having the month of April dedicated to this issue gives the committee a chance to push awareness and reach a wider audience. The team uses the month to hold events that both raise awareness and discuss prevention strategies. These events include a self-defense class, sex trivia night, and what Schuppe calls the “highlight” of the month, the “SLUT Walk.”

The campus SLUT Walk is an event where students and community members come dressed however, they want—whether considered provocative or not—and walk around campus as a group. The walk takes place just as the sun is setting to symbolize the time of day that people start to feel “uncertain” about walking alone. Being in the group is to allow participants to experience that time together and know they’re not alone. The point, according to Schuppe, is to allow the community to present themselves however they want and feel safe doing so.

“The event is really aimed at breaking down those barriers and expectations that you have to dress a certain way or look a certain way to make sure that you don’t get assaulted or harassed,” said Schuppe.

“What Were You Wearing?”

Continuing with that theme, two students on the Sexual Violence Student Advisory committee, Jessica Garrison and Kathryn Kellogg, decided to use the month to conduct an art project entitled, “What were you wearing?” The project allowed survivors to anonymously submit a written piece, artwork, or item of clothing that represents what they were wearing at the time of an assault or harassment.

After students sent in their submissions, Garrison and Kellogg hung the works and articles of clothing on the walls of the library to display the discrepancies in the idea that what a person was wearing has anything to do with their being assaulted.

“The idea that a person’s clothing can be used as an excuse to assault them is wrong,” said Garrison. “A survivor can be wearing anything and be assaulted. There is never a good reason or excuse to assault someone, period.”

Supporting Survivors

While Western will continue to take all the necessary steps to prevent assault and harassment, it is also the goal of the university and Schuppe specifically, to provide resources to those who have experienced such events.

“The unfortunate part is that this is something that happens to a lot of people, but is also means there are resources out there and people out there that survivors can go and talk to. Getting some kind of support is so important,” said Schuppe. “The biggest thing is that you’re not alone.”

Learn more about Western’s Title IX/Sexual Harassment and Discrimination policies.

 

 

Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Kathryn Kellogg

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