MSA candidates discuss strategies for sexual assault prevention

Every slate would like to promote the It’s On Us campaign but differ in other ways on how to further educate students and address this problem.
The slates for the 2015 Missouri Students Association presidential race pose for a portrait. Courtesy of the MSA Slates

Sexual assault has always been an important topic on college campuses.

In the MU Campus Climate Survey created by the Title IX Office, 332 incidents were reported in the past year alone. As reported by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, over 90 percent of assaults go unreported on college campuses.

The Association of American Universities also found in their campus climate survey that an average of 23 percent of women have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact.

The slates all agree that MSA should continue the national It’s On Us campaign. But in the ways they promote other ways of education, each slate has devised their own plan to tackle this issue.

Haden Gomez//Chris Hanner

Haden Gomez and Chris Hanner have emphasized that they developed the plans on their platform to combat sexual assault in close coordination with existing organizations, such as the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, the Title IX Office and the Wellness Resource Center.

“I have sat down with all the major players about how this would take place and be implemented on campus,” Gomez said. “So I know that I’m not just coming up with ideas of what could happen. I know these are tangible ideas that other campus leaders and administrators are on board with.”

Gomez and Hanner do not plan to create new campaigns to address campus sexual assault, but want to promote existing efforts. Gomez said they hope to partner with the It’s On Us initiative to create awareness of the issue. They hope to go about this by encouraging more students to sign the petition and bring high-profile speakers to the university.

“It’s really a lot to do with marketing — it’s important that we’re marketing it correctly and engaging as many students as possible,” Hanner said.

They also hope to coordinate with the athletic department and to encourage Greek chapters to sign on to coordinate with the Title IX Office.

“I’m an active member of the Delta Chi fraternity, and I know I’ve had two major sessions where both RSVP and Title IX come in and talk at the same time,” Gomez said. “We got this awesome informational overview of what the process entails, what it looks like on campus and who we can actually go to to get this information.”

They also plan to make certain that all MSA auxiliary staff, senators and executives are trained by the RSVP Center’s Green Dot program. Hanner said that this has been attempted in the past, but not all MSA members were properly certified.

“How it happened last year was we had one big session for most MSA members, but we’d like to get a little bit more specific than that, because what happened with that big event was there were so many people who couldn’t make it,” Hanner said. “The message didn’t get as far as it could.”

Gomez said another important part of their plan was alcohol abuse education. They said they’ve consulted with the Wellness Resource Center about providing more awareness of the role alcohol often plays in sexual violence.

“There’s so much that can be done, at least in the area of starting that conversation, and starting that dialogue with students of what does appropriate alcohol use look like,” Gomez said. “We can’t start a campaign to eliminate alcohol use on this campus, but how can we go about making sure that we are promoting the mature management of alcohol?”

Gomez and Hanner also hope to work with Summer Welcome to make sure students are educated about sexual assault before they reach campus. They hope to specifically educate students about the Not Anymore training, and to educate leaders so they can answer any questions students have.

“If we’re able to start addressing this issue before students even get on campus, such as during Summer Welcome, then we’re already ahead of the game,” Hanner said.

Gomez, who was a subject of a Title IX violation last February, said he and Hanner wanted to emphasize that their platform was designed to help victims of sexual assault.

“Everything we have (in our platform) for combatting sexual assault is 100 percent pro-victim,” Gomez said. “Everything we’re doing really centers on making sure that the process victims have to go through is easier and more accessible to students.”

Syed Ejaz//Heather Parrie

Syed Ejaz and Heather Parrie said they plan to mandate Green Dot Training in residence halls and for incoming students, in addition to expanding the relationship with the national It’s On Us campaign and the Greek community.

“We have the resources to make such a huge shift in the normative culture,” Ejaz said. “That is what needs to be done to successfully address the issue, which is why optimizing all of this is our main approach.”

Ejaz said their vision is that mandatory Green Dot training would occur in residence halls, and it would be facilitated by the student staff in order to ensure interaction between peers. He said he would like training to occur at the beginning of the year to establish standards from the start.

Parrie said they also plan to work within Pi Chi and Rho Gamma groups as well as new membership education.

“I think the biggest way to make change is instead of trying to fix problems that are already happening, is to address them before they even start,” Parrie said.

Ejaz said they are looking to bring together the MSA and Greek community because he hasn’t seen much partnership between the leaders of the two organizations in the past.

As a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma, Parrie said she thinks the new fraternity regulation that bans hard liquor is an incredible decision and that she saw a different type of syllabus week experience compared to last year. However, that is not the only way to combat rape culture on campus.

“It is not just a Greek problem,” Parrie said. “It is not just an alcohol problem. Those are two things that are easy to target, but making the assumption that women are easy to target because of alcohol completely erases the other experiences with sexual assault on this campus. A lot of times it occurs without alcohol or a Greek person present.”

Ejaz said they plan to continue promoting the It’s On Us campaign and pairing it with Green Dot training. To promote it, he said they will use a balance of a media campaign, policy and student leaders taking a stance.

“Those values in It’s On Us are something we embody and believe in very dearly, so setting that standard for all leaders on campus that we are not just doing a hashtag for the sake of doing a hashtag, but that we are actually implementing these ideals into our communities,” Parrie said.

Parrie said that there is no need for the creation of new organizations and initiatives because combating such a serious issue requires a cultural shift.

“Not everything is always 100 percent addressed with policy,” Ejaz said. “It takes sociocultural leadership, which is something MSA provides and that is something that MSA should be inspiring within people.”

However, Parrie said they need to use the resources existing organizations provide, with the power they have, to ensure students are receiving necessary support.

“The important thing is not optimizing what MSA in its budget can do but making sure that the administration is optimizing the resources that are here on campus,” Ejaz said. “It is really a joint effort not just of student governments and student organizations, but it is the entire community and that includes administration.”

Parrie said that upon entering MU, many students have questions internalized from society such as “what is consent and what isn’t consent?” and that needs to be addressed by their peers, not by a document or a video.

“Facilitating, empowering and inspiring people to have an honest discussion about these things is the absolute key,” Ejaz said. “That is the goal that needs to be reached.”

Jordan McFarland//Jonathan Segers

When it comes to the issue of sexual assault on campus, Jordan McFarland and Jonathan Segers are ready to fight. A large portion of their platform is devoted to helping prevent sexual violence and raise awareness of its seriousness.

“There are 90 reasons why we have to do so much more than what we’re already doing,” McFarland said, referring to the statistic that 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “We can’t be afraid to do something that’s uncomfortable. We can’t be afraid to do something that’s unconventional.”

The candidates view sexual assault on campus as a cultural problem, rather than an individual issue. Their platform focuses on the importance of destigmatizing the aftereffects of sexual violence. Students need a safe environment where they can seek help without shame and can feel comfortable talking about their experience.

Segers is a survivor of sexual assault during his time at Howard University. He speaks out about this in hopes that other students will feel motivated to do the same.

His experience as a survivor, as well as the many ways in which a university setting compartmentalizes survivors, is what drives his and McFarland’s passion for preventing sexual violence.

One of the greatest issues McFarland and Segers see at MU is the lack of knowledge students have when it comes to sexual assault. There are many resources available on campus, but a majority of people don’t know where to look.

“It’s dangerous when you have people that choose not to know or ignore that it exists,” Segers said.

As a part of their campaign, they would like to increase awareness of sexual violence through the creation of an infographic, sent out on Twitter and other forms of social media. The infographic will include five quick facts about resources available at MU.

They would also like to continue the It’s On Us campaign.

Another large portion of their platform focuses on the formation of a Greek Liaison Office, which would be yet another way to handle sexual violence issues. Fraternities are already trying to cut back on the number of sexual assault incidents by banning hard alcohol from their parties.

They are aware that this will not entirely fix the problem, but want it to spur the conversation.

“Putting one foot down and saying, ‘We can do at least this much,’ that’s a mighty powerful step,” McFarland said. “You’re not just going to flip a switch with sexual assault, because it is a cultural problem and it’s going to take relative growth over time.”

McFarland and Segers would like to see all student leaders take the time to get trained in sexual assault prevention through one of the several organizations on campus. It is the responsibility of the student body leaders to find that time.

“If we can’t find six hours in a year, than how important is this issue really to us?” McFarland said.

Sexual assault is an issue that affects everyone, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The candidates said it is up to the campus as a whole to make a difference.

“We have to do it all together on the basis of humanity,” McFarland said. “It’s in the perception. It’s in the stigma. We have to have conversations. We have to take responsibility.”

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