MSA slates address sexual assault
All three slates expressed a need to use campus resources more effectively when dealing with sexual assaults
Oct. 21, 2014
This year’s Missouri Students Association presidential election will place a main focus on the issue of sexual assault on MU’s campus. The three MSA presidential slates responded accordingly to this issue by including sexual assault prevention in their plans for office.
Juniors Myles Artis and Mary Cate O’Brien have planned a new program called PROWHL, Patrolling the Risk of Walking Home Late, and will promote Tiger Line, the free shuttle bus service, to battle sexual assault.
PROWHL would work in conjunction with STRIPES. The program would station groups of students at designated locations around campus to patrol the area.
Students would be trained in sexual assault awareness and alcohol safety similar to the Green Dot program. They would be connected across campus to each other through phones or walkie-talkies. Artis and O’Brien also hope to get the locations of the students on the GoMizzou app.
Training would focus on removing the gender barrier because sexual assault affects people of all genders, O’Brien said.
They hope to work with the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, the Wellness Center, the Women’s Center and the LGBTQ Resource Center to make sure that all students feel safe, Artis said.
“The police can’t be everywhere, but if having designated groups of students across campus will give people that piece of mind so they don’t have to be in fear when they’re walking home,” O’Brien said.
Artis and O’Brien hope their PROWHL program will make potential assaulters less likely to attack by having more visibility on the ground.
Artis and O’Brien said they also plan to promote Tiger Line, the free shuttle service that runs seven days a week until 1:30 a.m.
Artis and O’Brien want to work with the city, who owns the buses, to create advertisements or better signage to make students more aware of this program.
“We want to get the message out there by conveying to them the importance of the service and why it would benefit them in the long run,” Artis said.
Artis and O’Brien said they have received positive responses from administrators and students.
“A college campus should be a safe haven for student and shouldn’t be a place where students walk home at night in fear,” O’Brien said. “This is a place where students are able to achieve their academic best and for this cloud to be hanging over students is ridiculous. “
Artis said if he is elected, he is ready to put his plan into action immediately.
“We have a concrete plan of action to go forward, and we’re ready to go forward with this very aggressively,” Artis said.
Through their campaign, Artis and O’Brien would like to give people who are affected by this issue representation and unify the campus.
“We want to give a voice to those people and give them a chance to fight back,” O’Brien said. “If they have to walk with this burden everyday, then we should be able to take the time out of our day to prevent that from happening to anyone else.”
MSA Presidential candidate Payton Head and running mate Brenda Smith-Lezama said they will make sexual assault one of the main issues of in their campaign, Ignite Mizzou.
Both Head and Smith-Lezama have seen the effects of sexual violence firsthand and are determined to make a change at MU for the better.
Head and Smith-Lezama said they have put together a game plan of how to start approaching it. Head said the first thing that needs to be done is to inform students of available resources.
Their first step in doing so is working to expand prospective student tours through the lower level of the MU Student Center, where organizations such as the Women’s Center and the RSVP Center are located, and highlighting the RSVP Center at the Summer Welcome Activities Fair.
“Having tours go through the lower level of the Student Center is what we have gotten the best response from after talking to students, faculty and RSVP educators,” Smith-Lezama said. “Everyone supported and rallied around that idea, and we’re really happy to have that kind of response from people.”
Smith-Lezama said the resources available to students aren’t being publicized enough; but even if they are, the stigma associated with using resources needs to be removed.
“The problem isn’t always not knowing the resources available; the problem is often the stigma and discomfort associated with seeking help," Smith-Lezama said. “What we want to do is help create a more inviting and comfortable environment for those who need to come forward and seek help.”
Looking to the future, one of Head and Smith-Lezama’s ideas is to have all freshmen go through Green Dot training and see if it affects the comfort level of students approaching the RSVP Center.
“The RSVP Center is there for a reason,” Head said. “It should not be the last place people go. They have a variety of resources from the STARS support group, legal and mental health advocacy, and resources and tools for prevention. It’s finally time to say enough is enough.”
Overall, Head and Smith-Lezama want people to be proactive about stopping sexual assault and be informed of what they can do to prevent an assault.
Head said that it hurts to see Clery Releases, but at the same time, people need to report these crimes so that proper action can be taken.
“We’re doing our best to figure out what can be done, and we’re doing what we can to change the trend of sexual assault,” Head said.
MSA Presidential Candidate Jordan McFarland feels reversing the culture of blaming the victim is key to discussions about curbing sexual assault.
“Rape is present and continues to grow,” McFarland said. “While the education to prevent these incidents is in place, the action to reverse the victim blaming mentality is underwhelming. Enough is Enough is a great launching point, but it’s just that: a launching point.”
He views the low rate of reporting assaults as a product of blaming the victim.
“You have to be committed to affording victims every possible outlet,” McFarland said. “Unfortunately, we have a culture today in which a victim does not feel 100 percent comfortable reporting sexual assault. And due to that, bystanders also do not feel comfortable reporting.”
McFarland said the problem is not that victims don’t report sexual assaults but rather feel they shouldn’t.
“We have to stop looking at sexual assault as a singular issue,” he said. “It’s a part of an overarching issue that involves mental health and domestic violence, as well. When you look at it that way, you don’t see a problem. You don’t see an incident. You see a culture.”
Increasing the rate of victims that report abuses is an important step forward, McFarland said, citing the statistic that for every one reported sexual assault 90 others have occurred.
“Instead of shrouding the one out of 90 which comes forward in doubt, we need to put every resource we have behind that one,” he said. “So, maybe next time it’ll be two and then three, and then, hopefully, eventually 89 out of that 90 will be reporting. The campaign to end this can’t be a day or a week or a handful of events. It should be never-ending.”
While McFarland wouldn’t go as far as to say campus is dangerous, he said there is room for improvement. He identifies installing more emergency posts around campus and getting Residential Life to educate residents about safety throughout the year as two specific examples.
“The commitment to safety should paramount everything else,” he said. “You should be able to feel at home at MU. We have vital resources like STRIPES, RSVP, the Women’s Center and the MU Counseling Center. There are so many things which we can do, yet you see we’re sorrowfully behind. And we have to recognize that.”
McFarland and running mate T.J. Hinch say they will focus on changing the culture and environment surrounding sexual assault to ensure students get the support they need.
“Students here are paying $36,000 a year, yet do not have the structures in place around them to be able to go and report some barbaric incident which happens to them,” McFarland said. “The victim is the one we need to stand up for. They changed their entire experience here at Mizzou because of one incident. Why can’t we change for them?”
Lasting change, McFarland said, comes from the public and not from government.
“The job of student government is to control the things you can control,” McFarland said. “Student government isn’t going to find a solution to anything. The students do that, and the cultural body does that. What you have to do as student government is foster that movement toward that solution.”