By Kari Plog '11
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, WASH. (Nov. 15, 2016)- Pacific Lutheran University is now an official partner of the It’s On Us campaign — one of 28 new Campus Innovation Partner Schools across the country — taking its mission of sexual assault awareness to the next level.
By becoming a partner, PLU is formally committed to the three pillars of the It’s On Us campaign — support for survivors of sexual violence, bystander intervention and consent education.
For Theo Hofrenning ’17, a senator within student government, any shred of progress validates the partnership. “If it changes one scenario,” he said, “then it’s worth it.”
“The biggest thing for me is that there are leadership opportunities for students,” Hofrenning said. It provides student-led solutions and the ability to network and combine forces with other universities. He said student-led solutions are most effective when dealing with sexual assault awareness.
Higashiyama, a sexual assault survivor and vocal advocate for fellow survivors, agreed. She said PLU already has systems in place at the administrative level for raising awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence. But a grassroots approach to the problem will go a long way.
She added that PLU has already had a lot of success with past advocacy events, and joining forces with It’s On Us will only increase resources to garner more success. To her, success means promoting discussion and erasing the stigma that surrounds sexual assault.
“My biggest hope is that students realize what a golden opportunity this is,” she said of the partnership.
ASPLU approved a bill that authorized $5,000 in funding for the official partner status with It’s On Us. While PLU already has taken the campaign’s pledge and worked to raise awareness, becoming an official partner will open up new opportunities.
In addition to improved educational resources, PLU will receive critical evaluation of its current awareness and prevention policies and programs, said Tolu Taiwo, outreach and prevention coordinator for the Center for Gender Equity.
“They’re really good at asking what we need,” Taiwo said of It’s On Us representatives. “We get to be a part of a program that assesses our resources.”
It’s On Us will also provide networking opportunities, she said, to reach out to other partner institutions and collaborate on best practices.
“When we’re talking about ending sexual assault,” Taiwo said, “it’s important to have a lot of tools in our belt.”
Defining and teaching consent is at the center of the It’s On Us campaign. Taiwo said to offer consent means to engage in sexual activity only with the presence of an “active and enthusiastic ‘yes.’” That includes paying attention to nonverbal cues, she added.
Taiwo said sexual assault — sexual activity void of consent — happens everywhere, even within PLU’s community that is often regarded as safe and respectful.
Last year, PLU addressed a dozen alleged Title IX violations, and the Center for Gender Equity offered support and resources to 36 students throughout the academic year. Taiwo said those figures align proportionately with the national average.
She said it’s important to share those statistics to help people understand the problem is still there and needs to be addressed, especially for the sake of those who experience sexual assault. “It’s good for victims and survivors to feel heard,” Taiwo said.
Acknowledging the problem and encouraging discussions about consent are two important steps to reducing sexual assault on college campuses and beyond, Taiwo said.
She said it is especially vital to have these conversations in light of rape-culture rhetoric that circulated during the presidential election. President-elect Donald Trump defended his remarks about sexual assault of women as “locker room talk,” while his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton was accused of past victim blaming in relation to accusations against her husband.
Taiwo said dismissive remarks veiling sexual assault as “boys being boys” has a negative effect on sexual assault victims and survivors, and also wrongly takes the responsibility off of men.
“It makes (sexual assault) sound harmless,” she said. “And it makes it sound normal for men.”
That’s a big reason why Higashiyama, Hofrenning and others within ASPLU are working to involve students — to incite culture-driven change from the source.
“It’s a student problem,” Higashiyama said. “It’s another thing for students themselves to take the lead on active bystander awareness.”
IT’S ON LUTES: Before becoming an official partner of the It’s On Us campaign, members of the PLU community were already taking the pledge. See the collection of 300-plus Lutes who turned out to make the commitment.