April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an international, annual campaign to raise awareness about interpersonal, gender-based sexual violence and education on how to prevent it. Colleges and universities around the world, including Lewis & Clark, use SAAM to open up dialogues about consent, supporting survivors and making their communities safer for everyone.
Michelle Callahan, director of the Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) department, has many crucial responsibilities for student wellbeing, including the programming for SAAM at LC.
“I provide education and resources for students, faculty, and staff, on any sort of health-related topic,” Callahan said. “So that can be from body image and eating disorders to substance use and alcohol. Harm reduction strategies, sexual violence prevention, sexual health, stress management, suicide prevention, and all the things that go into what it means to live a little bit healthier, whatever that may mean to you.”
Additionally, Callahan oversees the Confidential Advocate Program. The program offers assistance, support and information in response to sexual or interpersonal violence. Advocates provide non-judgemental support and advise students on their options when it comes to uncomfortable or unsafe situations.
“It would not trigger a Title IX report, so if someone feels like they need help figuring out what systems to go through – whether that is a no-contact order or academic accommodations, do they need to change their room because they’re feeling unsafe?” Callahan said. “An advocate can be there to help, not only to listen to the survivor but the intention is to also empower the survivor as well.”
This year, for SAAM, the HPW department has created events to raise awareness and fuel conversations about consent, sexual violence and support for survivors.
“We have Denim Day coming up, which is an international awareness event,” Callahan said. “At its core, it’s meant to raise awareness around the problem of gender-based violence and sexual assault on college campuses, in our communities, anywhere and everywhere. This year our office has really focused on two main activities,”
Denim Day was created because of an overruled rape case in Italy where the victim was wearing tight jeans and the court decided she must have assisted in removing the jeans, therefore implying her consent. Wearing denim on the last Wednesday of April is to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence and to enforce the fact that clothing does not equal consent.
The second event for SAAM, the Paper Chain Project, is on display on the second floor atrium in Aubrey R. Watzek Library.
“We’ve taken a bunch of different prompts for folks to fill out on what they would love to see in a world without sexual violence,” Callahan said. “What does violence prevention look like to you? How can you support survivors? This is all to show folks that there are different ways they can get involved in sexual violence prevention.”
The Associate Director of Watzek Library and Title IX Deputy Coordinator Elaine Hirsch has worked alongside Callahan to develop the project In addition to the tabling events for this year’s SAAM events, Hirsch highlighted another event back in February which focused on boundaries.
“Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, they hosted a similar table downstairs in support of healthy relationships,” Hirsch said. “They had a number of popular giveaways there, including little studded ‘boundary bears’ with reminders of things you could say if you felt your boundaries were being compromised.”
Hirsch has been working at the library since 1998. Her role as Title IX deputy coordinator means she helps file reports and interacts directly with students to ensure their safety.
“I think there is some misunderstanding about the Title IX process on campus so I want to emphasize that if something is reported to Title IX, it doesn’t mean that the individual is going to be forced to talk to anyone or make any decisions,” Hirsch said.
In years past, LC has hosted events such as bystander intervention workshops in order to educate the community on consent and how to recognize potentially unsafe situations. There are fewer events this year than in years past, but each event has been thought out to best offer students adequate and relevant support.
“Last year, we had a full-time program coordinator on that grant which allowed for there to be more targeted specific efforts,” Callahan said.
In 2018, LC received a grant from The Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), which allowed them to hire Emily Mattson as the violence prevention coordinator for the duration of the grant.
“She was able to use the funds to do things like ‘Consent Conversations’ which were peer-led workshops by consent conversation facilitators,” Callahan said. “All of this is to say that the reason this has all shifted this year is because I have such a large scope of things I can and need to cover with students outside the world of sexual violence prevention.”
Alongside the OVW grant, LC brought in Recognize Violence Change Culture (RVCC), a violence prevention organization working to provide “evidence-based and culturally relevant resources to help programs implement effective strategies for preventing sexual violence in their communities,” according to their website.
RVCC created the posters around campus that promote ideas such as “love with independence” and “consent is more than a yes.” The organization sorted through materials that LC was promoting and worked to make them more inclusive and visually appealing.
Jessica Carron is the Director of Student Rights and responsibilities at LC and oversees the Welfare intervention network on campus, as well as the on-call system for students to access 24/7.
“On a daily basis, I interact with students in three different ways,” Carron said. “One might be through the conduct process for students needing support around a situation where they’ve been harmed.”
In addition to verbal support, Carron assists students in figuring out the right path to deal with their issues, whether going through the Title IX route or helping students reorganize their schedules and housing to minimize their discomfort. Additionally, Carron oversees the on-call system, which is available 24/7 for students living on campus to report any incidents immediately.
Sexual assault awareness and prevention are vital on college campuses and in society at large according to Hirsch. LC offers many forms of support and options for students to take advantage of if an issue arises.
“You are not alone. You are not at fault,” Hirsch said. “There are resources on campus if you want to take advantage of them. A confidential advocate is a great place to start because that person is not keeping a record of anything and they’re aware of the Title IX processes if necessary.”
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