Need Help Channeling Student Activism? – Ten Strategies for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The arrival of April also brings the arrival of Sexual Assault Awareness Month – a time in which many colleges and universities ramp up their prevention efforts with a vast array of programs geared towards this important issue. Students are often on the front lines of organizing events, generating dialogue, and demonstrating a personal commitment to raising awareness. While student involvement can be an incredible driving force around this issue, it’s important that campus administrators work collaboratively to guide and support their efforts. Here are ten tips to help you make the most of this collaboration.

1. Connect with Student Leaders

Reach out to activists, opinion leaders, and other influential students on campus. Determine who is engaged with different activities and events, and what their efforts entail. As necessary, introduce student leaders to one another to help them maximize their outcomes. Also consider sharing your aspirations regarding ending violence on your campus, engaging students as allies in your continued efforts throughout the year.

2. Support Student Leaders and Event Organizers

Play a hand in organizing events. Provide ways for students to partner with your office, share resources, and promote services. Consider hosting, sponsoring, or contributing to events—students will appreciate it. In turn, demonstrate your appreciation of student efforts. Positive recognition goes a long way!

3. Educate Student Leaders and Support Event Learning Outcomes

Train students on strategies for hosting a successful event, and best practices for prevention. Support students in considering educational outcomes and key messages for events that go beyond simply raising awareness. Enlist students to create materials to support intended outcomes.

4. Contribute (and Gather) Information

Offer talking points and statistics for students to utilize. Think about the messages that you want all students to be receiving, and share them with those students who will be helping with programs. Ensure that students know of available resources, are equipped with strategies for supporting survivors or overcoming resistance, and have a general understanding of university-wide efforts currently in place (or in the works). Create a feedback loop to incorporate new ideas and improve future efforts – this can be a fantastic learning process for students and professionals alike.

5. Focus on the Positives and Correct Misperceptions

Encourage framing messages around positive norms, emphasizing the promotion of healthy behaviors rather than focusing solely on preventing unhealthy ones. Misperceptions of social norms often exist among students, with a tendency to overestimate negative attitudes and behaviors of peers while underestimating the positive. Show students that they are part of a healthy majority on campus, and empower them to create the safe campus community they want to live and learn in.

6. Build Bridges and Connect the Dots

Demonstrate how events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month fit into the bigger picture of campus prevention. Find ways to connect these events with other prevention work happening on campus. You’ll likely have a captive audience – use it to generate momentum towards ongoing events throughout the year. This is also a great time to encourage other stakeholders to get involved.  Collaboration is key!

7. Be Present

Attend events being hosted by student groups. Bring materials and maintain visibility for your office at these events. Simply being there is an important demonstration of your accessibility, commitment, and support.

8. Be Mindful of Media

This is often a time during which media attention to the topic of sexual assault is heightened. Schools may be eager to showcase their efforts through student, local, or even national news, and this can be a great way of increasing awareness on a larger scale. That said, it is important to be respectful of survivors and their wishes. Events like “Take Back The Night” can be a profound experience for those who participate, and as such it is crucial that participants are informed if media will be present. If a media outlet has expressed an interest, connect with them beforehand to establish expectations and boundaries, inform students if there are events where media will be present, and consider writing an official statement that you can share to accurately convey your efforts.

9. Provide Follow-Up and Ongoing Support

Be aware that this can be a challenging and emotionally charged issue for students to take on, particularly if they have a personal connection to sexual assault. Provide opportunities for students to discuss their thoughts about the events, especially if efforts failed to meet their expectations. Validate any feelings that may arise from their involvement in programming, and remind them of available resources on campus should they need them.

10. Show Gratitude

Students quite often have a great deal on their plates. As such, when they volunteer their time and energy to raise awareness about this issue, they are likely doing so because of a true connection to it. Remind them that their involvement is valued and meaningful.  A hand-written thank you note, a follow-up email, or an end-of-month celebration for volunteers are all small gestures than can be incredibly meaningful.