For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we knew we wanted to be as visible as possible on campus – so we chose to hold one event a week throughout April.
We began with a panel and Q&A on sexual assault, held in the central atrium of our Student Union Building so anyone walking by on two floors could stop and listen to the conversation we were having. Our panelists were experts from the UNM Women’s Resource Center and our local Rape Crisis Center and Planned Parenthood office. The next week we set up the Clothesline Project outdoors, at the duck pond on our campus.
Students were very receptive to the visual representation of sexual assault, and many survivors and allies used their voices by making shirts on site. One of our members also pulled in passersby with some simple games: a shell game variant to illustrate the “1 in 5” statistic, and a reflex game to show what consent really means.
The third week we held a Bystander Intervention Training to review the difference between passive and active bystanders, and how stepping in can potentially save someone from a horrific experience. This training also went over relevant statistics and cultural context — including how drinking plays into the conversation and how gender norms often perpetuate violence — and what people of all genders and sexual identities can do together to stop sexual assault.
Our last event was the Handprint Project, another visual representation that we set up outside our school’s main library, one of the most high-traffic areas on campus. In addition to tracing students’ handprints as a personal pledge to be an active bystander, we started a “Start by Believing” photo campaign.
In light of a very recent and high profile sexual assault case at our school, we adopted Start by Believing (originated by End Violence Against Women International) to inspire students to listen to and believe victims of sexual assault, rather than placing blame on them. Both the undergraduate and graduate student governments have also passed a resolution, authored by two of our members, calling on UNM’s Board of Regents to declare UNM a Start by Believing Campus.
Although SAAM is over, we’ve decided to stay active until the end of the semester — as noted in prominent coverage from both our campus paper and a local TV station — encouraging students to join our photo campaign and Start by Believing.