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Nearly 40 years after protesters staged the country’s first Take Back the Night marches, students at UC Santa Cruz and other colleges nationwide have expanded the single night of protest to fill the entire month of April with events aimed at raising awareness about sexual violence.
“What’s important about this month and this year, at this school particularly, is that we need to be empowered,” said Morgan Bostic, a student intern at the Women’s Center. “The university needs to be taking an active role in empowering students to become educated about sexual assaults on their campus and become aware of the methods of changing institutional structures and how to advocate on their behalf.”
Indeed, the events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), hosted by several campus offices, include nationally acclaimed speakers, yoga, and art workshops, Title IX Office open houses, a community town hall meeting, and ongoing discussions about sexual violence issues on campus—in addition to a march and rally at the end of the month. The greater community is invited to participate.
“The events are really focused on supporting survivors and healing, on education, activism and speaking out,” Bostic said. “We’re trying to have an activist’s trifecta—giving the students all the resources they need to stand up against sexual assault on their campus.”
The busy calendar includes a discussion about consent on Monday, April 10; a painting class on Tuesday, April 11; a workshop on violence in the queer community on Wednesday, April 12; and a community town hall meeting to discuss sexual violence and sexual harassment policy on campus on Thursday, April 13, the latest in a series of ongoing discussions stemming from the campus Beyond Compliance initiative. In the following weeks, there are workshops on yoga, art and how allies can support survivors, as well as three Title IX Office open houses to be April 18, 19 and 21. The last one is specifically geared to campus employees.
Three student-initiated events, sponsored by the Women’s Center, include a Take Back the Night march and rally at 5:30 p.m. on April 26, followed by a Survivor Speak Out with keynote speaker Amita Swadhin, a nationally known activist and survivor. Swadhin is also holding a Secret Survivors Workshop on Thursday, April 27, and on Friday, April 28, Mahroh Jahangiri, director of student and survivor-run organization, Know Your IX, will hold a workshop.
Students made the decisions about everything that is hosted by the Women’s Center, said Rebecca Hernandez Rosser, interim director of the Women’s Center and director of the American Indian Resource Center.
“They felt, given the campus climate at the time, and really in the nation, that is was important to bring somebody who could speak to their concerns.”
Rosser encourages people to come out not just to hear the speakers but also to engage with students and hear new perspectives from them.
“The events provide opportunities for the community to get a fresh look at what some of these activists are doing and how they’re addressing things,” Rosser said.
Although one month is not enough, it boosts the topic in the campus profile, said Emily Crutcher, director of Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE), which is hosting most of the month’s workshops. There are numerous activities to further engage people, including a quarterly five-hour peer educator CARE training for student volunteers.
“The point is to ignite new conversations and initiatives that will change the campus culture,” Crutcher said. “We’re having several exciting events this month, but really, what will sustain the movement is getting students, faculty and staff invested in continuing this work throughout the year.”
The month’s activities are also one way to remind people that they have several options if they experience personally or are aware of some incidents of sexual violence, said Laura Young Hinck, Title IX Office response team coordinator. Some people may choose to pursue legal action, others might want to get confidential support and other might just want to learn about the process to help someone else.
“It’s important that people know what resources and options they have to make sure they do what’s right for them,” Young Hinck said. “If someone makes a report, they will still have control about whether or not they want to continue.”
In addition to stopping by the office to ask questions, Young Hinck invites people to see the new Resources and Reporting Options Handout. People can print them or request printed brochures to display on resource tables.
The Title IX Office has seen a significant increase in the number of reports in the last year, but it is still only a small percentage of the sexual assault and misconduct that is actually happening, Young-Hinck said.
She encourages people to take personal responsibility for making reports. If something needs to be addressed, people shouldn’t assume that, if others are talking about something, it has reached the Title IX office.
“It takes a whole community to create that change,” she said.