Student Government Association to host sexual assault dialogue

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On Nov. 10, the St. Edward’s University Student Government Association (SGA) will host “We Need To Talk: A St. Edward’s Community Dialogue on Sexual Assault.”

The dialogue spurs from the recently announced national It’s On Us Campaign, which serves as a platform to support campus efforts to combat college sexual assault.

The event’s planning is headed by junior Victoria Ochoa with students like Amanda West, Anthony Longoria and SGA president Samantha Mendoza also helping out.

Ochoa says she is not alone in wanting to bring this national discussion to campus.

“Many students already discuss these topics with a few close friends, and it was only natural to bring those dialogues into the community setting,” Ochoa said. “If anything, this open dialogue capitalizes on these pre-existing discussions and has the potential to incorporate students who are unfamiliar with this issue.”

The Dean of Students Office and the Title IX team have also been a part of the planning process.

“This campaign is a fresh way to engage students across the country to decide for themselves how they want to tackle the issue amongst their peers,” Dean of Students Lisa Kirkpatrick said.

Prior to this national campaign, the St. Edward’s community was already providing programming and awareness around the topic of sexual assault.

The Title IX panel provides annual training student groups and athletic teams. The Health and Counseling Center also hosts the “Take Back the Night” event, Relationship Violence Awareness Month in October and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.

According to Kirkpatrick, the purpose of the campaign is to open the door to students being responsible for themselves and for one another, instead of just faculty and staff doing the work.

“This is not top-down, one-way conversations, but rather students stepping up and educating one another,” Kirkpatrick said.

Junior communications major Clair Daly, one of the almost 1,000 people who were invited to the dialogue via Facebook, plans to attend the event on Monday.

Daly says this is a topic that everyone in college needs to talk about.

“Almost everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted at this age, if not before. I think it opens the eyes of people who are in denial about this issue to the horror of its reality,” Daly said.

According to Ochoa, talking openly about sexual assault allows for consensus, solidarity and solutions to be found on a community level.

The discussion-based event will be facilitated by a student committee members who will ask students to evaluate how sexual assault impacts St. Edward’s. Students will be asked to think about why and how sexual assault happens and what can be done to stop it.

Students should be able to “see something, say something and do something to prevent sexual assault from occurring,” according to Kirkpatrick.

The hope is that students will sign the It’s On Us pledge at the event and to show support for the campaign online afterward.

According to Ochoa, the event will also provide students with information about the resources that are already available to them on campus.

Ochoa believes that the event will represent different things for different people.

For traditional advocates, this event will build upon what they have already learned in their own Title IX facilitations. For those who have not engaged in these types of facilitations, this event will be an introduction to sexual assault issues and the national conversation.

Whichever group one belongs to, Ochoa believes the event will help gauge where St. Edward’s stands within the national context of this issue.

“Most importantly, I want students to walk out with a sense of community,” Ochoa said. “For me, that means that survivors feel empowered and supported and that bystanders feel a sense of responsibility to look out for their fellow students.”

Kirkpatrick also hopes that students will walk away from the event feeling empowered to be proactive bystanders when they see others in risky situations.

Kirkpatrick also mentioned the inadvertent ways that people contribute to larger societal issues of sexual violence and discrimination. She hopes students will be able to self-reflect after the dialogue and work to change their own behavior.

Daly hopes to learn how to be a better support system to her friends who have been sexually assaulted.

“While it is also important for students to discuss these issues intimately with friends and family, bringing these dialogues into the community can be the difference between whether or not a student comes forward if he or she has been sexually assaulted,” Ochoa said. “It can mean the difference between whether or not a survivor feels guilt, shame and fear.”

The Health and Counseling Center staff will be available at the event should the discussion upset or trigger feelings that require support.

“We want to ensure that, while we have an open, honest dialogue, we are also accommodating and sensitive to those who may be dealing with these issues personally,” Ochoa said.

For more information about It’s On Us Campaign, click here.