White House launches It’s On Us campaign to end college sexual assault

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On Monday, senior White House officials and Generation Progress held a press conference call to discuss the It’s On Us campaign that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden officially launched on Friday, Sept. 19 with the “It’s On Us: Sexual Assault PSA.”

The press conference was headed by Tina Tchen, the assistant to the president and Chief of Staff to the First Lady; Lynn Rosenthal, a senior White House advisor on violence against women; and Anne Johnson, the executive director for Generation Progress, the youth organizing and engagement arm of the Center for American Progress.

According to the White House’s website, the campaign “aims to fundamentally shift the way we think about sexual assault, by inspiring everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.”

In January, Obama created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. According to Obama, the task force’s “job is to work with colleges and universities on better ways to prevent and respond to assaults, to lift up best practices.”

The new campaign is built on four main recommendations from the Not Alone report that the Task Force released in April: identify the scope of the problem through campus climate surveys; prevent campus sexual assault and engage men; help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted; and improve and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts.

People who visit the campaign’s website can pledge “to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”

Over 2 million people have watched the PSA and over 35,000 people have taken the pledge, according to Tchen.

“We all need to come together and shift the way we think and talk about sexual assault,” Johnson said.

The Office on Violence Against Women will also award 18 colleges with over $6 million in grants to develop comprehensive campus sexual assault prevention and response programs, according to Rosenthal.

“Ultimately our goal is to change culture and we can’t do that without everyone getting involved,” Rosenthal said.

Changing culture and engaging men seemed to be a common thread throughout the press call.

According to Tchen, “most men are not comfortable with violence against women, but often don’t speak out because they believe that other men accept this behavior.”

In accordance with this statement, bystander training and intervention were cited throughout the conference call as one of the most effective strategies of preventing sexual assault.

It’s On Us currently has 40 partners, including the American Association of University Women; PVBLIC; Generation Progress; the NCAA and Viacom, just to name a few.

Additionally, nearly 200 colleges and universities, including St. Edward’s University, have committed to taking action and bringing the It’s On Us campaign to their campuses.

There are already a number of efforts at St. Edward’s to address sexual assault, chiefly the St. Edward’s Title IX webpage. The page offers information on how to file a Title IX complaint, investigation procedures, confidential support services and training resources.

The Health & Counseling Center, Student Life, University Police Department, Residence Life and the Dean of Students Office also host awareness and prevention programs throughout the year.

This year, however, St. Edward’s has introduced a new initiative: HAVEN.

“As part of St. Edward’s commitment to this issue, we launched an online learning module this year for incoming freshmen to address sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, domestic and relationship violence, as well as hate crimes related to sex and gender,” Dean of Students Lisa Kirkpatrick said. “Incoming freshmen are asked to complete this program prior to their arrival in the fall.”

According to Kirkpatrick, the It’s On Us campaign also aligns with our Holy Cross heritage.

“Our community has a particular ethos because of our founders, the Congregation of Holy Cross, that compels us to be good bystanders, to strive to make healthy and responsible choices, to treat one another with dignity and respect and to look out for one another,” Kirkpatrick said.

Junior Victoria Ochoa has been collaborating with White House representatives and national campus leaders to create a plan of action for the St. Edward’s community.

Ochoa says she first heard about the It’s on Us Campaign while interning at the White House this summer and was excited to bring such a meaningful project to St. Edward’s.

“At the moment, SGA is gathering information to determine how our organization can be a platform to promote awareness about sexual assault on campus and to bring about cultural change,” Ochoa said.

While Ochoa was in Washington, D.C., she met with Andy McCraken from the National Campus Leadership Council. Ochoa then connected with Alex Coccia, a former SGA president from Notre Dame University, another well-known Holy Cross institution in South Bend, Indiana.

“Our conversation was insightful and is one of many that will help me to develop an It’s on Us plan that incorporates our own Holy Cross heritage and accommodates our diverse student body” Ochoa said.

Ochoa is currently working with Sen. Paola Gallegos on a bill that would enable her to reach out to organizations on campus to see how SGA can support existing efforts to combat campus sexual assault and even to start new initiatives.

“I fully support this White House initiative, and I think it is very powerful to see such a nation-wide, collaborative effort to create a safe space for educational conversations that can help put an end to sexual assault,” SGA President Samantha Mendoza said.

For more information about the It’s On Us Campaign, check out whitehouse.gov/itsonus, itsonus.org, and the #itsonus hashtag on Twitter.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please visit Not Alone for reports, documents and resources near you. 

 

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