When I first arrived on campus in the summer of 2011, I’d just returned from an amazing six-day pre-orientation trip in the woods and was bubbling with the excitement of new friendships and a fresh start (and okay, some nerves too. And mud). As I walked by the Sexual Assault and Rape Prevention Center (SHARPP) on my way to the dining hall with my new friends, I vaguely remember thinking it was odd that there was an entire building dedicated to these services. How common, really, is sexual assault?
As I began making my way through college, I was in for a rude awakening. Stories from peers and even personal experiences began coming to light in whispers. I found that all of those numbers I once thought were reiterated for the shock factor – “among college women, 9 in 10 victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender,” or “1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted while in college,” were – horrifyingly – too true.
Fast forward six years, and I’m having weekly discussions with student affairs administrators about the same issues. In October 2017, the “Me Too” movement breaks and sexual assault is at the forefront of strategic discussions at universities nationwide. To support health and wellness, increase student retention and persistence, and create a positive university brand, schools need to support their students with consent and bystander awareness campaigns. It’s a systemic issue.
Of course, given this landscape in higher education, I was determined to create a big splash and work with students on an awesome Campus Life Channel campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April. After mentioning the idea to OrcaTV’s student ambassadors, Maddie at Michigan State and Alaa at the University of Texas at Dallas jumped on my offer to help develop a nationwide campaign. We knew that digital media and social media was the best method for engaging students; while flyers and emails can still resonate, flyers are wasteful and labor-intensive and students are already inundated with emails. Instead, we wanted to showcase posts from students themselves in a more relevant way. Based on conversations I’d had with ambassadors, and even on data from a social media survey Apogee conducted last year at all of our schools, I knew that about 70% of students use Instagram once per day. Students are also consuming video content regularly; 80% of students use YouTube a few times a week or more according to our survey data.
Based on these factors considering student media consumption, our two conference calls generated campaign ideas including a SAAM video, hashtag campaigns, Snapchat Geofilters, pledge stories, and campus speakers Check out Alaa and Maddie’s stories of how they ran with these ideas at their respective campuses.
-Sophie White, National Content Coordinator,
Apogee Campus Life Channel
Being a Michigan State University student at this time has been a wild ride. From the Larry Nassar trials, to our president for over 15 years, Lou Anna K. Simon, resigning, to the rebuilding of trust throughout campus… MSU Spartans have been through a lot. In January, I was honestly a bit concerned as to how MSU’s PR team (Communication and Brand Strategy, CABS) was going to handle the situation, so I wanted to do something about it. The need to spread awareness and bring attention to the issue motivated me to contact CABS with my concern and my suggestions for moving forward. I was lucky enough to get a response from them as I’m sure they were being flooded with emails. But not only was I able to get a very genuine response from them, after reading my ideas listed in the email, they invited me to sit down to discuss my ideas and have a conversation about the climate on campus from a student’s perspective!
Simultaneously, I was in contact with Sophie from OrcaTV about doing something for April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). I was able to bring up the idea for the video that Sophie and I wanted to create at the meeting. CABS seemed to really like the idea so Sophie, Alaa, and I got to work on the video. We met a couple times through group calls using UberConference and were able to share screens so we could see the video as Sophie helped put it together. Once we got a first draft of the video, I sent it to CABS and they directed me to the Office of Institutional Equity and the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Program here at MSU. After discussing with them the changes that should be made, such as choosing some new statistics, we made the changes and were finally able to upload the video! I’m so glad we were able to do this and I really hope the video helped someone or taught someone something new.
Maddie Heise, Class of 2020
Michigan State University Student Ambassador
My third year of attending The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) is coming to an end, having only one year left to graduate (ahhh adulthood). As my academic career is ending, I want to be able to look back and know that I have contributed to something that’s made a significant impact on others. I’ve always had the desire to get involved with local and national projects affecting society. However, bringing national issues locally to light can be difficult. Luckily, being an Ambassador for OrcaTV has provided the opportunity to use digital signage for significant initiatives.
Just this past month, I was fortunate enough to work on implementing a campaign for my university on Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). I contacted the director of the UTD wellness center and media specialist for Student Affairs regarding the events the university had planned for SAAM and how we could help raise awareness for them. We focused on the event where the Wellness Center partners with It’s On Us that would be taking place on April 12th. This event has been an ongoing tradition for a few years now, including trivia, t-shirt give-a-ways, and a pledge taken for SAAM. I continued contact throughout the weeks with Jessie and Kacey, finalizing our plans to sharing content posted from students using the hashtag #itsonus, a geofilter, and a Facebook live of the pledge the students would take. I was able to share my ideas on these social media plans, and even given the chance to create the geofilter which the university eventually adopted. In addition, I also had the privilege to help produce a video to be incorporated across several universities with Sophie and Maddie, who both had the incredible idea of creating it. This video included the history of SAAM, how we can stop being a bystander and raise awareness.
Overall, assisting in a campaign as huge as SAAM led to successful collaborations and promising results. In the end, this year’s UTD It’s On Us event had an attendance of 250-300 students, and close to 200 views of the Facebook Live post. Now when I graduate, I know I can look back and see that I was a part of UTD’s third initiative in their strategic plan, “Managing change in a constantly changing society.” An initiative where UTD manages changes by being “proactive, rather than reactive.” Such as raising awareness for SAAM, by focusing more heavily on prevention, rather than solely on the after effects. I hope to take this initiative with me beyond my academic career to serve as a leader and contributor of a growing society.
-Alaa Nasser, Class of 2019
University of Texas at Dallas Student Ambassador
The value of experiential learning is clear. Maddie and Alaas’ stories highlight the importance of cross-campus collaboration to fulfill strategic goals, and of learning how to use networking skills to drive successful content campaigns and consolidate messaging. I (Sophie here again!) have been inspired by the behavior I’ve seen from Maddie, Alaa, and other students at our universities. Maddie and Alaa went above and beyond – without prompting – to pursue experiences that will help them gain professional and academic skills, but will also ultimately make Michigan State and UT Dallas better environments for all of the Spartans and Comets to come. Higher education is teaching students to learn translatable skills, think critically, use technology, and become the next generation of leaders. All this aside, they’re learning how to do so while giving back to their communities and practicing the utmost level of moral responsibility. They’re not stepping on each other, but are raising up communities.
Next stop, Commencement!
*Quotes adapted from itsonus.org and UNH SHARPP.