Posted September 28, 2015 by Benjamin Williams 

It’s On Us: A Call to Community Building

Over the past year, the It’s On Us campaign brought needed attention to the issue of sexual assault on our campuses. For context, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, and as of Jan. 7, 2015, 94 colleges or universities are being investigated for pending Title IX violations. It'sOnUs

Graduate school or life in general doesn’t typically prepare you for the first time a student identifies themselves as a survivor of sexual assault or intimate partner violence, but statistics have reinforced the importance of having this conversation. News stories have shown us no aspect of collegiate life is immune to this terrifying trend.

In my final months of working at Miami University, a student staff member approached me and asked to have a conversation. They had read a blog post I had written about my personal experience with sexual assault, and they were in desperate need of someone to listen. If you are caring individual who is a campus security authority or staff member, these conversations pose a challenge. In the same moment that you are supporting a student who is sharing what might be one of their darkest life experiences, you may also have institutional reporting responsibilities. These are all challenges for us to navigate, and unfortunately, we cannot operate under the assumption that sexual assaults aren’t happening in our buildings or at our programs.

I am not an expert in this, and any advice I offer for supporting survivors is drawn from personal experience in support groups with other survivors, conversations, and personal reflection. However, as It’s On Us videos are posted or the responsibility for sexual assault education is segmented to a particular department or a campus committee, the importance of unions and activities professionals being prepared for an encounter is, to me, a necessity.

What follows are ideas to generate conversation between staff, students, and communities to support the students or colleagues who hold survivor identities:

  • Engage in a conversation as part of a staff or department meeting to discuss sexual assault or bring in staff from another office, if that works better for your campus. For instance,  encourage individuals to present a broad definition of sexual assault that includes conversations about assault outside of the heteronormative paradigm, including the LGBTQ community.
  • Let students know your responsibility as a campus security authority, if you are one. A student may not be ready to report, but once they disclose something to you, as an authority you are required to report the event; students should know this before opening up to you, if possible.
  • Have conversations with students and professional staff about how to intervene if something that looks suspicious is happening or how to handle a situation if a student comes to staff after an assault.
  • Develop procedures and training around issues of sexual assault on campus, how staff can support someone if they identify as a survivor, and what it means to be a campus security authority.

I believe the student union and activities profession is an integral part of building and supporting positive communities on campus. The conversation can happen in many ways, and as professionals who develop close relationships with student leaders and student and professional staff and oversee facilities where community happens, the “It’s On Us” call to action is one to consider. What opportunities to have these conversations will you take?

Benjamin Williams

Benjamin Williams is the Associate Program Director, Student Center at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ben manages a facility inside the Student Center; advises the Homecoming, Ramblin Nights, and Music committees for the Student Center Programs Council; and supervises six student staff in Under the Couch, a music listening space where students can perform, record music, or just study. He holds a bachelor’s in sociology from Georgia State University and a master’s from Miami University. His ACUI involvement includes serving on Regional Leadership Teams, the Education and Research Fund Program Team, and currently as one of the program leads for I-LEAD®.


Ben, very helpful tips. Thank you for reminding us what we can do in our facilities and with our staff.
Beth Waltrip
Comment posted 10/05/2015 1:04 PM
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