College for me, like many, was an experience that shaped the person I am. I met my future husband, was challenged academically and was exposed to issues that ultimately gave shape to my vocation.
On campus, I witnessed and experienced the injustices women experience every day simply because of our gender. I encountered catcalling while walking down fraternity row, and I saw a roommate fear what one of her ex-boyfriend's might do after she received a threatening voicemail from him. I comforted and supported close friends that experienced dating violence, sexual assault and rape.
I refused to tolerate this as the norm. I joined a student activist group on campus and channeled my anger into advocacy. As a campus activist, I educated peers on rape culture and the need to shift campus norms. I found my voice in the movement to end violence against women and discovered the power that emanates from collaboration and bringing people together around an issue.
After graduation I pursued a professional career that allowed me to continue this work and flourish in the movement. In my new capacity, working at the statewide and national level, I sit in collaborative meetings concerning campus issues, no longer as a student activist but as an expert in the field. Through my work I continue to experience the importance of multidisciplinary cooperation. What this means is that a team made up of advocates, community partners, law enforcement, prosecutors, health professionals and others come together to create change on campus. This allows for all the stakeholders in the situation to sit at the same table, speak openly about barriers and competing interests in order to break through, and finally work together to address systemic problems; dating violence and sexual assault. Without a doubt, this is the most effective way to create change on campus. If we want to change what have become grotesque norms on campuses across the country, colleges need to convene these types of partnerships.
One might assume that it would be easy to get all these groups around the table. After all, each group has a vested interest in protecting students. Yet, because each group has their own agenda, they often view the others as a threat instead of a partner. However, the situation on campuses is growing dire. More than 90 colleges and universities face federal Title IX investigations. This is a harsh reminder that our work is not done. Campus sexual violence is a real threat to young adults pursuing higher education. If we want to address this injustice, if we want to make change, we must bring multidisciplinary teams together.
One University with which I work has implemented this type of multidisciplinary partnership. Directly as a result of this partnership and the relationships that have been built by bringing all the stakeholders to one table, law enforcement and the university officials welcomed a local community intervention organization to have a permanent presence on the campus. Instead of students being confused about where to go to find information about sexual assault, dating violence and stalking services, now there is a dedicated center on campus where trained advocates are stationed to meet the needs of students and offer a unified holistic response. Students no longer have to report or tell their story over and over to different entities on campus. Students know that they can come to the center if they need services like rape crisis intervention, if they feel threatened by another student, if they are looking for information about supporting a peer or want to become active in violence prevention education. This has changed the culture on campus. Students are empowered to seek the help they need, the information is front and center for anyone who needs it, and access to resources is completely unfettered. Moreover, there is a level of trust between the university, law enforcement and advocates where in most other situations these groups function in silos created by competing interests and differing goals. I have witnessed the significant impact of this collaboration.
We see the potential for progress that builds campus communities, providing models to better support survivors and prevent sexual assault. As we honor and recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to inspire universities and communities to continue this collaborative work.
We have the privilege of witnessing the next generation of advocates emerge, with the charge to bring together communities and universities in the prevention of and response to sexual assault. Imagine the change we can achieve together.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about the NSVRC and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.