As the White House plans to announce a new campaign to address sexual assault on college campuses this week, student leaders at the University of Minnesota are continuing their own efforts to combat the national issue.
The White House will launch the “It’s On Us” campaign, which will strongly focus on the role men play in sexual assault prevention and the importance of bystander intervention. The initiative will complement a Minnesota Student Association report released Monday, which examined how men at the University think about sexual assault.
Raising awareness about sexual assault is one of the MSA’s top priorities for the year. MSA President Joelle Stangler said parts of the group’s goals are to include more men in campus conversations about sexual assault and to encourage bystander intervention, ideas that closely mirror those of the White House.
As part of its work to raise awareness, MSA held four focus groups consisting of male students this summer to gauge their opinions on the issue.
Eighteen men discussed topics chosen by MSA, which included how alcohol, masculinity, consent and bystander intervention apply to sexual assault on campus. The University’s Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education worked with MSA to form the questions.
MSA Communications Director Drew Coveyou said the participants consistently referenced a “gray area” when it came to situations involving alcohol and were unsure what constitutes consent, which is a problem MSA wants to address.
He said the main purpose of the focus groups was to help form and create MSA’s sexual assault prevention campaign, which will likely roll out in April.
Stangler said information collected from the focus groups will also give direction to the student government while it creates sexual assault prevention training sessions for student groups.
Additionally, Coveyou said MSA may hold more focus groups or create other ways to talk with students about sexual assault this year.
The group also wants to address how the campus’ greek community can take action against sexual assault.
One of the four focus groups was made up of entirely greek men, and Coveyou said their feedback will be helpful when working together in the future.
Interfraternity Council President Cam Schilling said it was important that men were a part of the conversation regarding sexual assault. He said many fraternity chapters already take advantage of resources at the Aurora Center regarding sexual assault prevention.
Schilling noted that the University’s greek community is only a portion of the student population and said it’s critical that all areas of the campus address sexual assault.
Aurora Center director Katie Eichele said having students work to combat the issue is an important part of sexual assault prevention because they have a stronger influence on their peers than school administrators.
She said the recent national attention directed at the problem is due to a combination of student activism, new sexual assault research and increased political attention.
Eichele also said conversation has shifted from a focus on women protecting themselves against sexual assault to increasing awareness about bystanders’ role and engaging more men in the discussion.
“It is especially important that we understand this isn’t just a women’s issue,” she said. “It’s everyone’s issue.”
Stangler said it was important that the MSA research focused on men, but she added that the conversation regarding sexual assault prevention will expand to include everyone on campus.
“Ultimately, our goal is to get as many people informed and aware as possible,” Stangler said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.