Picture this: you’re at a party with your best friend. She’s clearly had too much to drink, and a guy neither of you know is actively flirting with her. You know she’s not in the right state of mind to consent. What do you do?
This was one of the scenarios presented to the student body last Wonderful Wednesday by a student organization called Feminists in Action (FIA) as part of their Bystander Campaign. FIA is a group chartered by the Center for Women that primarily acts as a weekly discussion forum for relevant gender-related issues.
The Bystander Campaign is one of many projects the group is involved in on campus. The idea is slightly modeled off of a campaign called Make Your Move, an effort from Missoula’s Intervention in Action project. At last week’s Wonderful Wednesday, FIA suggested several realistic scenarios involving sexual harassment and encouraged students to come and write down what they would do in the situation. Then, FIA took pictures of the approximately 40 students that participated in the activity, holding their answer and thus creating a powerful visual of the realities of sexual harassment. This is similar to another photo project FIA conducted, in which students posed with signs stating why they needed feminism in their lives. Other campus projects they are involved with include volunteer trips to all-girls schools and the Vagina Monologues, a performance commenting on various aspects of the feminine experience.
That scenario is especially relevant now; according to officials at the University of North Carolina, September is “Red Zone month,” marking the period with the highest number of sexual assaults on college campuses. This month, FIA launched a bystander campaign against sexual assault and harassment, hoping to encourage bystanders to step up and speak out in dangerous situations.
Several other organizations have stepped up to shed light on this topic, including Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) and Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), but FIA chose to conduct the Bystander Campaign independently.
“I wanted to do [the campaign] independent of SAPA and ASAP not because I didn’t want to collaborate with them, but because I think that every organization – even those not dealing with gender issues – should make a comment on it,” College junior, FIA President and Wheel Editorials Editor Priyanka Krishnamurthy said.
FIA’s main goal is to stress awareness. As college students, it’s not implausible that at one point or another, we will find ourselves in a difficult or dangerous situation. It might not be your best friend that’s in trouble – it might be a stranger, a hall mate or a student from another university. It might be at a party, in someone’s room or in an off campus apartment. Sexual harassment can take place anywhere if you simply open your eyes to it. And there’s always something you can do.
However, the point of FIA’s campaign isn’t to immediately invoke vast sweeping change. Rather, according to Krishnamurthy, the point of the exercise is to spread the word about the realities of sexual harassment and assault.
“We want to get the student body to recognize that there are systemic problems on campus,” Krishnamurthy said, “and that you, as an individual, have a way to stop them…As an individual, you have an obligation.”
Dangerous situations aren’t the only times students can participate in ending sexual assault. In fact, it’s equally helpful to bring it up in day-to-day conversation.
“Discussion is the first step to actual change,” Krishnamurthy said. “The way you talk about things kind of shapes the reality. If we start talking about this more, bringing it more into conversations, people will think about it more. That’s kind of the point – to get the word out and get people thinking.”
– By Emily Li
Photo courtesy of Feminists in Action