“Safer campuses. Brighter futures. Prevent sexual violence.”
These words adorn the posters announcing Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which starts today and runs through April 16. By providing workshops and resources for students, UH hopes to aid in the prevention of sexual violence.
“We want people to understand the issues and how they impact everyone else,” said UH Wellness Director Patrick Lukingbeal, who has experience with speaking out against sexual assault on multiple college campuses. He said he hopes to raise awareness within the UH community.
“People tend to instantly think of women when we talk about sexual assault,” Lukingbeal said. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. Someone can be a victim, a survivor, of a friend or family member of one. Sexual assault and its impacts are not exclusive to one gender, and are stressing that in all of our activities.”
With the prominence of sexual assault on college campuses across the nation, it’s no surprise that universities are taking more steps to address the issue. Schools have faced scrutiny for not handling sexual assault issues properly or, in some cases, not addressing them at all.
The problem is not an easy fix, especially on college campuses where alcohol and drug use is prevalent, but UH is taking it head on. Nearly a third of the 293,066 estimated sexual assaults involved drugs or alcohol, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. At UH there were 11 sexual assaults reported in 2013, according to Clery Report data.
“For a school of its size, UH is doing a great job,” said Lukingbeal. “It’s very well-positioned and smart about engagement of all students.”
Engagement is key for this year’s week-long event. Lukingbeal’s staff has made it a point for as many organizations as possible to get involved, especially the campus Greek life. With the recent controversy surrounding Greek life across the nation, Lukingbeal said he wants to make sure that fraternity and sorority members are just as engaged as other groups.
Growing concerns over links between Greek life and sexual assault cases have also thrust the debate into the spotlight.
Psychology sophomore and vice president of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and Standards of the Inter-fraternal Council Maroun Koutani is making sure that Greek organizations are participating in the planning process as well as outreach.
“I am hoping to (see) exponential growth in student involvement at the events,” Koutani said.
Koutani noted the importance of breaking stigmas and involving both men and women in the discussion.
“Everyone, whether male or female, faculty or student, should be educated that sexual assault isn’t something that is just read about in the paper or heard about on the news,” Koutani said. “It is something that truly does occur around us, whether we are aware of it or not.”
Lukingbeal encouraged student involvement throughout the planning process to ensure the activities were relatable for their peers.
“Sexual assault is still so misunderstood and stigmatized, and a big part of it is because of lack of knowledge,” Lukingbeal said. “We want other students to be interested, and the only way to do that is to make sure students from all backgrounds are involved in the planning process.”
On April 14, students will take a step back to grade school by using paint to take a physical pledge against violence in Butler Plaza. In an effort to engage faculty, Counseling and Psychological Services, the UH Health Center, and UH Wellness will hold an faculty and staff-only discussion on how to properly help students who have been sexually assaulted.
The extensive efforts of those behind the week’s planning aren’t going unnoticed.
“I’m really impressed with the variety of events taking place this week,” said public relations major Shiree Cole. “This is an issue that is so heavy for so many people, and I think that UH doing a good job of addressing it more than it did in the past.”
Lukingbeal said he hopes students not only join in the week’s events, but carry the conversation with them outside of campus.
“The goal is to make sure the conversation doesn’t stop after this week is done. We want this to be just the beginning.”
For more information on other events during the week, click here.