By: Sydney Giller
“It starts with one,” Jared, the Resident Director for a first residence hall here at Union, told us. “You get one person here and you change one life. The next time they bring one person and two becomes four and then six and so on.” Collectively that was the hardest thing for the four of us to hear, and by four of us I mean three of my closest friends and myself, the newly formed Committee on Consent Education and Awareness. We had and still have one goal, to stop sexual assault. Tying up our hair in our red and white polka dot Rosie the Riveter headbands we pushed our sleeves up and put together the first annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week (SAAW). Weeks prior to this were spent scheduling meetings at 10 O’clock at night, calling speakers, making flyers, and reaching out to the entire student body. Filling the schedule became the trickiest part; to kick it off we reached out to a friend with a black belt in tae-kwon-do asking her to teach a self-defense class. This was going to be the start to the week that changed our lives. Sexual Assault and Consent in the LGBTQ community was then planned and lead by the student run group SAFE (Student Allies For Equality). The next day was a showing of the documentary Brave Miss World held in our campus auditorium. That day marked the third day of SAAW, the 496th cup of coffee consumed, and the third consecutive day of no sleep. That day told us everything we needed to know about being an activist. It wasn’t going to be easy, we we’re going to have to fight, waves would be made, and in the end it would be worth it. After all it starts with one.
The next day the four of us found ourselves in the midst of what we refer to as our “Consent Panty Fiasco.” We spent the entire day in our campus center with four hundred pairs of white boxers and panties for students to write catchy consent slogans on. Things such as “The way I dress does not mean yes,” “Ask before unwrapping,” “You mustache for consent,” etc. These panties were then hung around the campus as an alternative to flyers we’d been previously hanging up with similar messages. By the end of the day we were found hanging underwear from trees, down staircases, and pinning them to bulletin boards. As the last pairs were being placed in one of our academic buildings we began to get nervous for what was to come. “Sydney, tomorrow is on you,” one of my friends said, “You found Jon on the internet. We have no idea what to expect.” And this is where my own Party With Consent story began.
The fifth and second to last day of SAAW was the day we brought Jon to Union to have three different speaking engagements across our campus. He spoke with activists, interested students, male athletes, and just about anyone who stopped us. That was the day we were stopped dead in our tracks. After his first talk the captain of the lacrosse team and resident of the biggest party house on campus came up to Jon and asked a simple question, “What can I do?” With those four words we knew we had created a network with our student body and our voices were being heard. The day proceeded and after each talk Jon produced similar results and when he left his message stayed. The following day we attended Walk A Mile in Her Shoes put on by Safe Space and as the last group of men in heels finished their mile we fell to the concrete to rejoice in our week long victory.
It took all of two or three days before we were planning our next events. Starting with the Its On Us campaign, being a part of a press conference for the Lieutenant Governor, spreading the Party With Consent movement and holding workshops with the tools Jon gave us. Several fraternities and sports teams allowed us to come and speak with them about how they could become activists for sexual assault prevention. The four of us even spent an entire weekend together baking seven-hundred bra, panty, and boxer shaped sugar cookies to hand out to our campus for a campaign we deemed “Cookies for Consent.”
The question we always ask ourselves is, what’s next? And it is something we will be asking ourselves until we see the elimination of sexual assault. Right now on the agenda is planning a Concert for Consent, partnering with the Residential Advisors (RAs) to work on consent education workshops, and hopefully redoing the first year orientation. When we took on this job we didn’t realize what the contract said, long hours, endless administrative battles, and a lot trail and error. But if someone asked us to read the fine print over again, I can promise you we’d still sign it and do it all over again. It started with one, just like Jared told us, and right before our eyes we’ve watched our movement multiply continuously and we’re not going anywhere.