Hundreds of members of Hofstra’s community froze when the clock struck noon on Wednesday and watched as a video played for the launch of the “It’s On Us” campaign. The flash freeze mob took place during common hour in the heavily-trafficked Student Center. The location was chosen in an attempt to be as attention grabbing possible, according to Jean Peden-Christodoulou, assistant vice president of student affairs and Title IX coordinator.
It’s On Us is a national campaign that is “designed to reframe the way we think about sexual assault and sexual violence on college campuses,” according to Peden-Christodoulou. “There’s a national dialogue about this. If you open any newspaper or news site, this is being talked about, so it’s almost irresponsible to not do it on our campus too.”
President Obama joined with Vice President Joe Biden to launch the nationwide initiative in September of last year. This launch prompted several universities to make videos much like the one that the White House released, showing people saying that it’s on us to put an end to sexual assault.
This campaign comes after a recent focus on sexual assault cases on college campuses, prompting the national dialogue that Peden-Christodoulou mentioned. Hofstra recognizes and takes very seriously the fact that sexual assault is a big issue among the age group that colleges are catering to, according to Peden-Christodoulou.
James Lally, assistant director of athletics for student services and life skills development, agreed, “Statistics are showing that it’s happening everywhere. College campuses are 18 to 22 year olds… there [are] places where they can find themselves in situations that might not be beneficial to everybody involved.”
According to a 2007 study funded by the National Institute of Justice, 19 percent of women and six percent of men in college will be victims of attempted or completed sexual assault in the course of their undergraduate careers. Hofstra’s 2014 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report shows that the number of reported sex offenses is decreasing at Hofstra, going from seven in 2011 to four in 2013. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is less sexual misconduct, but that there is perhaps less being reported.
“It’s like the elephant in the room in a sense that nobody wants to talk about it. From the victim’s perspective, they feel shameful of what has happened,” said Jennifer Thiebaud, junior foreign language major and member of the ROTC program.
This invites the idea that people are afraid of talking about this issue. “If it’s happening, it’s never talked about as much as it should be. It should be talked about until it ends,” said Mark Atkinson, SGA president. “The campus-wide conversation is only effective if we’re having individual and personal conversations with each other. That’s what this is all about. If we walk away from this and we just have one big conversation and we don’t have individual conversations with our friends and with our families and with our colleagues, and our coworkers and our peers, then it won’t be as effective as it could be.”
The flash freeze mob brought about the opportunity to get the conversation about sexual assault started. “Actually I thought it was very effective because first of all, we didn’t know what it was, so it aroused our curiosity,” said Thiebaud.
An active conversation will be paramount in the success of this campaign at Hofstra. “I think we are very diligent in bringing the message forward, from the time they come in as incoming freshmen and all year long we offer programs on this,” said Officer Hagenmiller of Hofstra Public Safety.
“What’s going to put us ahead is that we continue to promote these programs and get people to learn about sexual assault and relationship violence now that we’ve started the conversation,” said Jack Saleeby, a junior drama major and member of the campaign’s committee.
Different organizations and clubs within the University will keep the conversation going by hosting events throughout the semester and in the future. According to Lally, the athletic department is looking to initiate a “Yards for Yeardley” program in memory of the University of Virginia women’s lacrosse player who was killed in a domestic violence incident. The program would entail the completion of a combined one million-yard run in one day.
“If everybody’s on the same campaign of It’s On Us, then nobody’s afraid to ask for consent, nobody’s afraid to say no because they know they have a community that backs them up,” said Deanna Giulietti, a senior drama major. “Bringing the topic up is step one, starting the conversation is step one,” said Lally.