One of the specific goals of the White House’s new “It’s On Us” sexual assault prevention campaign, which was rolled out on Friday, is to mobilize men to get involved in the fight against the campus rape crisis. A fact sheet about the new initiative notes that it hopes to “change social norms” by encouraging men to demonstrate they don’t condone sexual violence.
The Obama administration has been both praised and critiqued for its recent approach to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, which is the subject of a White House Task Force created last winter. But what does its target audience think about it? ThinkProgress reached out to college-age men to find out where they stand on “It’s On Us,” and whether they think it’s what their campus needs.
“I’ve read a few articles about it. I think it’s a really positive thing and I’m really glad to see the White House taking a strong stance,” Chris Priore, a student at Stony Brook University in New York, said. “I think it’s really good that it’s not just talking to the person who’s the victim and saying hey, this is how you can get out of this situation, and putting it on them — instead it’s making it so the whole community is culpable for it.”
“It seems to be an interesting program,” Chris Weeks, the student body president at Occidental College in the Los Angeles area, added. Weeks has been getting emails about “It’s On Us” since July, as the White House has been reaching out to student leaders to try to get them on board. “I don’t think it’s really reached many students here yet.”
Ben Ray, a student at the University of Alabama, just recently learned about the campaign and thinks it’s a “wonderful thing.” Before he spoke to ThinkProgress, he went online and signed the pledge, which asks participants to be “part of the solution” by learning what constitutes sexual assault and creating an environment in which this crime is viewed as unacceptable.
“Here at the University of Alabama, we’ve had issues historically with sexual assault, and some of our best efforts to raise awareness about these issues haven’t gone as well as they could have,” Ray explained. “So it’s nice to have the White House finally speaking out about sexual assault on campus.”
“The fraternity I helped found is very committed to this cause. We wholeheartedly support ‘It’s On Us’ and want to do whatever we can to spread the word about it,” Aloke Prabhu, a student at James Madison University whose Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity chapter works to raise money for sexual assault prevention, said.
The college students who spoke to ThinkProgress said they welcome the shift away from approaching sexual assault as an issue that individual women need to protect themselves against. Targeting efforts toward men, they said, could eventually encourage more college guys to tell their friends that they shouldn’t take advantage of drunk people.
“Here at college, it means men on campus will set the precedent that sexual assault is not okay — and beyond that, that all of the microaggressions along the spectrum of harm that lead to rape culture are also not okay,” John Damianos, a sexual assault prevention activist at Dartmouth College who has been involved in advising the new White House Task Force, explained. Those microaggressions could range from making a rape joke, to suggesting that a sexual assault victim was “asking for it” because she wore a short skirt to a party, to catcalling a woman on the street.
“It just kind of changes the national dialogue and it changes the kind of — I hate to say it — the frat boy mentality of, oh yeah, she got so drunk, I had a great time,” Priore said. “I think people kind of distance themselves from this issue and they say ‘oh, I would never rape anyone.’ But those same people might take advantage of someone who’s drunk and can’t defend themselves, and they don’t make the connection that hey, that is rape.”
“Fraternities have this social stigma that they always promote this kind of rape culture,” Prabhu acknowledged. He said he’s trying to change that within his own chapter by bringing in female speakers who can speak to the brothers about issues related to sexual assault. According to Prabhu, that’s “absolutely well-received” among the guys in Alpha Sigma Phi, who “want to be part of the solution,” and that’s why he thinks efforts like “It’s On Us” could have a similarly positive reception among college men.
All of the students interviewed by ThinkProgress said they ultimately want to see inclusive efforts to address sexual assault that recognize it can be perpetrated against both men and women, as well as against people who don’t identify with a gender. Weeks also noted that a national “one size fits all” campaign may not have as much impact as the grassroots student activism that’s already happening on the ground. While they disagreed slightly about the White House’s campaign’s practical impact — some said that it’s doing a lot to raise awareness among their peers, while others said it hasn’t really made a difference on campus — they all said it seems like a positive step to have President Obama raising awareness about sexual assault.
“I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here,” Dave Churvis, a student at Georgia State University, said. “Just the fact that the White House is talking about this stuff is amazing to me. The fact that you have a very powerful man talking to men, and saying that men need to be talking to men about this stuff, is just amazing.”
“When I started at Dartmouth, this was not something everyone was talking about. Now there’s a buzz on campus,” Damianos said.