The headlines related to college campuses and sexual assault are typically negative. Over the past year, a growing list of university administrations have been accused of failing to take rape seriously, often dissuading survivors from coming forward or allowing rapists to get off with very light punishment. When students themselves get press, it’s almost always for the wrong reasons. Most recently, Georgia Tech made news after a fraternity brother sent an “rapebait” email to his chapter that offered advice about how to take advantage of drunk girls.
But that’s not actually the whole story. Across the country, there are also a network of college activists working to fight back. In addition to filing formal complaints against their universities and demanding better sexual assault policies on campus, students are also working to change the culture that fuels these types of attitudes toward rape in the first place. Here are just five examples of creative consent-driven campaigns that are helping spread awareness about sexual assault prevention across the country:
1. Reclaiming Robin Thicke’s chart-topper.
UCLA’s student-run sexual assault prevention campaign, 7000 In Solidarity, gets its name from the estimated number of students at the university who will encounter sexual violence there. One in three women and one in six men are sexually assaulted at some point in college, so UCLA students extrapolated that data to calculate that works out to be about 7,000 students on their own campus. The group encourages students to take a solidarity pledge to promise they’ll practice consent, intervene in situations where they see someone’s else’s consent being violated, and support survivors of sexual violence.
To raise awareness about consent among the student body, 7000 In Solidarity created a graphic in response to “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke’s popular pop song that has sparked criticism for promoting rape culture:
2. Hosting “Ask For It Day” — where the “It” refers to consent, not sexual assault.
Whitman College in Washington state is home to the “All Students For Consent” group, which started an “Ask For It” campaign to flip victim-blaming on its head. “The purpose of the campaign was to put a twist on the insulting phrase that has often been used in victim blaming, such as, ‘She was asking for it by wearing that miniskirt,’ in which the ‘it’ is sexual violence,” the students explain. On “Ask For It” Day, the “it” referred to consent instead — serving as a reminder that students need to be explicitly asking for consent instead of making assumptions about their partner. The event involved students sharing their stories about what it’s like to ask for consent and receiving “I ask for it” temporary tattoos:
3. Getting men involved in the “Vagina Monologues” to talk about healthy sexual relationships.
Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, a play that explores women’s sexuality and emphasizes sexual assault prevention, is typically performed by all-female casts on college campuses. This year, Connecticut College decided to get men involved, too. They’re hoping to spark a broader conversation about men’s relationships to women’s bodies, healthy sexual experiences, and ending rape. A group of over 80 men on campus discuss those topics in a video, which campus activists plan to release at the end of October:
4. Printing reminders not to rape on coasters distributed to local bars and restaurants.
Students at the University of Oregon formed the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT), a sexual violence prevention group that offers workshops and other peer education programming related to consent. In addition to workshops, SWAT also uses creative campaigns to spread the word about rape prevention.
During the campus’ Redzone campaign — the “Redzone” refers to the first six weeks of the fall semester, when college students are statistically more likely to be the victims of sexual violence — the group printed reminders on coasters to encourage people to avoid assault. Local bars and restaurants used the coasters during the Redzone weeks. The reminders subvert the common message that victims should protect themselves from rape by avoiding drinking too much alcohol, and instead tell potential perpetrators that they shouldn’t assault anyone in the first place:
5. Organizing a weeklong series of “consent events” on the quad.
For the past four years, students at Arizona State University have hosted “I Always Get Consent,” a campaign that stretches on for a week and includes several consent-themed events on campus. “For the past four years, this program has educated the largest campus in the country about what sexual assault is, how to prevent sexual violence, and the importance of defying rape culture,” student activists explain.
Students set up tables on the quad and give away “I Always Get Consent!” t-shirts, host movie screenings and discussions, and organize education presentations about rape prevention. There’s even a consent-themed cardio class:
One sexual assault prevention group is trying to give these college students more recognition for their efforts. FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture — a group of feminist activists that’s been working to spark conversation about consent on college campuses for months, and recently released a consent guide for college campuses to help advance that goal — is honoring student activists with the “Consent Revolution Awards.”
“College students themselves are busy promoting a more equal, open and consensual version of sexuality,” one of FORCE’s co-directors, Hannah Brancato, pointed out in a press release about the award recipients. “Consent needs and deserves a bigger media platform.”