GRC hosts Sexual Violence Awareness Month

From The Observer

October’s Sexual Violence Awareness Month — a series of programs and events including giveaways, awareness campaigns, a panel discussion and a workshop — will focus on bystander intervention and taking action to prevent sexual violence on campus, Gender Relations Center (GRC) Director Christine Caron Gebhardt said.

Gebhardt said the GRC planned the month’s programs based on what it saw as an increase in awareness and discussion surrounding sexual violence issues.

“We are beginning to break the silence around sexual violence,” she said. “What that does is help people who are impacted by sexual violence not to be afraid to come forward and receive help, but it also puts a responsibility on us as a community to not merely acknowledge that … we know how to care for them and that we also think about, ‘How do we prevent this from happening again?’”Gebhardt said the GRC planned the month’s programs based on what it saw as an increase in awareness and discussion surrounding sexual violence issues.

Unlike in previous years, when Sexual Violence Awareness Month emphasized attention to sexual violence and its impact on the community, this year’s events will be more action-focused, in addition to raising awareness and providing support to survivors of sexual violence, Gebhardt said.

“After the [crime alert] emails come out, people say, ‘what are we going to do about this?’ and there’s multiple answers to that question,” she said. “One of the most important things is just not to ignore it. That’s one of the basic things that we can do is not to delete the email, but to say, ‘what is it that I can do?’ — Not what Notre Dame can do, but what I can do. If we all take an individual commitment to act, then we can … change our community where we not only say we don’t tolerate sexual violence, but we act to change our culture so that it can’t occur on our campus.”

To kick off the month, FIRE Starters, the GRC’s peer educators on gender issues, will hand out free t-shirts Wednesday in LaFortune Student Center and North and South Dining Halls. Senior FIRE Starter Deirdre Harrington said the t-shirts, which feature the text “I am my brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,” are a way of connecting the national issue of sexual violence to the University’s Catholic character.

GRC staff will also host a bystander intervention workshop Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Notre Dame Room of LaFortune. Gebhardt said the workshop, which takes place earlier in the semester than it has in previous years, was a response to students asking how to take action on preventing sexual violence.

“What campuses across the country are realizing is that it’s not enough to say, ‘we need to intervene,’” Gebhardt said. “The reason why we do bystander intervention is to show students how to intervene, and I think that’s the biggest thing. The question becomes ‘What can we do for students to follow through?’”

Gebhardt said workshop participants will examine different scenarios in which they might need to be an active bystander, brainstorm obstacles to effective intervention and learn how to overcome them.

Harrington said FIRE Starters will hand out cups reading “Are you okay?” on Tuesday in LaFortune.

“This question has a double meaning — ‘are you okay’ is a way to ask for consent. [It’s] also to encourage bystander intervention, not being afraid to ask someone, ‘hey, are you okay?’” Harrington said.

Oct. 8, the GRC will host a panel discussion, “Know Your IX: Resources for Care and Support.” Referencing the federal policy Title IX, which mandates gender equality in schools and provides recourse for student victims of sexual violence, the panel will “discuss the most effective ways to care — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — for those who are impacted by sexual violence,” according to the event poster. The panel will include representatives from Notre Dame, the Family Justice Center of St. Joseph’s County and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.

The annual Mass of Healing, which includes intentions for those impacted by sexual violence, will take place Oct. 13 in the Log Chapel. The GRC will hand out prayer cards throughout the week.

The same week, Men Against Violence, a GRC group which works to raise awareness about and prevent sexual violence, will hold a pledge drive and White Ribbon campaign. According to the event poster, the White Ribbon is an international movement which arose after an anti-feminist killed 14 women at a Canadian university.

Sexual Violence Awareness Month will conclude Oct. 30 with the GRC’s annual “Time To Heal Dinner” in the press box of Notre Dame Stadium.

Gebhardt said the month offers a way to look at the Notre Dame community’s level of awareness and plan for future action against sexual violence.

“After we plan, we step back and listen and see, what are the remaining questions?” she said. “As we do programming in the future, what are the things that we need to continue to talk about, what are the dialogues that people need to participate in, what are the concepts that are difficult as we talk about it? We live in it, so it’s on our minds all the time, so for us, when we talk about it, it’s painful, but it something that we can do.”

Harrington said the month would be a way for students to understand how to get involved in the movement against sexual violence.

“In order to get campus culture to shift surrounding sexual violence, we need to start with baby steps,” Harrington said. “… We’re building up so we can have events like Take Back the Night and the Time to Heal Dinner, where we’ll have larger attendance because the campus as a community says, ‘We’re going to actively stop sexual violence on our campus and throughout the country.’ In order to start this kind of culture shift, we need to start with poster campaigns, something simple that might remind someone or get the conversation started . . . [and] keep it going.”

Regina Gesicki, the GRC’s assistant director for educational initiatives, said students could participate in the month’s events regardless of their level of awareness or involvement in sexual violence prevention initiatives.

“We want to promote the idea that we are a community that really cares about each other,” Gesicki said. “From t-shirts with brothers and sisters keepers, all the way to learning how to be a bystander, to resources, it’s wherever you can be a part. Maybe you’re only at the point where you can wear a t-shirt. That’s fine. But maybe you’re ready to be certified as an active bystander. There’s a lot of different ways to get involved, and the idea is that this is offering a lot of opportunities.

“You don’t have to do all the things, but do something, and realize that it’s part of a larger effort not only to raise awareness but to raise the investment in the fact that our community is built by every single person.”

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