CSU celebrates Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By KC Longley

Contributed by Abby Lindenmeier
Upon entering the Student Center (SC) Atrium, the sweet smells of popcorn and cupcakes were strong in the air. Students and faculty milled about, waiting for the event to be kicked off by student speakers. Comment cards depicting quote bubbles hung from strings set up throughout the atrium.

All of the commotion was for Day of Action, an event that multiple campus organizations sponsored to kick off the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Day of Action, held on Tuesday, April 3, was only one of the many featured events that happened throughout April.

“One of the main focuses of the month was to provide opportunities for students that gives them tools and strategies for intervention,” Denise Keary, health and wellness coordinator, said.

Health and Wellness Services, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC), The Counseling Center and the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) have all had a role in executing the multiple events for SAAM.

The goal of these events was, and is, to raise the overall awareness of sexual violence. Through these events, the hope is to educate the Cleveland State University community on how to prevent sexual violence.

With the theme of the campaign being “Embrace Your Voice,” the goal has been to share information on how people can contribute to a safer community through their words and actions. Individuals have had the chance throughout April to learn how to promote the safety, equality and respect of those around them.

“Embrace Your Voice” was also the theme of the Women’s Leadership Symposium that was held on Tuesday, April 10. The symposium included breakout sessions, keynote speakers and panels that featured advice from women of all walks of life.

While the Day of Action event and the symposium were only meant for the month of April, other features of SAAM will continue throughout the year, such as both the Safe Space and Empowered Bystander trainings.

The first day of Safe Space training occurred on Wednesday, April 11 in SC 324. The second will be in the same location on Thursday, April 26 from 9-11 a.m. The point of these trainings is to show individuals ways to improve the visibility of those in the LGBT community, providing the tools to understand and educate others on gender identity and orientation.

Thirty-two empowered bystanders have been involved in trainings throughout April. Some also spoke at Day of Action, where individuals could sign up for the various trainings throughout the month.

Matthew Martis, a senior electrical engineering major, got involved with being a trainer through the executive board of Viking Expeditions (VE). Having friends who work in bars and restaurants, Martis is aware of the questionable things that can happen during and after hours.

“I really wanted to be someone that people could reach out to if they had concerns or issues, and try and be there for them,” Martis, 22, said. “I know it’s sometimes hard for people to open up, but I do think that everybody was listening attentively and that a lot of them will walk away from this knowing how to deal with these situations better.”

Three training sessions have been held for the general population of Cleveland State throughout April. In addition to these trainings, three or four more trainings have been scheduled for specific student organizations to take part in.

At these events, students are taught by their fellow peers that have already undergone training, as well as representatives from Recovery Resources and CRCC. They learn how to take note of symptoms for things such as sexual violence, mental health and addictions.

By attending the bystander training, individuals then learn how to intervene in these situations to the best of their ability, knowing what to do when someone needs help instead of lacking the knowledge to be an active bystander.

Alyssa Osborne, another trainer and  sophomore in nonprofit administration, also learned about being an Empowered Bystander through VE.

Already being a Peer Educator through the Helping You Through Peer Education (HYPE) team on campus, 19-year-old Osborne saw the training as a way to continue her knowledge on how to help students both on and off campus.

“A big takeaway is that they are going to be able to look at a situation, assess the situation and decide what the best option is as a result of this Empowered Bystander training,” Osborne said.

By April 24, all of the trainings will be over aside from the final student organization training, which is open to all students who reside in the dorms on campus. This training will be led by Residence Life on Friday, April 27 at 3-4:30 p.m. in the Fenn Tower Game Room.

The offices on campus like OIE and CRCC are available to students in more than just the month of April.

Tessa Greene, the campus outreach specialist for CRCC, describes CRCC as an organization designed to help support survivors of sexual violence.

“Our vision is the elimination of sexual violence and that CRCC supports survivors of rape and sexual abuse, promotes healing and prevention and advocates for social change,” Greene said.

The campus office for CRCC is located in the Student Center’s Office of Student Life, room 326. Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. are walk-in hours where students can visit to ask questions or come forward with their experience of sexual violence to begin their own recovery process.

“We believe you, and we’re here for you,” Greene said, in regards to students who might hesitate to come forward. “I want folks to hear that no matter how they get in touch with us, or when they get in touch with us, those things will always be true.”

CRCC has an online chat and hotline available 24/7 for those in need. The numbers to the 24/7 Crisis Hotline are 216-619-6192 or 440-423-2020.

CRCC has Crisis Intervention Specialists that are available 24/7 as well.

“[They] can be requested through our hotline and can meet people at hospitals if they’re getting a forensic exam completed after a sexual assault or if they’re at a police department, on campus or off, and they’re reporting an experience of sexual violence,” Greene said.

The Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) deals with discrimination, harassment, sexual violence and retaliation on campus.

“We investigate complaints. We help students by removing the barriers to their success in education that discrimination, harassment and sexual violence can place before them,” Rachel Lutner, director of OIE and Title IX coordinator, said.

“For example, if somebody is sexually assaulted and goes home for a week, then they miss school,” Lutner said. “So we would help them by getting all those absences excused, extended deadlines on any of their their homework and if later down the road they need an alternative assignment, we can help them so that they don’t have to do something that’s triggering. Sometimes we conduct investigations, and we do a lot of problem solving.”

Mariah Butler Vogelgesang, the associate director of OIE and deputy Title IX coordinator, added that OIE is a resource for information and for help.

“Part of our policy here is that employees who are not a confidential resource are Responsible Employees who report information to OIE,” Vogelgesang said. “So we hope to give everyone that we know about, or hear information about, basic information and invite them to have a conversation with us. We know that some will and some will not, and we respect that.”

According to the Cleveland State Title IX webpage, a Responsible Employee includes all faculty, staff and student employees. They are all obligated to report any relevant detail of an issue of discrimination or harassment that they become aware of in the course of their job.

“Besides OIE, Responsible Employees share information on a need-to-know basis only,” according to the Title IX webpage. “[CSU] provides confidential resources for students who want to speak to someone who won’t take any action except in an emergency. These resources include the Counseling Center, CRCC, campus ministry and Health and Wellness.”

In the past year, Lutner noted that the amount of students OIE has helped has increased by three times.

“I think we’re doing a much better job now of communicating what a Responsible Employee is, and that’s just an example of how the more people who know about [OIE], the more people who are reporting and the more people we’re reaching out to,” Vogelgesang said.

OIE is available to anyone who has an interaction or connection with Cleveland State. The office is not limited to just students and faculty. Any individual who has a report that in some way concerns the campus can go to OIE.

When it comes to sexual violence, OIE acts as efficiently as possible once they have acquired all of the details they need to move forward.

“The focus is ‘are you a student here who is being impacted by this issue?’ Sometimes it’s here, sometimes it’s not,” Vogelgesang said. “It’s an important factor because if it’s a here factor, how we handle that will be impacted by how much control we have. But even if it’s not a here factor, we still want to help.”

Lutner also notes that people who come forward with a case of sexual violence sometimes feel guilty in their role of being a victim.

“That should never happen, and we feel that they’re ashamed and embarrassed like they made a mistake, but they didn’t,” Lutner said. “I think part of it is that you don’t have to hide that you experienced sexual harassment.”

While the month of April, as well as SAAM, comes to a close, those involved are very pleased with the turnout at these events.

Keary feels that overall the events for SAAM have gone over well.

“Students want to be involved in the ‘new norm’ of watching out for each other. The Day of Action was positively received with 159 students participating,” Keary said. “Another thing I have noticed is the increased visibility and student media coverage, which speaks volumes for the importance of this issue.”

Keary said that they will work to review the programs and adjust where necessary for next year.

“My hope is to continue the intervention component with our database of student trainers by providing Empowered Bystander sessions in classes, at student organization meetings, during student leadership trainings/workshops and to any student on campus who is interested,” Keary said.

When it comes to the responses from OIE, the office feels that they are getting their messages across to students, having received comments showing that students are aware of how OIE can help in preventing sexual violence and how to address the issue.

“[We hope] to continue the momentum and reach even more students with the message that we all are part of [creating a safer campus] by promoting safety, respect and equality,” Vogelgesang said. “Each of us can do something, from correcting misconceptions of survivors, shutting down harmful jokes, standing-up for victims, promoting consent and practicing healthy communication.”