SU students take stand against assaults

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — Students at Shenandoah University in Winchester expect a flood of raindrops on Thursday. In fact, that’s exactly what they want.

As part of the school’s national RAINN Day effort, members of the school’s (Not Just) Women’s Center have encouraged visitors at the Brandt Student Center this week to take a pledge against sexual violence by signing their names on paper raindrops. The pledge isn’t only a vow not to harm others — it’s also a vow to stand up to those who would.

Sexual assault doesn’t only happen in dark alleys, said Katie Moss, a 20-year-old peer mentor with the (Not Just) Women’s Center.

“It something that easily happens in dating and intimate relationships,” she said. “It starts with consent … It starts from the beginning of every sexual action to the end, and if there’s not consent throughout the whole thing, that’s rape. And a lot of times people don’t know that.”

RAINN is the moniker for the Rape, Assault & Incest National Network. The organization promotes awareness mainly on college and university campuses, and as organizer of this year’s local campus event, Moss said her goal is to help prevent future sexual assaults.

“It’s a great way to talk to other people about hard things, because it’s hard to talk about sexual violence and how it affects you or family members, it’s very uncomfortable,” she said. “I’m glad that the (Not Just) Women’s Center exists for that purpose and that we’re supported by the community here at Shenandoah.”

The (Not Just) Women’s Center promotes healthy relationships for men and women, said peer mentor Le-Leah Hopkins, 28.

Because college campuses have higher statistics of rape, she said, “This is a very important environment and community of growing young adults to learn what’s right and what’s wrong, … and that you are supported, you’re not alone, whether you’re male or female.”

Now in its second year, the (Not Just) Women’s Center formed as a place where students can talk about problems they might otherwise try to hide, said Director of Women’s Studies Amy Sarch. Peer mentors are trained by professional counselors at The Laurel Center in Winchester, but only provide peer support, not counseling services.

For last year’s RAINN Day, participants handed out teal ribbons for students, staff and faculty to wear as a sign of their support in helping end sexual violence on campus, Sarch said. This year they took it a step further by asking sports teams to wear ribbons and pose for team pictures that they will post to Twitter using #RAINNDay and #NJWC.

Sarch said she meets at least 10 students a year who relate personal stories of sexual violence to her.

“Most of them happened before they got here,” she said, “but they had stories and they had a history, and they had no way to talk about it or express it.”

But determining a particular problem at Shenandoah hasn’t been easy, she said.

Reports are “very underrepresented, so it’s hard to say if it’s an issue on campus, so we try to create a climate where actually it’s a part of conversation,” she said.

The (Not Just) Women’s Center, located at 210 Cooley Hall near Residence Life and the counseling center, has participated in other campus events like Take Back the Night, the Red Flag Campaign and One Billion Rising (the number of women estimated to experience sexual assault or domestic violence in her lifetime).

Their goal this week is to educate others, to help stop sexual violence before it happens, said senior Kaedy Fischer, 21, student director of the (Not Just) Women’s Center.

“Even just speaking about women in a negative light [leads to violence],” she said. It’s about “Being able to say, ‘Hey, that’s not okay,'” she said, “’cause that’s really where it all begins.”

Contact the (Not Just) Women’s Center by emailing Kaedy Fischer at 540-535-3463 or email asarch@su.edu.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com