WGAC hosts annual Sexual Assault Awareness Day on the plaza

The Plaza will be bustling Thursday with the Women and Gender Advocacy Center hosting their annual Sexual Assault Awareness Day as part of their larger Sexual Assault Awareness Month. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., students and staff can honor survivors and learn all about sexual assault and the work that WGAC does.

Advocates will be in the plaza all day letting students know about the more than 20 events being hosted during SAAM, including Take Back the Night, also Thursday, and the keynote address on April 22.

There will be tables to present the many campaigns that WGAC is involved in, including the Clothesline Project where survivors can create visual representations of their experiences on a t-shirt, and their Consent Turns Me On campaign which stresses the importance of asking for consent.

“We’re trying to do things that are really fun and playful. Oftentimes, these kinds of events can be really heavy — obviously because the issue is heavy — but we’re trying to de-stigmatize the conversations,” said Monica Rivera, assistant director for gender education and prevention.

WGAC is a resource for all survivors of sexual assault on campus and those affected by sexual assault. According to Rivera, the Center is victim-centered.

“We work with both primary and secondary survivors,” she said. “The primary survivor is the person who experienced the assault and the secondary survivors are the people connected to that person.”

There are two branches to WGAC: direct services for survivors and educational programming. Direct services include victim advocates and legally confidential, safe help for survivors. The educational programming comes in with their campaigns and teaching how one can ask for consent.

“I think the way that the office works on prevention is really cutting edge in the field because it focuses on consent and the potential perpetrator to really popularize the idea that it’s everyone’s responsibility to get consent as opposed to promoting tactics telling women to keep themselves safe,” said John Harrold, program coordinator for men’s programming and violence prevention.

As a victim advocate, Casey Malsam says that her job is to “meet with people and help them navigate the healing process.” Malsam does this by helping report the assault, helping with academic troubles, running a support group, and even going to court with victims to provide emotional support.

According to Rivera, one in four women and one in six men on campus experience sexual violence. “We’re really talking about 25 percent of our female population. I always say that if we had tree branches knocking out 25 percent or our female population there would definitely be a response,” she said.

Creating a response and working to solve the problem is the goal of Thursday’s Day on The Plaza and of WGAC, in general.

“I would love to not have a job. If I didn’t have to meet with survivors every day because sexual assault wasn’t happening that would be awesome,” Rivera said. “That’s kind of our goal.”

Collegian Writer McKenna Ferguson can be reached at news@collegian.com.