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Students, Faculty, Staff: ‘It’s On Us’

Kaitlin Hall, Reporter

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The “It’s On Us” campaign is demonstrating that members of the campus community can bring about change with teamwork.

The campaign focuses on sexual assault issues as well as healthy relationships, domestic violence and caring for others throughout society.

President Thomas Botzman said it also made people reflect about their roles as bystanders.

“It reminds me of back when I was in college and the discussions of drunk driving. It was something that young people did and we all knew it was wrong, but it was the discussion of the bystander taking your keys away, and saying ‘this is wrong, don’t do it, and if we want to be angry and disagree, we can do that tomorrow, but right now this is done,’” Botzman said. “I really think the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign is one that says to us that we can have those discussions and educate each other. Let’s talk about things. Let’s talk about what we should do and not what we shouldn’t do.”

Students have embraced the campaign and made it their own. Last spring, 400 students gathered on the quad to sign the “It’s On Us” pledge. Every student, faculty and staff member involved did not hesitate to sign on.

“I think that it is important for us to continue to put in front of each other our responsibility to support each other and question when we see things that may be inappropriate. I think that’s what Misericordia is, so I think that it is very natural that we would have an ‘It’s On Us’ campaign,” said Kit Foley, Vice President of Student Life.

“It’s what we have been doing. It’s a way to keep it in the forefront of everybody’s thinking, and I think that is really important.”

The student organization Promoting Healthy Relationships Through Education and Empowerment is a peer education group that took part in the campaign. Ewelina Taran, Resident Director and PHREE peer educators advisor, said the goal is to bring awareness to issues while communicating the positive message that students can have an impact.

“The desire of PHREE to join the campaign stems from the value that PHREE places on taking ownership as a campus that our community’s safety is vital to us. Therefore, the mission of the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign regarding universities being able to say that it is on them to address the issue of sexual assault on their college campus fits in with what Misericordia is about,” said Taran.

Through their involvement, students are showing that the issue is important to them.

“Without our students, it would be impossible for the campaign to exist in our community as the students are the reason as to why staff and faculty are at Misericordia,” said Taran.

The campaign was organized by Amy Lahart, Dean of Students and Chuck Edkins, Athletic Director. With Foley, they worked to formulate a campus committee. The resulting initiative included the PACT program, which stands for Promoting Awareness for College Transition, which is mandatory for all first year students. The goal is to focus on prevention and education of students and the community.

“When I do a PACT program, I talk about how I am not in this conversation because I am the Dean of Students, or a staff member at Misericordia. I am in this conversation because I am a woman, and I want to be able to have those deep conversations, when it comes to prevention, respect, consent and what healthy relationships are, and what we should all aspire to in healthy relationships,” said Lahart. “Having that reciprocal love, respect, consent and understanding is who we are as people to be able to do that. For me, it is a very personal, a very, very personal thing.”

She added that the campaign works to facilitate open communication.

“I think there needs to be more of the open dialogue conversations, and I want to be a catalyst for that for women and for men, but as we have these conversations as women, I like to be a catalyst for that for students,” Lahart said.

Assistant Professors Dan Kimbrough and Rachel Urbanowicz from the Department of Mass Communications and Design, worked with students to create the video, posters and radio shows.

“They were tremendous in helping us put forward a product. The products came in forms of posters that you probably have seen around campus with students, faculty and staff and the phrase that they utilized during the film on either the video portion or radio. The pledge for that was the large ‘It’s On Us’ posters and we had everyone back in April sign on the poster. ‘It’s On Us’ has evolved in the last four years, but we are very proud to couple with the ‘It’s On Us’ people to make it ours,” Edkins.

Edkins praised the active role of the students.

“Early on the sexual assault prevention student groups have come along and they have had good support, but the result of the PHREE committee and PACT and ‘It’s On Us,’ we have really seen our students take a step up. For example, we have gone from maybe a half dozen students PHREE Peer Educators to over 22, so I think they understand the message,” he said.

One heavily involved student is PHREE peer educator Linsey Parks, a junior speech language pathology major. “While our incidences of sexual assault are not nearly as high as other campuses, sexual assault, rape, and other types of gender based violence happen everywhere. These are issues that need to be talked about because they do pertain to everyone here at Misericordia as well,” Parks said.

Lahart said the key piece to the campaign’s success is that organizers spent a lot of time talking as a group.

“When we were first forming and overwhelmingly everyone at the table said yes, we need to have specific conversations in things like sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, those bystander interventions and those kinds of things. That just speaks to the core of this institution. [The institution] has grabbed onto it so overwhelmingly because it’s not just about one particular topic, but a foundation of healthy relationships. If we have healthy relationships, these other things will be prevented,” said Lahart.

Edkins said the challenge was to create a positive message with such a difficult topic.

“The challenging parts need to be discussed, and the hard conversations need to be had. I think too many times it is lost on young men and women, is to how you develop the positive piece. We talk about as much as the positive actions, responses, and choices as we do ‘this is rape’ or ‘this is sexual assault.’ It is very important to talk about that, but maybe if we can talk more about the healthy relationships side, we reduce the number of sexual assaults,” said Edkins.

Organizers say the conversations will lead to the type of behaviors that the Sisters of Mercy want, and Sister Catharine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, would have wanted from the institution.

“I am thrilled that we are having this conversation. There is always room for improvement. We are not going to be able to prevent everything, but we can educate. We can work to create a culture that understands the direction we want the expectations of behavior [to take]. That the students are having these conversations is fabulous,” Botzman said.

“I am thrilled. It is my time now, and for tomorrow it is important for us to do those things that we need to do,” he added.

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Students, Faculty, Staff: ‘It’s On Us’