April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and we want to highlight two chapters that are redefining fraternity by raising awareness for this critical topic on their campus.
I sat down with Devan Schaefer, chapter president at South Dakota State University and Hugh Zehr, chapter president at the University of Northern Iowa to discuss why sexual assault awareness is so important to them and what advice they have for other chapters wanting to champion this issue on their campuses.
BW: Why is this topic important to your SigEp chapter?
DS: Most of our brothers know someone who has been impacted by sexual assault. When we think about what it means to say “This Fraternity will be different,” we have to take a stand against the stigmas and stereotypes around fraternity. When we show that we care about this topic, we show that we are different and we can make a difference.
HZ: Like most colleges, we all get alerts for any crime that happens on or around campus. The problem is really visible and there needs to be leadership on this issue. Brotherly Love is outward-facing love that we are expected to show as members of SigEp. Sexual Assault Awareness Week is our best way to do that. We are working to make campus a safer and healthier place for our fellow students.
BW: How do you get the campus involved with this important topic?
DS: We do a 24-hour see-saw right in front of our student union, like UNI’s chapter does. That way, we catch people’s eye as they walk by and they come up and talk with us. We also partner with the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter and have increased our partnership with other student organizations too.
HZ: Our success comes from our partnership with the Riverview Center on campus. They provide sexual assault support and resources to UNI students and we work with them during our Sexual Assault Awareness week. We’ve really built off that partnership too, working with the Title XI office, center for violence prevention, the International Justice Mission (a sex trafficking advocacy group) and the Northern Iowa feminist club. This helps us spread our message across campus with a unified voice.
BW: What have you seen as a result of SigEp’s commitment to sexual assault awareness?
DS: Personally, it has helped me show empathy more; it is one of the most important things. It is a really hard topic to talk about. A lot of people might want to shy away from it. People know that SigEp on our campus doesn’t shy away from it and we are starting important conversations.
HZ: Every SigEp is trained to do Mentors for Violence Prevention (MVP) training and so we are known around campus for doing that. People know that SigEp is committed to this and we are partnering with more organizations every year to send this message.
BW: What advice do you have to other chapters that may want to get started raising awareness for sexual assault?
DS: Don’t tackle it by yourself – that isn’t the point. Find groups or people that want to support your effort. Around campus there are knowledgeable people who want to help. With more partners, you can increase your budget and increase your reach. There are others across campus on the same mission as you.
HZ: Agreed. It is not about “us.” This is about spreading brotherly love and making campus a safer and healthier place. We do that by partnering with others. It is critical to have a unified message. Partner with others — this is a people issue — not just a men’s issue or women’s issue
South Dakota State (@sigepsdstate) will have their fifth annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week next fall. Northern Iowa had their week planned for April and have transitioned to raising awareness for this critical issue through social media. You can follow them at @sigepuni to see what they are sharing.