Standing up for healthy relationships

June 19th, 2015 9:12 am

First Posted: 11/21/2014

“It’s her fault for dressing like a slut. She was asking for it.”

“Even though he was too drunk to give consent, it was obvious he wanted it, so it wasn’t rape.”

This is the type of ideology Marywood University faculty and students hope to expel on campus and in the community with their participation in President Obama’s national It’s On Us campaign.

The institution’s Counseling and Student Development Center and the Relationship And Empowerment (RAE) Task Force hosted Healthy Relationships Week Nov. 19 through 21 with a lineup of events focusing on sexual assault awareness and violence prevention.

“College is a time where a lot of young adults are really growing up and making decisions that will affect them for a very long time,” said Laurie McMillan, associate professor in the Marywood English department. “And there have been a lot of reported incidents of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, particularly. …It’s a culture where a lot of people are drinking and are socializing, so there are a whole bunch of situations that are set up, that lead to sexual assaults happening regularly. So, I think it’s just important to educate ourselves and to think about why it’s happening and what we can do to prevent it.”

The Clarks Summit resident facilitated a screening and discussion of the movie “Mean Girls” (2004, starring Lindsay Lohan), Tuesday, Nov. 18 on campus, to get students thinking about certain themes in the film industry and pop culture, and how those affect the way people view sex and violence.

The movie, she pointed out, makes a direct statement against “slut-shaming,” yet is counter-productive in the way it mocks the female characters who are sexually active, portraying all of them as “mean” or “stupid.”

“So, connecting that with It’s On Us,” she said, “how often are we judging people for sexual behavior, and how does that contribute to…the idea that girls are at fault in situations of sexual assault, which is something that happens regularly — the blaming of the victim.”

Barbara Decker, of Waverly, associate director of the Counseling and Student Development Center, said this attitude is unfortunately often condoned in today’s “hooking up” culture on college campuses.

“Two people can walk away from a situation,” she said, “with one person feeling like ‘they really took advantage of me,’ and the other person feeling like, ‘he or she wanted it, and they just weren’t being clear about it,’ or something like that. So, I think it’s so important to get the word out about consent, and communication in relationships and making sure that we’re respecting each other when we’re being intimate with each other.”

Another event on campus which aimed to get that message across this week was the It’s On Us video shoot and launch party, held Wednesday, Nov. 19 in the Nazareth Student Center.

Various student groups hosted literature tables, refreshments were provided and a portable video studio was set up to record a Marywood version of the It’s On Us videos, available online. A pledge station with laptops linking to the campaign website was also available for attendees to sign the It’s On Us pledge to take a stand against sexual assault.

Susan Wilkerson, of Clarks Summit, a University of Scranton graduate student majoring in clinical mental health and interning at Marywood’s Counselling and Student Development Center, wore her blue It’s On Us T-shirt at the party.

After recently writing a 25-page paper titled, “Sexual Assault of College Woman on University Campuses,” Wilkerson said one thing she learned while conducting her research is that many people who are sexually assaulted know their attackers, and less than five percent report the crime.

“It’s really important for us to support each other,” she said, “and not to blame the person, because no one deserves to be assaulted.”

She added she is reluctant to use the word “victim” when talking about a sexual assault, as that can easily become a person’s identity. She would rather view and portray him or her as a “whole person” and with respect.