Op-ed: Vote yes on sexual assault education referendum

Nick Gumas is the president of the Student Association.

Next week, when you vote for the next group of Student Association leaders, you will also have the opportunity to voice your support for a specific student advocacy goal: Working to end campus sexual violence through increased education.

A question on your ballot will ask whether you support establishing a stand-alone session on sexual violence prevention and education during Colonial Inauguration. I, along with a coalition of 65 student organizations, strongly urge you to vote yes. Here’s why:

Currently, there is only one optional educational session offered at CI during which incoming students can learn about the issue of sexual violence and what resources are available on campus for survivors. Out of the 500 students who attended the most recent CI, only one incoming student went to the sexual violence education session. Clearly, the mechanism on which we are relying to educate incoming students is not working.

Colonial Cabinet members perform skits about the topic of sexual violence, and administrators discuss it during their remarks. But neither of those options actually inform incoming students about the complexity and severity of the issue. Colonial Cabinet members are often tasked with answering difficult questions from incoming students about sexual violence at GW.

For the overwhelming majority of incoming students, that is their only option for discussing this issue. It is an unfair burden to place on the Colonial Cabinet to educate incoming students – through answering questions posed to them – about the issue of sexual violence.

What makes the matter even more urgent is something called the “red zone” – the first few weeks a student is on campus freshman year. A freshman woman has a higher chance of being sexually assaulted during the red zone than at any other time during college. This fact makes it even more essential to ensure that every student is prepared on day one.

This session will educate incoming students about the issue of sexual violence, including the definition of consent and what constitutes rape. It will let them know what resources are available on campus if an assault occurs.

The session will also encourage bystander intervention – building on the theme of the national “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual violence on college campuses. Part of ending assault is creating a culture in which it is not just acceptable but expected that individuals will intervene if they see a situation that could potentially result in sexual assault.

We all know that sexual violence is pervasive on college campuses, and that includes GW. According to the University’s own climate survey, roughly one in three LGBT students and one in three upper-class female students have survived some form of sexual violence. That same survey found that 80 percent of undergraduates do not know how to contact our Title IX office, and a majority of both undergraduate and graduate students believe GW should increase and improve education about sexual violence.

Implementing this session for all incoming students will not eradicate sexual violence on campus. But it will make sure every student is more informed about the issue, which is a positive step forward.

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