‘Be More Than A Bystander’

GW community add their voices to national campaign to combat sexual assault on campuses.

October 29, 2014

By: Ruth Steinhardt

The people onscreen don’t all look, speak or dress alike, but they all do the same thing. Looking steadily into the camera, they make pledges: “To not give our friends a pass.” “To never blame the victim.” “To be more than a bystander.”

The lines represent more than personal resolutions. They are part of a community call to action. Dozens of students at the George Washington University participated in videos released Wednesday for “It’s On Us,” a White-House-facilitated national campaign against sexual assault on campus.

The seven videos—one featuring students from across the university, the others produced with individual student groups—are hosted on a new YouTube channel. They will join another “It’s On Us” video featuring student athletes and athletic administrators, put out in September by GW Athletics.

Also available is a downloadable “It’s On Us” toolkit, which outlines strategies, specific language to use in situations, images and resources for student activists.

Studies estimate that one in five women are assaulted during their time in college—and that most of those women know their attacker. “It’s On Us” is a grassroots-level effort to bring those numbers down by shifting the preventive focus from the victims to their entire community, reminding students to be protective of and responsible for one another.

“A culture change involves an entire university. It’s not just about university administrators and survivors. It’s about our community refusing to tolerate sexual assault and violence,” said George Washington University President Steven Knapp, who attended the campaign’s launch event at the White House in September along with Student Association President Nick Gumas, Athletic Director Patrick Nero, Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles and other campus leaders.

Mr. Gumas says participation in “It’s On Us” is an important part of the SA’s and other student organizations’ ongoing efforts to combat sexual assault on campus. Last year, students spearheaded the effort to update GW’s sexual harassment policy with no statute of limitations for reporting sexual assault.

This year, Mr. Gumas said, student advocacy efforts will be focused on creating a blueprint for “a comprehensive, universal sexual assault education system” for incoming students.

“Last year we worked on how to handle an assault after it has already taken place,” Mr. Gumas said. “This year we want to focus on education and prevention—stopping assault before it happens.”

Initiatives that Mr. Gumas and his colleagues are considering include peer-led discussions, Greek-focused events and bystander intervention training, which helps students spot—and stop—potentially dangerous situations.

“‘It’s On Us’ is a great entry into the conversation [on sexual assault],” said Marshall Cohen, a junior in the School of Media and Public Affairs who participated in the video. “It’s not a reprimand. It’s a reminder and a motivation to be responsible for each other.”

Basic sexual assault awareness training should be part of every student’s introduction to campus, Mr. Gumas said.

“When we’re welcoming people to GW, we also want to be saying, ‘This is one of the expectations we have of you as a member of our community,’” he said. “‘It’s On Us’ is just one part of that larger conversation.”

Take the “It’s On Us” pledge, and promise “not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution.”