This summer, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), of which Kappa Alpha Theta is one of 26 members, and the National Interfraternity Conference (NIC), which has over 70 member groups, endorsed the Safe Campus Act and Fair Campus Act, which were both introduced in the US House of Representatives on July 29. The impetus for this action—as I wrote in a blog post in August—was a desire to address the problem of sexual misconduct on US campuses. The statistics are appalling and unacceptable: there are too many occurrences and too many victims. The status quo must change. Kappa Alpha Theta supported the efforts of NPC and NIC to utilize our collective position of leadership to make a positive change on college campuses through a multi-faceted legislative approach.
Recently, after collaboration with two senators (including a member of Kappa Alpha Theta) who have led the charge in offering legislative solutions to address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, NPC and NIC agreed to withdraw their endorsement of the current form of the Safe Campus Act. The senators agreed to collaborate with NPC and NIC to continue to support a legislative agenda that, in addition to offering solutions related to sexual assault adjudication, focuses on protecting our right to organize as a single-sex organization, preventing organizations from being penalized for allegations of criminal misconduct which do not directly involve our organizations, and respecting the vital role alumnae play in supporting our students who rely on confidential counsel from their mentors. Kappa Alpha Theta continues to support the efforts of NPC and NIC.
Of ultimate importance is eliminating the problem of sexual assault altogether, and unfortunately that cannot be achieved through legislation alone. Theta has a long tradition of offering not only support for survivors of sexual misconduct and sexual violence, but also a commitment to engaging members in prevention and intervention efforts. Through our award-winning Sisters Supporting Sisters initiative, we connect members to a comprehensive program of educational resources addressing interpersonal violence, healthy relationships and communication, emotional well-being, and more.
Our Fraternity also has a long tradition of respecting the voices and opinions of our members. We are proud of the Thetas who continue to lead discussions on this important topic, and we remain committed to working with our sister groups, NPC, campus professionals, and victims' advocates to develop effective solutions.
College is always an emotionally charged time. It is four years of self-development, from deciding your major to finding your home away from home. Some days you could feel unstoppable—you get a great grade on a paper, the cafeteria has your favorite meal, and you got a full night's rest. Other days, you bomb an exam, the coffee machine is broken, and your roommates kept you up all night. For some, it's hard to pick yourself up after a bad day, to quiet the voice in your head kicking you when you're down, saying, "If only you studied more..." or "I'll never be successful this semester." It's hard to keep your head up in the face of defeat, to keep on when the course gets tough, but know it takes more than just dedication: It also takes proper mental health.
National Depression Screening Day is today, October 8—a good time to take advantage of Kappa Alpha Theta's online mental health screening programs. Taking this free, anonymous screening can help you or a friend recognize signs of depression and provide avenues to productively treat depression early on. Please take a few minutes and go to www.SistersSupportingSisters.org to start living better.
During the month of October, we are asking Thetas everywhere to participate in the Love is Louder social media movement to show our love and support to all of our sisters—in Theta, in Panhellenic, in life—and let them know that LOVE IS LOUDER than depression (and anxiety, and self-doubt: We need your help to fill in the blank). Last year, we started to make waves on social media bringing awareness to this issue and supporting our friends (see a sample post in the image above). In 2015, with your help, we hope to make an even bigger impact. Have a conversation at your chapter meeting and share the resources on the Sisters Supporting Sisters web page. Share your photos on social media and tag Kappa Alpha Theta in your post (@kappa_alpha_theta on Instagram, @BettieLocke on Twitter, and tagging @Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity on Facebook). You may also send photos to socialmedia@KappaAlphaTheta.org.
Love is Louder was started by The Jed Foundation, MTV, and Brittany Snow to support anyone feeling mistreated, misunderstood, or alone. You can participate by taking a photo of your hand with "Love is Louder" or "Theta Love is Louder" written on your palm. Please join us in this campaign by sharing your photos answering this statement: "Theta Love is Louder than _____." Tag your photos on social media with the following hashtags: #LoveIsLouder and #ThetaLoveIsLouder. Let Theta love be felt everywhere.
This example is used to better illustrate the concept of primary prevention, which is used most often in public health to eradicate an unhealthy behavior (e.g., smoking). Pulling individuals out of the river (i.e., only focusing education on telling women to "stay safe") is not a long-term solution to end interpersonal violence. Our strategy has to include primary prevention tactics, which include challenging the myths that, even unintentionally, support sexual violence.
I know it is challenging to have conversations around sexual violence. It can be especially challenging for women (or women's groups) to think about how they can work in a meaningful way to end sexual assault when we are not the perpetrators. It can be difficult to develop educational programming that goes beyond risk reduction and supporting survivors. Directing efforts through a primary prevention lens that focuses on our engagement in rape-supportive culture empowers us all to take a role in ending sexual violence.
Here are some tangible steps you can take to overcome myths that support and reinforce rape-supportive culture:
- When your friends or organization is planning an event with a theme that is discriminatory toward women or a culture, or simply put, is negative toward women, come up with an alternate (yet fun!) idea that is appropriate. You can address this issue head on, but also come up with a more creative theme that builds others up instead of putting others down.
- When you hear someone make a comment such as "Well, she was really drunk," or "She hooks up with people all the time," challenge those comments. You can say something like, "Being drunk does not give someone permission to touch you without your consent," or "She/he can choose to hook up consensually however often s/he wants, but consent must always be present during sexual activity."
- Place posters and information about sexual assault around your living area. Include information about campus and community resources available to students, where to go for help or how to report an incident, and upcoming events for students to get involved in prevention efforts. Sharing information and resources helps raise awareness and also connects students with resources.
While it can certainly feel overwhelming when reading through the statistics, it is important to us to be informed and also discuss our ability to make a difference on such an important issue. Recently, Theta developed a statement about sexual violence that will guide our work to empower our members to be leaders in campus safety. Hence, Kappa Alpha Theta:
- Supports survivors of sexual misconduct and sexual violence.
- Is committed to engaging members in prevention and intervention efforts.
- Does not support events contributing to the objectification/sexualization of groups of people, including women, or the reinforcement of negative gender roles.
- Works to connect members to resources to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual violence, as well as resources for those members who are survivors of interpersonal violence.
- Encourages all college chapters to host presentations from campus/professional experts on college/university policies and procedures, as well as prevention and intervention best practices and recommendations on an ongoing, regular basis.
Throughout the next few weeks, we will discuss these issues more in-depth as a part of a social media campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence. Our posts will include more conversation on the issue, how to support survivors, rape supportive culture, and opportunities to be an advocate against sexual violence. We hope you join us in the conversation; we want to hear from you.
Institutions of higher education (IHEs) have a responsibility to ensure that all students can live, study, and thrive in a safe and secure environment. But sexual violence allegations on college campuses raise issues that are specific to the fraternity and sorority community. And as values-based organizations and leaders on our campuses, we have a higher calling to promote student development and a positive campus culture.
The Safe Campus Act and the Fair Campus Act provide unprecedented protections to all student victims affected by sexual violence on campus. They are comprehensive in scope, resulting from months of collaboration among leaders of men's and women's fraternities, in consultation with a wide array of subject-matter experts, including law enforcement officials and victims' rights advocates. Their purposes are multi-faceted:
- Require IHEs to provide sexual violence education and prevention, including reporting, bystander intervention, alcohol use and abuse, and fostering development of healthy interpersonal relationships.
- Ensure victim safety and security protections by requiring IHEs to devote appropriate resources for the care, support, and guidance of students affected by sexual violence, including prescribing specific sets of options for reporting and victim care strategies.
- Remove perpetrators of sexual violence from both our campuses and their surrounding communities.
- Maintain our rights to freedom of association, and preserve the network of support we provide to victims, by preventing IHEs from punishing student organizations, such as fraternities and sororities and their members, without a hearing and due process protections.
- Reaffirm our right to exist as single-sex organizations.
- Allow volunteer advisors to student organizations, including our advisory boards, to maintain their traditional role in preserving campus safety by preventing their designation as campus security authorities.
The Safe Campus Act and Fair Campus Act also present a significant opportunity to showcase the value of the membership experience we provide as a leading source of leadership and personal development for college women. Media coverage regarding this initiative has been largely positive (such as this op-ed piece by a San Francisco Chronicle columnist)—a nice change from the trend of the past year. And more to the point, we have an opportunity to play an important role in providing peer-to-peer education regarding sexual violence.
Let's be clear. The ultimate goal is to make this conversation moot. That's why initiatives related to prevention of sexual assault and sexual misconduct are listed first above. I am proud that Theta has a long tradition of offering not only support for survivors of sexual misconduct and sexual violence, but also a commitment to engaging members in prevention and intervention efforts. Through our award-winning Sisters Supporting Sisters initiative, we connect members to a comprehensive program of educational resources addressing interpersonal violence, healthy relationships and communication, emotional well-being, and more. Appreciating that each college campus possesses its own unique culture, we also encourage our chapters to partner with their host institutions to develop programming that meets the needs of their individual campuses. Our education and leadership personnel will continue to work with chapters and among themselves to ensure that we are delivering value through best-in-class programming.
And finally, I would like to encourage everyone, particularly our college women, to join us in a social media campaign. The first six weeks on a college campus are known as the "Red Zone." During the "Red Zone," students, especially first and sometimes second-year students, are at the highest risk of experiencing sexual violence (as compared to the rest of the academic year). Kappa Alpha Theta is participating in NPC's social media campaign from Aug. 17- Sept. 25, during which we will create awareness about the "Red Zone" as well as other campus safety concerns. We encourage you to share, repost, or retweet our messages, or to create your own. (Remember to tag Theta!) The more awareness we create about the "Red Zone," the safer women will be on campuses throughout the U.S. and Canada.
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