York College plans 'Week of Action' for sexual assault awareness

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2017, file photo, participants rally outside CNN's Hollywood studios on Sunset Boulevard to take a stand against sexual assault and harassment for the #MeToo March in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. A spate of recent public revelations, including the spontaneous #metoo discussions on social media, is emboldening many victims of sexual harassment to speak up, but many still remain silent. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Survivors of sexual assault have been more vocal than ever this year, gaining confidence to speak up with the #MeToo and Time's Up movements — even calling out public figures including politicians, A-list actors and President Donald Trump.

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York College is getting involved in bringing more awareness to the issue of sexual assault with a Week of Action April 9-13 in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Speaking out against sexual assault is not new for the college.

In 2016, the school received a three-year grant from the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, which helps institutions go above and beyond in the fight against sexual violence, according to college officials.

The college also was awarded two grants through Gov. Tom Wolf's It's on Us initiative for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 grant cycles.

"There were a lot of really good things that were already happening at York," said Liz Grubb, speaking about when she took over as coordinator of sexual and relationship violence prevention at the college last year.

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Students had participated in a Week of Action last year, she said, but this year will be about making it bigger — taking it to the next level of collaboration and visibility, and making sure students feel safe by not only highlighting resources to aid survivors after incidents of assault but talking about responsibility and intervention strategies before an incident occurs.

Student involvement: The planning committee this year is also bigger, Grubb said, with several department and community partnerships as well as many student organizations.

Some of the campus organizations participating are Allies Committed to Social Justice; the multicultural affairs group UNITY; the student senate; the student athletic advisory committee; LGBT+ group LAMBDA; the inter-fraternity council, the sorority leadership group Panhellenic; the psychology club; and the campus activities board.

All student organizations also are serving on the SPEAK council — Spartans Preventing, Educating, Advocating and Knowing what to do to end violence.

"I'm really excited about the whole week," said York College senior Jessika Roberts, who's been involved with advocacy since 2016.

Sexual assault at universities and colleges is a problem, not just in fraternities and sororities, she said, but in how students think about sexual assault.

Roberts, the president of LAMBDA and treasurer of the psychology club, said students coming from high school don't always have a good understanding of sexual assault. College is their first experience of the real world, with more freedom, access, friends, social groups and pressures — a very quick switch to adulthood, she said.

But assault is also a problem in every aspect of society, whether in the workplace or just walking down the street — so it's better to start educating sooner rather than later, she added.

Week of Action: The college is featuring several events during the week, including those for students of York College — Speak Out, which allows survivors to share their stories, and a trivia night that will center on the history of the sexual assault awareness movement and the national focus on movements such as #MeToo.

Three events will be open to the public:

Monday, April 9: Unity, created by Nancy Belmont, tackles the negativity of American politics in an interactive art display, in which people can show how they are connected by intertwining yarn between posts that reflect their identities.

Posts will have identifiers such as “I’m a parent; I speak English as a second language; I identify as LGBTQ,” according to a news release. 

Tuesday, April 10: The 32nd annual Crime Victims' Rights March and Candlelight Vigil, hosted by the York County Victims' Rights Coalition, will take place in downtown York City at 7 p.m.  

York College is supporting the gathering, which begins at the Colonial Court House and follows West Market Street to Trinity United Church of Christ. The free event, to be held rain or shine, will honor survivors with a roll call and candle lighting. More information can be found on the event's Facebook page.

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Wednesday, April 11: The college will offer activities associated with Take Back the Night, a nonprofit organization fighting sexual and domestic violence, at 7 p.m. at the college's Waldner Performing Arts Center. Programming features a keynote speaker from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and a local all-female improv troupe.

Roberts said she is most excited about Wednesday's events, noting that the improv will provide an interactive way for allies and individuals who might not be very knowledgeable about sexual assault to have a visualization of the problem.

She also hopes the programming will give those who might have committed sexual assault an opportunity to realize, "I did something wrong. How could I make it better?"

The college will have counselors available during the week to talk to students who feel they want to come forward, because Roberts said it's not helpful to cut those students off and make them feel as though they can't make a change.

"If one person were to (come forward) through this Week of Action, we made progress," Roberts said, because hopefully that person could become a person of advocacy for others or give them the confidence to speak up, she said.