Why did you decide to start the It’s On Us campaign at OU and how did you spark support for the campaign on our campus?
After returning from a Big XII conference last year, I began drafting legislation to create the SGA It’s On Us Taskforce. This had been done at several other schools for students to be advocates for sexual assault awareness. OU has some amazing programs led by staff and administration regarding sexual assault awareness and bystander prevention training, but there was no student led initiative previous to It’s On Us. After the legislation passed, two other Congress members, Tom Cassidy and Mackenzie Cordova, helped me get the It’s On Us Taskforce and campaign off the ground. We worked to create a preliminary event on the South Oval and on social media, where we advocated for people to sign the “It’s On Us Pledge,” encouraging students to write “It’s On Us” on their hands. We took their pictures in front of the Bizzell Library and kicked off our campaign on social media. Many people on campus want to do more to stop sexual assault from happening and want to learn more about bystander prevention methods. The people’s desire to do more was already there—we just created a student initiative for people to rally around.
Obama and Biden launched this program 3 years ago hoping to call attention to/change campus sexual assault culture. What are some factors that characterize sexual assault culture, specifically at OU?
Some factors that characterize rape culture at OU are similar to the typical societal characteristics of rape culture that often blames the victim. This takes the form of asking, “How much did you drink?” or “What were you wearing?” This puts the blame on the victim, implying they caused the sexual assault to occur. Statistics show that one in four women and one in sixteen men will be victims of sexual assault. Often, victims don’t feel comfortable coming forward and reporting sexual assaults because of fear of persecution, public shame, and people generally not believing them. This is a result of our campus culture as well as societal culture. While OU has done quite a bit of work to try to create a culture where we encourage victims to come forward, there is still stigma and fear.
What do you think needs to be done in order to change this culture at OU?
I believe at the student body level, we have a lot of work to do to stop/change rape culture at OU. Students make up the largest population on campus. If we all were to stop promoting aspects of rape culture, it truly could make a change. I believe that we can do this by actually practicing bystander prevention, not just going through the training. The training is absolutely amazing and gives students the tools to react and step in, but it means nothing if we do not utilize these tools—for example, making sure a friend gets home when they have had too much to drink, ensuring that people have given consent, supporting one another and not making light of a situation that someone believes could lead to a sexual assault. I think that a lot of the time many students will see a situation that could potentially lead to sexual assault, but they assume the best and trust the individuals rather than simply asking if they are okay or if they need help.
Also, I think that rape culture has been influenced by people and students jokingly using the word rape. There have been many times I have heard students say things like “This test raped me,” and so on. This sort of language is absolutely appalling and only furthers rape culture. It makes light of and desensitizes the issue of rape and sexual assault. It is an extremely serious and traumatic event, and for students to use the language as a joke is not acceptable. I think it is on students to step in and ask our friends to do better; it’s just one small thing that people can do to help end rape culture.
Finally, I think that if someone comes to you and tells you that they have been sexually assaulted, it is absolutely imperative that as a student and a friend you are there to listen to them, tell them you believe them, and help them through that extremely difficult process. Make yourself aware of campus resources so you can be there for someone seeking help. Never pressure a victim of sexual assault to report or get help, as that is a deeply personal choice, but just being aware of what resources are out there can go a long way in helping our fellow students.
What other resource and programs helping to accomplish this work?
The Gender and Equality Center, the Title IX office, and Student Affairs are all huge resources that are working with It’s On Us to help us start the campaign. They have helped provide funding, promotion, and connections to help It’s On Us get off the ground. Other resources that are helping to end rape culture include the counseling centers, OU Advocates, and Step In, Speak Out peer educators.
How can students get involved in this campaign?
Students can get involved in the campaign by applying to be members of the It’s On Us Taskforce. The applications will be up on the SGA OrgSync very soon! Please apply and get involved with this amazing SGA initiative to end sexual assault.
Kaylee Rains-Saucedo is the Chair of the Undergraduate Student Congress. She is a senior studying Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Oklahoma.