Sexual Assault Awareness on Campus

 

            “Consent” is the word of the month for April, national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). It’s also a busy time of year for the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equality on KU campus. The Emily Taylor Center helps student organizations promote gender equality with events throughout the school year, but SAAM requires some special attention.

 

On April 13, Spectrum KU, a student led LGBTQIA organization, hosted Consent Coffeehouse on the first floor of the Union to discuss what is and isn’t healthy for relationships and how consent is defined. The conversation was led by freshman Zyrie Berry Hendricks and the Prevention Educator for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center (SAPEC) Meagan Collins. Free refreshments and a performance by Asher Brown, a singer and songwriter whose music reflects his experiences as a transgender person, attracted an audience of about 50.

“Consent for me starts with the little things. If someone’s not willing to consent to little things like existing in my personal space, that’s automatically a red flag for me. I feel like if you can’t consent to the smaller stuff, how can you consent when it comes to sexual engagement?” said Alexis Schweitzer.

 

Schweitzer, a KU junior who actively plays soccer, said she often encounters athletes with hyper-masculine identities, which can lead to uncomfortable invasions of personal space. Though Schweitzer identifies as a white cisgender female, many students present brought up issues of race and sexuality within the context of how consent presents itself.

 

“I also think it’s important to recognize that consent looks different for people of color,” said junior Frank Angel, who is of mixed Native and white heritage. “It’s gotten to the point where I used to put on my profile that I’m indigenous […]but I stopped doing it because I would get messages of men saying, ‘Oh, I’ve never been with a Native guy before’.”

 

Junior Larresa Kelpin agreed, discussing instances during which her light-skin categorized her as “exotic” or “not too black” in the eyes of both men and women approaching her. She felt dehumanized by the fetishization of her race.

“That topic of how does patriarchy and gender oppression get re-appropriated by women, by men or by whoever, doesn’t just apply to straight CIS white men. Other people take it on as a tool for power and control,” said Collins.

 

While feminism is historically defined as advocating for women’s rights based on the idea of gender equity, modern day feminists are taking steps to challenge that sort of exclusivity, broadening the definition to include more people of color and differing sexual orientations.

 

            “I think that in third wave feminism especially, it’s really important that we are inclusive. […] I guess the way I would explain this is that first and second wave feminism was sort of exclusive toward white middle class women and they didn’t want people to see them as all lesbians. So they sort of pushed women who were lesbians out of the way, and also black feminists. […] Now I think we’re working towards a point where we’re trying to invite those people back and say, ‘Hey, wait. We want you. Your problems are our problems’,” said AJ Gonzalez, a freshman who acts as an event coordinator for the Emily Taylor Center. “Feminism is the equality of the sexes in a very broad term, so if there’s any type of discrimination toward any type of gender, then that is a feminist problem.”