Student Profile: Rennie Harrison

In the fall of 2016, conversations about campus culture and sexual assault took center stage at the University of Richmond after two Westhampton college students came forward with their stories on how they felt that the university administration mishandled their sexual assault hearings.  For Rennie Harrison (WC ‘18), a student leader who has been fighting to change this campus culture, it has been both a rewarding and challenging endeavour.  

Rennie is one of 28 students who are members of the It’s On Us National Student Committee. It’s On Us is a national campaign founded by former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden that strives to end sexual assault on college campuses. Rennie was inspired to apply for this position after working with the Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board here at UR, which was lead by Maura Smith, the campus Title IX coordinator. 

Although serving on this national committee is a great honor and accomplishment, Rennie’s efforts to combat sexual assault on our campus have been met with some challenges.

“I hate to feel like we are in an adversarial relationship with the administration. That’s not what I want,” she said.

Rennie said that one challenge for her was learning that President Crutcher selected only two undergraduate students to serve on his Advisory Committee for Sexual Violence Prevention and Response. The purpose of this committee is to “review the University’s training, prevention, and response efforts, as well as policies and procedures,” according to the university’s website.  

“Students have a lot of voice and power, but we are not the ones writing policy,” she said.

However, Rennie praised the university for taking steps in the right direction by making policy changes after this issue came to light this past fall. Some of these changes include gender-flexible housing, new Spidercards that have the Greater Richmond Sexual Assault Hotline phone number printed on them and creating a center for sexual assault response and prevention on campus.  

Currently, Rennie is in the process of planning an It’s On Us week in April for the University of Richmond. During this week, we can expect to see a pledge drive, a consent workshop lead by the Richmond Sex Ed Project and a theatre performance. Although planning this week has been hard work, Rennie is motivated by the positive attitudes of other students on campus who are also working to combat sexual assault.

“It’s rewarding to see the willingness for people to take action. It wasn’t for class credit or a resumé builder. People were doing it just because they understood that it was wrong,” she said.

Rennie also praised several programs on campus such as PSMA, Spiders Against Sexual Assault and Violence, and WILL* that advocate for ending sexual violence and addressing toxic cultures regarding sexual assault and violence. She said she believes that these are all good programs for any UR student who is looking to become more involved with addressing sexual assault on our campus. She said it is important that students use their voices for an issue that affects many students across college campuses.

“It’s a good thing that all of this stuff came to light because it meant we could have these conversations with people,” she said.