When Emma J. Heisler Murray reported her sexual assault to the Sarah Lawrence administration, she felt her case was mishandled. Instead of remaining silent, Heisler said ('18), “I told them, this is not okay, and not enough change has happened. So I am taking matters into my own hands.”
This year Heisler-Murray brought It’s On Us to campus. It’s On Us is part of a nation wide program developed by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
Sexual assault is extremely prevalent across the country - according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the United States, “one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted in college.” Many times survivors, like Heisler-Murray, and campus communities are displeased with the way that these incidents are dealt with.
Heisler-Murray described having two goals for the club. First, she wanted to create a safe space. She wants the It’s On Us meetings to be for members, and for anyone in the community who needs support around sexual assault, or those who just need to talk. Second, she wants to improve the way the college handles sexual assault cases. The club wants to change Sarah Lawrence’s communication strategies when talking with sexual assault survivors. In addition, she wants to put a larger emphasis on the safety of the survivor, as well as on the community as a whole.
Heisler-Murray’s goal is to reach all members of the Sarah Lawrence community: students, faculty, staff and administration. She said, “It’s not just on the students, it is on the people who work here.”
“Every campus is struggling in its own way. I do not think we are any better or any worse. Especially this year, it feels like there has been an email every week about something happening,” Heisler-Murray said. “And there are a lot of students being kept in the dark about it and a lot of survivors being kept in the dark about it. I think there is a lot of work to be done, as there is on all college campuses.”
There are existing programs at Sarah Lawrence that focus on sexual assault education and prevention, such as the Orientation guest presentation “Can I Kiss You?”, but Heisler-Murray wants to elaborate on the already established programs, continue the dialogue, and provide more comprehensive education on the subject. Heisler-Murray explained, “There have been steps to make it better. But it is not enough and it is not going fast enough.”
On October 9, It’s On Us will participate in the nationwide campaign, the Fall Week of Action. There will be events aimed at raising awareness and starting a dialogue about sexual assault, including Teal Tuesday, in which everyone on campus will be encouraged to wear teal in support of survivors of sexual assault. The Fall Week of Action will also include events like documentary screenings, and other kinds of educational information.
On a national level, a large piece of the It’s On Us campaign is bystander intervention training, which teaches skills on how to intervene and prevent dangerous or potentially dangerous situations. Another part of the It’s On Us campaign on the national level is the pledge to end sexual assault. The pledge created by the campaign is, “To recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur, to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given, and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.” Heisler-Murray plans to incorporate the pledge and bystander intervention training into the Sarah Lawrence group.
Heisler-Murray said that she hopes people at Sarah Lawrence get involved because, “Sexual assault is such a big issue. It is happening to so many people, and it could happen to anyone. And the way it is addressed needs so much work.”
The group meets every Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the MacCraken meeting room More information is available on their Facebook page, including upcoming events on campus and in the area, and other relevant and educational materials about sexual assault.
Nora Tomas '19