Sitting barefoot and cross-legged in a cushioned chair, sophomore and club chair Annaliese Rozos begins the first It’s On Us discussion meeting of the semester. Her co-chair, sophomore Myriam Burger, sits across from her as they alternate explaining the guidelines of the meeting.
“What’s said here, stays here,” Burger says. “But what’s learned here, leaves here.”
It’s On Us is an organization created by Joe Biden and Barack Obama, dedicated to raising awareness and fighting against sexual assault on college campuses for both men and women. The group has been active at Sarah Lawrence since 2016.
“I decided to join because I felt issues of sexual violence are not discusses or handled properly, despite the school’s reputation as a progressive campus,” Rozos said. “Our goals include ensuring that survivors are trusted and supported, uplifting communities beyond Sarah Lawrence through donating and volunteering, and reshaping legislation.”
This year, however, the group is trying to be more inclusive in both their structure and audience.
“We’re doing our best this year to center on and uplift survivors of color, LGBT survivors, disabled survivors, and survivors from lower socioeconomic classes,” Rozos said.
This need for change comes from negative reactions to what happened in years past, says senior member Abbey Serafin, who previously served as the group’s vice president.
“The main problem was that it became a space where not everyone felt comfortable,” Serafin said. “Creating a safe space is the intention of any organization, but it’s especially important for one that can be so personal for a lot of people who show up.”
With this in mind, Rozos and Burger are hoping a wider range of people will assume positions of leadership in the group’s core team. In the past, the club’s leaders and membership was primarily “cisgender, heterosexual white female survivors,” according to Rozos.
“Sexual violence is one of those issues that very disproportionally affects certain communities and that was just never addressed,” Burger said, “and there are clubs on this campus that work to support and serve those communities, and we never once reached out to them.”
Serafin sees opportunities to change that in the group’s engagement with the school community.
“I think it depends a lot on who’s given room to speak,” Serafin said. “The way that the weekly meetings are structured is that there’s always a discussion that goes along with whatever event is happening.”
“Making sure that the discussion topics have a wide range of themes, planning events that highlight different people’s experiences, and just giving room for everyone to say something is really important,” she continued.
Some of the group’s structural changes include a new survivor support group led by the Health and Wellness Office, events for stress relief and self-care for survivors, and Guy Talk, a monthly event for men to discuss consent and related topics. It’s On Us is also looking to find new organizations to work with this year, as a way of expanding their influence and reaching their goals.
“We’re trying to pair with other organizations on and off campus to widen the impact of our work,” Rozos said. Some of the groups It’s On Us is looking at working with are the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and JustDetention, which is dedicated to ending sexual abuse in prisons.
In the spring, the club will shift their focus from on-campus communities to those outside of Sarah Lawrence, according to Burger.
“In previous years, there was very little outwards movement,” Burger said. “Annaliese and I both had a lot of problems with that, so this year we’re doing a lot more with donating our resources and our money, and also volunteering.”
Rozos and Burger’s efforts have already began to pay off, as they are seeing a greater turnout at events than last year.
“I really think these are issues that a lot of people on this campus care about,” Burger said. “We just really hope that it becomes a place where every student on this campus feels like they belong and feels like we’re advocating for them.”
From what she’s seen and participated in so far, Serafin is optimistic about the direction in which the group is heading.
“From the start, there was a lot of inclusive planning,” she said. “[Rozos and Burger] are working with a lot of other groups and people, and making it more of a collaborative effort.”
The group has worked with VOX (Voices for Planned Parenthood) in the past, but this year Rozos is looking to make more on-campus partnerships to help create a greater sense of inclusion.
“I’m really excited about our TRANSparency event,” Rozos said. “We’re partnering with QPoC [Queer People of Color], VOX, the Sexual Violence Awareness and Education Subcommittee, and TransAction for this event.”
The event will feature the authors and editors of the book Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, and is on Nov 14th at 6:00 PM.
Amali Gordon-Buxbaum ‘21