April is sexual assault awareness month, and Students Empowering Women (SEW), a club that focuses on creating an intersectional feminist space for activism and dialogue, recently put on a demonstration to raise awareness for the issue at Gonzaga itself.
The demonstration consisted of 380 teal ribbons placed on stakes around Foley lawn and in front of Welch and Desmet and was in place from April 9th to the 23rd. Each teal ribbon represents one case of sexual assault at GU in 2019 alone.
Melina Monlux, a senior double majoring in biology and Spanish and the president of SEW, said the idea for the demonstration was a team effort that was created at a club meeting to brainstorm ways to do something for sexual assault awareness month.
When deciding how to best put on the demonstration as a club, members of SEW discussed how to put it on so as to raise awareness for the issue in the community as well as how to make it so that it was a display that was encouraging to survivors. The demonstration was also planned together with the Instagram account Zags Speak Out, Monlux said.
Monlux said the demonstration was placed in a centralized location so that people would be able to avoid it if it was retriggering for anyone.
“I think that it was really, really important to just put on something that was striking, put on something that was in-your-face and said ‘hey, this happens at Gonzaga university and it’s high time we started talking about it’,” Monlux said.
The data for the demonstration was gathered from the fire and safety report from 2019, which included 19 reported cases of sexual assault at GU. Monlux said that she used estimates from the ACLU to determine the approximate number of cases and said that only five percent of cases are reported.
Based on this data, Monlux calculated that the total number of instances of sexual assault at GU in 2019 would work out to 380 cases.
Laura Landgraver, a senior psychology major and the vice president of SEW, said the demonstration was going for a shock factor to get people talking about the issue. She said she hopes that the demonstration causes people to believe sexual assault is an issue and that people will feel more comfortable talking about their experiences.
“I think just seeing the amount of cases on campus really makes people think,” Landgraver said.
After the demonstration was in place, someone brought chalk to the demonstration and wrote messages along the ribbons, which Landgraver said made the demonstration better.
Mikaela Schlesinger, a senior biology major who is a member of SEW, helped set up the demonstration because she didn’t realize what the statistics about sexual assault at GU were. Schlesinger said this was a good way to raise awareness across campus and that she saw many people of different identities stop and look at the demonstration.
Schlesinger said participating in the demonstration made her feel like she made a difference, and she hopes that it raises awareness for how sexual assault impacts many people in different ways and makes it a more open topic in the community. Setting up the demonstration included tying the ribbons and setting them up on Foley lawn, she said.
Also helping set up the demonstration was Brittany Robinson, a senior political science and international relations double major and the advocacy coordinator for GSBA on the diversity and inclusion team. Robinson also said she appreciates how the demonstration is a tangible representation of the issue.
“I really liked this demonstration because it’s so visible on our campus with an issue that is most often invisible and not talked about,” Robinson said.
Jax Viteznik, a senior double majoring in English and international relations and the outreach chair for SEW, said that conversations about sexual assault have been happening mostly among women, and that awareness doesn’t happen until people start having conversations about it.
“There is a problem on this campus, and we need to acknowledge it because I think we have a culture of Gonzaga you know, Zags help Zags, and stuff like that which is great, but obviously that’s not covering everything and it’s still a college campus with these really serious issues,” Viteznik said.
In addition to the demonstration, SEW held a consent workshop with Title IV on April 22nd and earlier in the month SEW had a Title IV resources event as well, Viteznik said. GSBA is also holding a courageous conversations event on the topic of sexual assault advocacy, taking place over Zoom on April 29th from 6 to 7:30 p.m., said Robinson.
For Monlux, she said she hopes the demonstration brings the conversation out in the open, shows support for survivors and that people come together over the issue and hold each other accountable. Putting on a visual demonstration made her feel like she had done something valuable and made a tangible impact, she said.
“We wanted to find a way to connect with the spirit of recognizing that these things happen and recognizing that survivors are telling the truth even if the broader institutional situations don’t always point to that being the case,” Monlux said.