Photo courtesy of Ms. Magazine
Photo courtesy of Ms. Magazine

Students Organize Sexual Assault Awareness Week

December 5, 2021

Warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault, pregnancy, and miscarriage that might be upsetting to some people. 

Following an increase of sexual misconduct reports, Millikin students have organized “Sexual Assault Awareness Week” from Monday, Dec. 6 to Friday, Dec. 10.

This week will include panels, presentations, and information about resources and support. Students Kayla Green, Madeline Curtin, Danie Kelso, and Serron Pettis organized the event.

“More needs to be done,” Green said. “As a community, we have the power to get more done where we go to school. We control the environment here, and we contribute to it. So why not change things that are wrong?” 

Monday, Dec. 6 will kick off the week with an educational session in the UC banquet rooms from 7–9 p.m. Green invited Millikin’s counseling staff to speak on Tuesday, dubbed “Shaping Our Support.” Tuesday’s event will also include a panel of staff members, local law enforcement, and counselors in the UC’s Oberhelman Center for Leadership Performance (OCLP) from 7–9 p.m. Green encourages students to come with suggestions about how to improve campus safety.

Wednesday, Dec. 8 is the day of Millikin’s Cookie Party, and Green invites students to make posters in the OCLP from 3–5 p.m. after they get their sugar fix. Thursday’s “Compassion and Unity Day” is “dedicated to promoting unity and appreciating one another,” according to the event’s official flyer.

But the main event is Friday, Dec. 9 when students will walk through campus to show support for survivors of sexual misconduct. Students will meet on the quad from 3–4 p.m. for conversations and support.

Green decided to organize the event after she saw how her friends were being affected by sexual misconduct on campus. She serves as a peer mentor in Dolson, and a conversation with one of her residents—freshman Victoria Karmas—is what convinced her to take action. Karmas said that she was sexually assaulted multiple times by a member of SAE, became pregnant, was sexually assaulted by a member of TKE, and then miscarried.

“It broke my heart telling my parents, like, I didn’t know how to handle it,” Green said. “What do I do?” 

She ultimately gave Karmas some advice.

“I told her, I said, ‘We as women, we sometimes go through things, and we have to use those things that we’ve been through. Don’t consider it as a burden, but consider it as a tool to educate others and to make it safer for others so nobody has to ever go through what you’ve been through,’” Green said. 

On Nov. 15, Karmas posted an essay to medium.com. The essay, titled “My Experience As a First-Year Student at Millikin University,” was about the sexual assaults, pregnancy, and miscarriage. This essay has circulated around campus and sparked many conversations about sexual assault.

Green read the essay in increments. She had to put it aside when it became too overwhelming. Though Karmas is no longer her resident, Green is still in touch with Karmas. She is proud of Karmas for sharing her story, but she wants to make sure that no other student has to go to such extreme lengths to be heard.

As the views on Karmas’s post multiplied, Green asked around to see if students would be interested in organizing for a walk. But as the idea gained traction, she teamed up with Curtin, Kelso, and Pettis to develop the weeklong event. The students want to start conversations and change the culture of college campuses that allows sexual misconduct to happen.

  “We kind of expect [sexual misconduct] coming into these types of environments,” Green said. “That shouldn’t be our expectations. It should be, ‘I feel safe when I’m going to go here. I know I’m safe. And then I know that my university also prioritizes my safety.’”

She urges students and administration to come together to make these culture changes and offer more support for survivors.

“We’re all on the same team,” Green said. “But it looks like we’re playing with defense and the offense. It shouldn’t be that. We are standing united. I know it’s hard, and the position of the administration, because like, this is your university, this is your name. However, these are people that you’re handling, and you have to handle them with care.”

Vice President Raphaella Prange said she appreciates how students like Green are organizing to advocate for survivors.

“I think we have students now with a renewed sense of energy that want to start supporting those types of efforts,” Prange said. “And the more programming and outreach and prevention activities that we can have on campus, the better, especially if they’re peer-led…I think that if we can all agree at the basic level that taking care of each other is important, I think we can only go up from there. And I’m really appreciative of students like Kayla, who have taken the initiative to say, ‘I want to do some proactive things.’”

Green said that her love for Millikin is the reason why she’s pushing so hard for improvements. 

“This walk is more so to symbolize unity, that we stand together,” Green said. “We are one. These situations tend to make a bad notion of a whole university, but it’s like, if we handle it, and we do it correctly, it can actually give us the tools to educate other people on how to better handle situations like this. So I think we should set that example of what we wish to see in the future…I actually love this school. That’s why I care to see things change.”

If you or someone you know needs support, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. There are also resources on campus and in the Decatur community, including the Growing Strong Sexual Assault Center and Heritage Behavioral Health Center.

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