Campus rallies around It’s on Us initiative
Story and photos by Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau
While one of the joys of life on the Grand Canyon University campus is casually debating ethical topics in the Commuter Lounge and the GCBC or engaging in late night philosophical discussions in the residence halls, It’s on Us Week conversations can be difficult, if not heart-wrenching.
Yet GCU students are willing to reflect and reveal their thoughts about It’s on Us, GCU’s weeklong campaign for students to create a community of active bystanders in prevention of sexual assault, at tables on the Promenade and in interviews with GCU Today.
Tommy Wahl’s parents discussed the issues with him long before he ever set foot on campus.
“I haven’t had to overthink my actions, in response to the #MeToo movement, because I’ve been aware of these concerns before it became recognized as a national issue,’’ said the junior from Tucson. “So when the MeToo movement did pop up, it only reinforced my beliefs as far as how I should treat women and how I need to be aware of every situation I put myself in. With my upbringing, I was taught to protect and honor all women, I try not put myself or anyone else in positions where anything could be taken wrongly, and I strongly advise others (especially men) to do the same.”
While #MeToo has become an important initiative to prevent sexual assault and harassment, there are two sides to the issue: There also have been false accusations of Duke lacrosse players in 2006 and in college campus rape cases chronicled by “60 Minutes,” along with at least 75 men suing their schools since 2013, complaining of reverse discrimination and unfair disciplinary proceedings.
“It’s a challenging situation that men are put in right now because of the intense emotions and severity of the topic,’’ Wahl said. “I am a bit worried to see the presumption of innocence being tested as much as it is. But for me, personally, I try to focus on encouraging men to step up and be the Godly men that Jesus calls us to be each and every day.”
One of the steps GCU implements in the residence halls is limiting the presence of opposite gender students on floors and in rooms after certain hours. As a Resident Advisor, Wahl is tasked with making rounds at night to announce the end of opposite gender visits.
“What is great about our position is that we are not investigators out to get our residents; we are simply there to enforce the rules, build intentional relationships with others while loving everyone around us,’’ he said. “So if someone calls the RA phone and tells us, ‘Hey, I hear a girl on the second floor, room 217,’ then as an RA I would politely knock on 217’s door and ask if the called situation is true. If the call is true, sometimes we’ll have residents who try to hide it, and others come clean, but at the end of the night it’s a good time to reflect upon the purpose of GCU’s policies as a whole.”
Matt Hopkins, Director of Residence Life, shed light on the reasoning behind the policies.
“These policies are designed to facilitate community and healthy culture,” he said. “Students are under a lot of academic pressure, and the community standards that guide the visitation privileges on campus help promote a healthy living and learning community.”
Kasey Tucker, a senior RA from Boise, Idaho, expressed a student viewpoint: “I think it helps to give privacy and respect to the other gender and roommates as well,’’ he said.
Alexandra Smiddy and Madison Barsoom vouch for that experience.
“It is definitely being enforced,’’ Smiddy said. “Everyone on our floor follows it. We haven’t had an issue on our floor.’’
Barsoom said, “Whenever you walk by on our floor, the doors are open.’’
Both students feel safe on and off campus, yet they are vigilant.
“We all have each other’s back, our friend group, so it is really nice that we feel safe,’’ said Smiddy, a freshman from San Diego. “I don’t personally find it awkward around guys. I feel like I trust my guy friends enough to feel safe around them and not be as on guard with them as I would be a stranger. ‘’
Barsoom, a freshman from Reedley, Calif., said, “When we go off campus we bring guys with us and that makes us feel safer. It’s nice to have that in a friend.’’
As with the experience of Wahl and Tucker, the parents of Smiddy and Barsoom have been discussing sexual harassment and sexual assault issues with their children for many years.
“My parents have always warned me about it, saying, ‘Be careful, look out. Don’t go by yourself anywhere,’’’ Smiddy said.
Before dating in high school, she discussed ‘No means No’ with her parents.
“My parents always educated me on that before I had any type of relationship,’’ she said.
Barsoom conveyed keen awareness of the emphasis to be an active bystander.
“Some people look at others and think, ‘I’m not going to have anything to do with them,’ but really we should help because they do need help,’’ she said.
As a graduate of Immanuel High School, Barsoom senses a similar vibe at GCU.
“I came from a Christian high school where people were involved and knowing what was going on to students around them,’’ she said. “So it is kind of the same here as my old school. I like that. Everyone seems to know what’s going on.’’
One dynamic video shown at Chapel on Monday morning and another video broadcast at The Gathering on Tuesday night introduced It’s on Us Week, which was originated for college campuses in 2014 by the White House.
Moreover, the Associated Students of GCU (ASGCU), GCBC and the Lope Shop are collaborating to raise funds for StreetLightUSA, a Peoria-based organization founded in 2008 to provide crisis intervention, stabilization and housing for young girls at risk for and victims of child sex trafficking. The organization already has created two classrooms as part of a school for the victims.
ASGCU president Noah Wolfe urged GCU students to raise $10,000 for the development of the school, and the University will match funds, dollar for dollar. If the students meet the goal, a special button, the Stampede Button, at the GCBC Student Union location will light up and buzz several times per day for the rest of the semester, awarding a free coffee coupon to the customer at the counter.
As of Wednesday morning, the students raised nearly $3,000 for StreetLightUSA. Hundreds of students stopped at the tables on the Promenade, drawn by doughnut holes and the charisma of Wolfe’s announcements on the microphone, and departing with directions to donate and a flyer detailing the five steps GCU is pursuing to fight sexual assault on campus.
The campaign caught the attention of Wahl and Tucker at Chapel.
“Well, coming from a marketing student, the campaign is not only a great marketing tactic, it is also a phenomenal way to get students involved,’’ Wahl said. “Even if we don’t have much money our donations can be doubled by the university, how neat is that? From what I can tell StreetLightUSA seems to be a very well-run campaign, and it’s very encouraging to see my school and fellow Lopes support the cause. It’s also awesome that we have this platform to express our support for sexually assaulted victims here on our campus while also raising awareness to prevent sexual assault.”
Tucker and Wahl personally contributed to the cause via the app, and as RA’s they placed Snap Chat code stickers on the doors of residence hall rooms.
Three young men at the Student Union were unaware of It’s on Us Week yet well aware of the issues.
Bryce Jordan’s awareness stems from the Me Too movement.
“It has highlighted the issues and makes you think twice about when you see something, tell someone about it,’’ he said.
Noah McCoy said, “It hasn’t been on my radar because it hasn’t affected me. I grew up in a small high school, and it wasn’t really around.’’
Given the nature of GCU’s Christian worldview, Kip Peterson believes the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault is part of the calling.
“We as Christians, at a Christian school, we can definitely step up and do something to help,’’ he said. “If someone is in trouble and you have the power to help, you should help or at least contact someone who can step in and do something if maybe you can’t.‘’
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].