Tomorrow, a rainbow of T-shirts will hang from a clothesline on the University of Mary Washington’s Ball Circle, each individually designed and crafted to publicly express the personal experience of a survivor of gender violence.
The Clothesline Project is just one of the events UMW is involved in and hosting this April to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, or SAAM. The month-long observance includes a keynote speaker with a moving personal story, participation in national initiatives, a campus-wide walk and more. It also coincides with the University’s appointment of new Title IX Coordinator, Stefanie Lucas-Waverly.
“For all students, I want them to know that they have a lot of different options on and off campus for support and resources,” said Lucas-Waverly, who is excited to provide additional training and education at UMW. “I encourage all students to reach out in a way that is right for them.”
The theme of this year’s SAAM, driven by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, is “I Ask,” which champions the message that asking for consent is a healthy, normal and necessary part of everyday interaction.
UMW’s awareness campaign co-sponsors include Alpha Mu Sigma, BellACapella, Campus Recreation, the Center for Prevention & Education, Empowerhouse, Feminist United Club, the Office of Human Resources, the Muslim and Latino student associations, the Office of Title IX, PRISM, Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA), SafeZone, Symfonics, the Talley Center for Counseling Services, TEAL Peer Educators, University Police and Where is the Line.
Dilcia Molina Sanchez will present the keynote address on Monday, April 15, at 6 p.m. in the University Center’s Chandler Ballroom. Sanchez came to the U.S. under political asylum while her family was tortured by a paramilitary group because of her role defending human rights abuses against the LGBTQ community. She also fought to prevent human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors in Central America.
“I truly feel Dilcia’s story fits our values to ASPIRE and will connect with the student body,” said Associate Coordinator of Student Conduct Marissa Miller, who oversees the month’s events.
Supporters across the Fredericksburg campus and local community will gather the following day at Lee Hall to Take Back the Night and take a stand against sexual violence. In operation for more than 35 years, Take Back the Night consists of thousands of events nationwide to encourage anyone to speak out against sexual violence and assure survivors that they aren’t alone.
This year, the Talley Center is adding a UMW touch to the event with guest speaker Natalie Illum, a slam poet, performer, disability activist and 1999 Mary Washington graduate.
Mary Washington will close out the month’s events on International Denim Day, Wednesday, April 24, when all members of the UMW community are encouraged to wear jeans to promote a discussion about myths and stereotypes surrounding sexual assault. Participants will meet at noon for a photo on the steps of George Washington Hall.
“I would like to tell survivors that I believe that to whom they share and when they share their story should belong to them,” said UMW Victim Advocate Jaime Opanashuk. In her role, she’s a bridge between those who’ve experienced sexual assault, misconduct or relationship abuse and their decision to seek counseling, legal advice or other follow-up options. “When they are ready, as a confidential resource, what students share and their decisions stay with me.”
To speak confidentially to someone about sexual or gender assault, call the Talley Center at 540-654-1053 or RCASA’s 24-hour hotline at 540-371-1666, or join the 24-hour live chat service RAINN.org.
Consider reaching out to UMW’s Office of Title IX, which is able to provide housing and academic accommodations, information on the campus disciplinary process, medical assistance, procedures for reporting to law enforcement and other resources.