From the Desks of Becca and Sib

Author: Rebecca Blais and Sibonay Shewit

From the Desks of Becca and Sib

This past month, we saw the resurgence of the #MeToo campaign on social media. The hashtag was posted oftentimes in conjunction with the explanation that, if all the women (and men) who had been sexually harassed and assaulted wrote “Me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. 

The #MeToo campaign brought sexual assault and harassment to the forefront of the national conversation, especially following the allegations against powerful figures. We were compelled by the statements of those we knew who spoke out, and we decided that we should share our stories as well. 

By the end of our first year at Notre Dame, more than half of the females we knew had experienced some sort of sexual assault or harassment. Since that first year, we have seen that number grow. We have heard of it, seen it and experienced it. Assault and harassment are much more common than often acknowledged, sometimes even being folded into the fabric of daily life. For many of our sisters and brothers, these events are what mark their time at Notre Dame. 

At first, the knowledge of and experience with this issue made us feel hopeless. However, after time, that feeling of despair turned into a motivation to make a difference. Sexual assault on campus motivated us to get involved in student government during our first year at Notre Dame, and then to run for student body president and vice president. 

When we were campaigning, sexual assault was the one issue that students from every dorm shared as being the largest problem facing our university. On our campus, the data for sexual misconduct stands: 21% of females and 4% of males have experienced non-consensual sexual contact during their time at Notre Dame, “meaning any touching or contact of a sexual nature with any object” without consent (according to the 2016 Sexual Conduct and Climate Questionnaire Report). 

In an undergrad population of 8,500, with approximately a 53/47 breakdown of males/females, that 21% translates to approximately 839 females that have experienced non-consensual sexual contact. 

We think the number is even higher, but in any case, 839 is unsettling, to say the least. Even if that number were reduced to one, it would still be too high. 

We have seen efforts to acknowledge and address our campus culture surrounding sexual assault. Programs such as greeNDot and groups including the Committee for Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP) and the Gender Relations Committee (GRC) Fire Starters have worked hard to bring awareness to the community on sexual misconduct as well as train students in bystander intervention. 

In student government, we commit to standing by survivors of sexual assault. We commit to advocating for the rights of survivors, educating the community on bystander intervention and holding ourselves and our campus to a higher standard regarding this climate. 

Last year, the first survivor support group was launched, and that group continues to meet. We co-sponsored Take Back the Night, an evening of empowerment for survivors. Resources in University Health Services, University Counseling Services, McWell, and Title IX have been reviewed and adjusted to better meet the needs of the community. Our team addressed the Moreau course to incorporate bystander intervention training and education on sexual assault. We are soon sharing a revamped crime log. 

Right now, we are working with CSAP to implement Callisto, a technology for reporting sexual assault at Notre Dame. Callisto has the opportunity to cut sexual assaults down by more than half. We brought this to the Board of Trustees, as well. 

This work did not begin with us or our team, and it will certainly not end with us either. 

There is no set way to heal, or deadline to work toward, and every survivor continues to handle this in their own way. We tell this story to shed light on our own paths at Notre Dame and to affirm our commitment to the survivors in our community. 

Survivors, we hear, we believe you and we stand with you. 

#UsToo, 

Becca & Sib, Student Body President and VP