A Campus Against Violence

Howard University Stands

Howard’s community-wide approach to interpersonal violence raises awareness.

In the era of #MeToo, where conversations about consent and gender-based harassment have gained national attention, Howard University is taking a stand with a campaign aimed at educating and preventing incidents of interpersonal violence in its community.

Launched at the beginning of the fall 2018 semester as a collaborative effort between the Office of Interpersonal Violence Prevention, the Department of Public Safety, the Title IX Office and other departments on campus, the HU Stands campaign seeks to bring awareness to the campus community about interpersonal violence, prevention and bystander intervention. It provides training in the various residence halls to first-time incoming students, as well as workshops that help to elevate the conversation on what interpersonal violence is and what can be done about it.

“HU Stands, overall, is a campaign where we’re trying to make the message more visible, and I say that because the message has always been there,’” said Akosoa McFadgion, Ph.D., (M.S.W. 2000, Ph.D. 2014), director of the Office of Interpersonal Violence Prevention at Howard. “My office has been in existence since 2008, but the efforts from University communications have helped us to increase our messaging and awareness efforts. Our primary theme for the campaign was sexual assault prevention, but we have since expanded the focus of our trainings.”

In 2017, Howard University released its interim Title IX policy on prohibited sexual and gender-based harassment and violence and other forms of interpersonal violence to better support victims and to better protect the rights of all involved. According to the World Health Organization, interpersonal violence is the use of physical force or power between individuals, including romantic partners, spouses, cohabitants, family members or roommates and has a high likelihood of injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation. Various types of interpersonal violence, such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination or harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking and retaliation, are addressed under Title IX, which is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.

“The campaign is about educating our community members to understand: (1) What Title IX means (2) What is considered prohibited conduct and (3) How each person can be active participants to ensure a safe campus environment,” said Leslie Annexstein, Esq., Title IX director in the University’s Title IX office. “Our role is and continues to be to provide education and training to all of our campus stakeholders—students, employees, faculty and staff—and to make sure that everyone understands both their responsibilities and rights as members of our community and under the University Title IX policy.”

Education for All

HU Stands encourages students, faculty and staff to learn about Title IX and interpersonal violence and its prevention, and it invites the community to go online and sign the pledge to be an active member against future incidents.

In addition to the pledge, the campaign holds events and workshops geared toward open dialogue and discussion. For instance, “Candid Conversations” was an event that addressed recent assault stories that have made media headlines, but it also focused on what can be done on Howard’s campus to have healthier conversations around sex and consent. During a three-day event called “Surviving,” participants talked about rape culture and the often negative portrayal of black girls and women, and what can be done as a community to eradicate that imagery. And, the bystander program, “Bison Be the Difference,” teaches and encourages students to be the difference in how they think, act and respond when it comes to domestic dating violence, stalking or sexual assault.

The campaign also works to bridge the gap between males who want to have a voice or take action. Most recently, a male survivors support group was launched, and the newly established Bison Brothers Ally Curriculum will educate and train men on how to get involved with and support both male and female victims. At another event titled “Boys Will Be Boys,” men were provided an open space and opportunity to address issues of racism, sexual objectification of women and politics when it comes to sexual assault. McFadgion said that with the success of “Boys Will Be Boys,” her office hopes to reconvene the event and hold these conversations on a more regular basis in coming months.

Promoting Awareness Through Posters

A key part of the HU Stands campaign was the launch of the poster series, which features posters with prominent figures on campus, including Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, Chief of Police for the Department of Public Safety Marcus Lyles, and McFadgion, taking a stance and issuing the message that they would not tolerate anything less than a safe environment for everyone on campus.

“I think the poster series is great,” said first-year community health major Amayah Edwards (B.S. ’22), who has volunteered with the HU Stands campaign at its events and has helped to facilitate the open-conversation events about interpersonal violence.

“It provides a visual and allows students to see prominent campus figures engage with the campaign. The poster series also serves as an ongoing reminder to continue to facilitate a dialogue and uphold the values expressed in the campaign” said Edwards.

Instituting a Community Approach

In efforts to further support for victims, the campaign has also partnered with the Department of Public Safety to provide training to officers on how to assist students who have experienced relationship violence or a sexual assault. According to Lyles, these efforts have made a difference in reports made to DPS.

“Since the launch of the HU Stands campaign, students are more comfortable reporting interpersonal violence to my department,” he said. “We have also noticed an increase in the number of witness-reported crimes.” Further, the Office of Interpersonal Violence Prevention has also noticed a rise in student support since the campaign’s launch.

“We have lots of campus-wide organizations and young women and men who are interested in doing the work,” said McFadgion. “For this campaign, we had partnerships with eight other campus organizations. Normally, we work with anywhere from two to four organizations.”

The change is noticed among the student body as well. According to Edwards, since the campaign’s launch, students are more open to the dialogue. “Students are more willing to stand with the campaign and have taken visible and vocal actions to show their opposition to assault on any level,” she said. “I definitely think that this campaign has allowed candid conversations to be expressed more often on campus. Assault is no longer talked about in a hushed whisper, it is being taken more seriously, and students and faculty are making even more strides in the right direction because of this campaign.”

Those involved have high hopes for how the campaign can evolve and continue to elevate awareness around the campus. Annexstein believes that the pledge can do a lot to promote the conversation and understanding. For the future of the campaign, McFadgion hopes to get more faculty involved and see the campaign “fully operationalized throughout the university.”

Changing the Culture

Lyles believes that the campaign will continue to change the way students think about and discuss the matter and even change the culture of the University.

“It is my hope that the HU Stands campaign will continue to provide additional educational and awareness opportunities to effect cultural change,” he said. “I am confident that Howard University will have more students who are informed and educated and will stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We all deserve a safe learning environment, and we all have a part to play in keeping it safe.”

Campus community members who want to get involved and take the pledge can do so on the HU Stands website at hustands.howard.edu.

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