by Sarah Kaminski
Ciara Coleman found inspiration in a “rape culture” that disgusted her.
From her first day on the University of Arkansas campus, she was warned by upperclassmen and resident assistants about drink drugging and date raping. Drink drugging can occur when drinks are left unattended and miscreants have the opportunity to drop controlled substances such as GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) or rohypnol into them. As Coleman’s freshman year continued, she knew this was a reality and that something needed to be done to change this troubling reality.
The next fall, Coleman began work as a resident assistant. The students overcome by alcohol consumption and taken away by paramedics in ambulances were no longer nameless peers. They were now her residents, her girls.
Less than a week into that fall semester she gathered a group of student leaders and began work on planning The Straight Shot. Coleman came up with this program title because she wanted students to take away tools to make point blank decisions in parties and other social occasions that could potentially save their lives.
“We knew that someone had to take a stand, that something needed to be changed and if anything was going to change it had to start with us,” Coleman said.
From that initial decision, Coleman, past director of programs for the Residents’ Interhall Congress, created a change on her campus.
But it wasn’t easy.
Few would dispute that sexual assault is a difficult topic to program on for college students, but Coleman found a way to help.
This superstar programmer did something not many students are willing to do- initiate a program with the goal of impacting students’ views on sexual assault and alcohol abuse.
The Straight Shot brought collaborative educational efforts to every edge of the University of Arkansas campus.
In the planning stage, the team knew that it would be a challenge to engagingly program around the topics of alcohol abuse and sexual assault prevention, two very sensitive areas.
Surprising to Coleman and her team, there was no end to the support that people offered this program.
The original idea was to have a walkthrough hallway where the organizers would expose participants to possible scenarios that they could find themselves in if they didn’t exercise caution at parties.
Because of the outpouring of support the program quickly expanded to have an interactive program in almost every hall, collaborating with many organizations from the rape education student group, to our No Woman Left Behind chapter, to the university police department.
More than 350 students attended the inaugural program, and Coleman believes the event’s impact went far beyond the number of participants. Students thanked the programmers for the information they learned, and some even slipped mysterious letters of thanks under Coleman’s door. The most touching reaction came when an attendee approached Coleman in the cafeteria after a big week of parties and told her personal story of how The Straight Shot helped save her life.
Stories of friends keeping each other safe or preventing the rape of a complete stranger were not uncommon.
Coleman has graduated, but the mark left by The Straight Shot on campus did not go unnoticed. A new group of volunteers recently implemented the program for a second time.
Many were students that were strongly affected by the initial program the year before, but some were freshmen that had never seen the program, but believed in its message.
As school officials and advocates against sexual assault, it is necessary to make educational programming interactive and engaging for students. They spend day after day in the classroom, and the last thing they want is to sit through another lecture. By having students take part in the program rather than just attend, they will remember and use what they learned.
We can tell students about sexual assault and alcohol abuse but when they see past the statistics—the “1 in 4”—and see themselves in the reality that “1-in-4” female college students will be sexually assaulted, it becomes a part of them and by extension a part of your campus culture.