by Matt Pfouts
“Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.”
Students are bombarded with different resources that address a variety of concerns. Binge drinking? There’s a pamphlet for that. Drugs? There’s a pamphlet for that. For any and every issue that faces college students there are dozens of organizations willing to provide you with resources to help solve them. Sexual health education and sexual assault prevention/awareness are no exception. Although a variety of resources can be helpful, they don’t create an image or a brand. In order to solve this identity crisis, we should encourage colleges and universities to streamline their resources so they can have a lasting impact on students.
So why is it important to form an identity for your sexual assault awareness initiatives? Brands help build inclusivity. They become not only recognizable, but memorable as well. You learn more from resources from a single source. Think of resources like storybooks. You want to have a cohesive beginning, middle, and end in order for the information to make sense.
Once you have your “story book” written, it’s significantly easier to implement programs and events. Utilize what you have to create campaigns and initiatives to show case your materials. At Wittenberg University I constructed a poster campaign, changed all of our resources, and co-founded a student organization all centralized around One Student. By adapting the materials that One Student has provided with our own, we were able to be unique yet develop one consistent image that’s relevant to our community.
A brand will help you address the following questions:
- What do we believe in?
- Why do we believe this?
- How do we help people believe what we believe?
Knowing our beliefs helps us capitalize off our beliefs. We need to understand ourselves in order to inspire passion in others. For most resources there is a lack of personality. Every campus has a distinct culture, why not use your culture to your advantage?
- Make your resources personal to your students and community.
- Create an image that will motivate students to be involved.
- Maybe this is with One Student? Maybe this is with another organization? The truly successful brand campaigns help connect students’ values with their organization’s values.
Strive for positivity when you construct campaigns. The primary focus must be on survivors. It’s very easy to navigate toward blaming rapists. By talking about educating and helping survivors, you are creating a culture that is empathetic to helping reduce a sexually violent culture. It’s important that men and women feel like empowered survivors, not helpless victims.
I believe that some ad campaigns that focus on the perpetrator can work, but it should not be an institution’s number one priority. How can we know if a campaign is successful anyway? Here is an example of a campaign at Edmonton University. The “Don’t be that Guy Campaign” focuses on reducing alcohol related sexual violence by displaying provocative posters of men about to commit a sexual assault.
There was a drop in sexual assault reporting as a result of this campaign. Although the statistics imply it was beneficial, I believe that some survivors could have been intimidated by these posters. This could have resulted in the opposite effect: Survivors not feeling comfortable to report their sexual assault. For me, I feel that this campaign gives way too much attention to perpetrators. If I were a survivor, this campaign would make me feel like my life was over. The first thought that crossed my mind when looking at some of these ads: “So he didn’t listen, what am I supposed to do now?” This campaign is also very specific. What if someone saw this poster after being raped? This could be a trigger and cause them to relive the nightmare all over again.
The bottom line in my eyes: There are positive ways that can help reduce sexual violence. I’m all about creating something edgy and provocative, but make it something that will make someone smile. At Wittenberg we had a “Naked Truth Week” campaign that had models appearing to be naked on the posters. It was eye catching and aided in getting students to attend our events, but in my opinion, it wasn’t cruel or intimidating. We need to be careful about the images we are creating. Yes building an identity is important, but don’t lose sight of your focus: helping survivors.