Student ambassadors for 'It’s on Us' lead the charge

It’s On Us Student Ambassadors Gabrielle Dykema and Renu Nargund play a "Consent Spotlight" activity with peers on the Foote Green.

By Ashley A. Williams

It’s On Us Student Ambassadors Gabrielle Dykema and Renu Nargund play a "Consent Spotlight" activity with peers on the Foote Green.

Student ambassadors for 'It’s on Us' lead the charge

By Ashley A. Williams
The “It’s On Us” Student Ambassador Program empowers peers to overcome sexual misconduct and gender discrimination through creative and meaningful conversations.

Their message is simple: “It’s On Us.”

A national movement to end sexual misconduct on college campuses, It’s on Us was brought to campus two years ago by the University of Miami President’s Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention and Education in order to bolster the already existing efforts to prevent, stop, and address sexual misconduct at UM. Recognizing the need for student voices as integral to the success of It’s on Us in the UM community, the It’s on Us Student Ambassador Program was born.

The program began with just 10 members and has since grown to 25 as of fall 2018—a group that reflects the diversity of the student population and the reality that sexual misconduct is an issue that needs to be addressed. Through an application process, students are selected based on their passion about the topic of sexual violence, prevention, education, and increasing safety and wellness on the UM campus.

Student ambassadors have hosted several events on-and-off campus. From tabling in the University Center breezeway passing out “Consent is Sexy” wristbands to hosting giveaways in the student fan zone at this year’s Homecoming football game, their message has collectively reached 5,505 students this fall semester alone.  

Renu Nargund, a junior double majoring in public health and psychology, applied during her freshman year. Upon enrolling at UM, she never imagined that she would be a part of a sexual assault prevention movement but felt compelled after listening to some of her friend’s stories. 

“I was driven to make sure that this doesn’t happen to other people,” said Nargund. “Some people don’t have a good support system or know how to move forward after events like that. Thinking about that pushed me to apply.”

Many college campuses around the nation responded to the current climate of sexual misconduct after former President Barack Obama’s White House Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault started the national It’s On Us campaign in September 2014 to help everyone—students, community leaders, parents, organizations, and companies—to step up and be a part of the solution.

In March 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden visited UM to rally against sexual assault as part of the initiative. Biden’s message was clear: “It’s not about changing ideas, it’s about changing the culture.”

Subsequently, student ambassadors noticed a significant increase in “It’s On Us” campaign participation around campus. They are working diligently to raise more awareness about the prevention of sexual assault by fostering a safer environment, educating the University community about the policies, reporting options, and procedures.

“That’s when people wanted to know more about what we were doing,” said Nargund. “Following the rally we have had so many programs geared towards survivors’ support, like Take Back the Night.”

Take Back the Night is an intimate open forum held on the shore of Lake Osceola, where survivors and supporters gather to share their experiences and thoughts on the issue. This annual event takes place in April to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“We have all of these initiatives set in place on campus, but based on research we know from our students that education works best when it is from peer to peer,” said Maria Sevilla, program advisor, assistant director of judicial affairs, and Title IX investigator for the Dean of Students Office (DOSO). “We allow our students to take a leadership role and help in these educational efforts that are already happening as well as diversify the people that we are reaching.”

For the first time in UM history, “It’s On Us” has been selected as the philanthropy for Greek Week—an effort that brings together over 25 Greek campus chapters for a fun-filled week of activities while raising money and awareness for the selected charity.

Student ambassador Kayla Laraia, a senior majoring in marine science and biology, is tasked with tailoring the program toward Greek organizations specifically.

“I go to the chapters early in the semester and give an overall presentation on what we do, addressing what consent means, letting them know about services that UM offers, and what to do if something happens to you or your friends,” she said.

Ashley Falcon, assistant professor of public health, and Kim Martin, co-chair the President’s Coalition for Sexual Violence Prevention and Education, share a personal connection to the cause. Over the course of her undergraduate career, Falcon was a peer educator of the topic and a member of SART (Sexual Assault Resource Team). She and Martin, assistant director of outreach services for the Counseling Center, have worked to assess the campus climate in regards to sexual violence and then use that information to address the issue. 

“The Greek population is very hyperaware of the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign,” said Falcon. “They have taken it so seriously and understand the importance of the education of sexual misconduct. Our ambassadors have done a great job going out into the Greek population, going chapter to chapter to interject the message without making it heavy and violent.”

Whitney O’Regan, assistant dean of students and advisor of the program, understands the importance of students leading the charge and rallying others to get behind the mantra.

“Faculty, staff, and administration can only take this messaging so far,” said O’Regan. “We are not going to affect campus culture in a meaningful way without engaging students in the conversation. This ambassador group, specifically, has done really amazing work in the past two years. They’ve doubled our programming support not only around messages of consent, but messages around survivor support, domestic violence, and bystander intervention.”

Lucia Alvarez, a public health major and DOSO intern, decided to join the program because the cause resonated with her and many of her friends.

“Just hearing how prevalent the problem is on campus, it just felt like the organization that I could make the greatest impact on in the shortest amount of time,” Alvarez said. 

Student ambassadors are expected to attend team meetings, develop and host programs for their peers, provide input from the student perspective, and serve as a liaison between the coalition and student groups.

“It’s On Us” is currently accepting applications for student ambassadors for the spring semester. The application is available online and can be accessed through the group’s social media accounts: @ItsOnUsUMiami or Facebook.com/ItsOnUsUMiami.

Applications are due before 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. To contact the “It’s On Us” program directly, email itsonus@miami.edu.


topics: