/stories/2019/08/its-on-us-is-about-you

It's On Us is about you

With the Arch of Titus captured in the background, Renu Nargund stands smiling during her 2019 spring break in Rome, Italy.

By Renu Nargund

With the Arch of Titus captured in the background, Renu Nargund stands smiling during her 2019 spring break in Rome, Italy.

It's On Us is about you

By Renu Nargund
Renu Nargund serves as an ambassador for the It’s On Us initiative at the University of Miami, and was recently named the District 6 advisor, covering seven states and the District of Columbia. She recently attended the IOU national student summit in Ohio.

Throughout my three years of working with It’s On Us, I’ve been asked countless times, “What made you join the movement to end sexual assault?”

This question always brings me back to 2016, the year I made the decision to attend the University of Miami. On May 1, the idea of moving on from high school to an academically renowned university where I could still experience the U’s famous tailgates and go to extravagant clubs was a dream.

About a month later, Brock Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer, was sentenced to only six months in county jail after violently raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. That’s when the reality of college social life hit me. The things that once made me excited to start school immediately shifted to being the foundation of my fear on my first day of orientation. I heard numerous students talking about what clubs they could get into and what parties were happening throughout the week, but all I could think about was the girl Turner assaulted. Before classes even began, I heard stories on my floor about students who could not remember parts of their night, were left behind at parties, or worse. A quick Google search taught me that about 11.2 percent of students would experience sexual assault during their undergraduate years, which meant, in theory, about 1,184 students would leave the University of Miami with lifelong trauma and pain.

During the second semester of my freshman year, I was given the opportunity to serve as an It’s On Us peer educator under the President’s Coalition for Sexual Violence Prevention and Education. My fellow ambassadors and I underwent rigorous training about campus policies and resources, the reporting process, and the general climate of gender-based violence on college campuses. I was immediately shocked by my personal lack of understanding of these issues, which made me realize that other students must have the same questions I did. From that day forward, it became my mission to do everything in my power to educate my peers and enhance the trust between the administration and students to ensure a safe environment for everyone at the U.

Many students still remember the 2018 It’s On Us Rally with former Vice President Joe Biden, who I had the honor of introducing at the event at the Watsco Center Fieldhouse. Immediately after the rally, significantly more students began recognizing the IOU logo and our campaign to end sexual and domestic violence on our campus.

It was clear to the peer educators that we had a short window of time to push strong initiatives to capitalize on the momentum and support that the rally had incited. Our advisors urged us to stop trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather to research the hundreds of IOU chapters across the country to learn about different activities we could bring to our school. What we uncovered was a group of student activists from different walks of life fighting the same fight we were. Subsequently, in my junior year, I decided to apply to be a campus organizer to further our relationships with other universities. The regional advisor at the time for District 6, which includes Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, held biweekly calls to facilitate discussion between the campus organizers of schools within the region. I was able to understand the challenges and successes of other IOU chapters and relayed them to the UM ambassadors and our advisors.

By my junior year, I saw the significant growth of IOU at the University of Miami, as well as the national organization as a whole. My experience helped me gain the position as the new regional advisor for District 6 throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. After recent events such as Brett Kavanaugh’s senate judiciary committee hearing and the proposed changes to Title IX guidelines for universities, IOU decided to hold the first It’s On Us National Student Leader Summit at Ohio University on Aug. 2-5.

Renu Nargund with Executive Director, Tracy Vitchers, at the It's On Us Student Leader Summit at Ohio University.
Renu Nargund with Executive Director Tracy Vitchers at the It's On Us Student Leader Summit at Ohio University.

During the conference, I was asked to serve on a panel about the proposed changes to the Title IX guidelines released by the Department of Education alongside advocates from national organizations, End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX. I spoke to students about how the new guidelines would be detrimental to survivors and urged my fellow activists to maintain contact with their administration to understand how these changes could affect them.

It was a deeply rewarding educational opportunity to be surrounded by students who held the same passion as the UM ambassadors and were as ready to mobilize for change. The weekend was filled with discussions about bringing marginalized communities to the table, providing the best support to survivors, and plans for future challenges that this movement will inevitably face. It was astounding to have Tracy Vitchers, IOU’s incredible executive director, available as a resource throughout our time at the conference. Each student I met provided a unique perspective on the issues and helped expand my knowledge about prospective plans for the U.

As I reflect on my past three years with this initiative and plan for my senior year, I have to appreciate the wide support that is available at the University of Miami. With amazing advisors like Whitney O’Regan, assistant dean of students, and Maria Sevilla, deputy Title IX coordinator, direct support from President Julio Frenk and faculty like Dr. Felicia Knaul and Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, there is cogent proof of a real chance for change. That being said, there is a LOT of change that needs to occur. There is still institutional mistrust between students and the administration surrounding gender-based violence that must be ameliorated to encourage increased reporting.

The It’s On Us program at the University of Miami will be recruiting new ambassadors this coming fall, and it is my hope that more students will join the cause. I will know that we have succeeded in our mission to end campus sexual and domestic violence when the culture shifts so dramatically that the movement reflects society’s views in general.

If students are interested in applying to be an It's On Us ambassador, please feel free to contact me directly with any questions at rsn23@miami.edu