Student-led program aims to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses

Senior Diana Mercado tabled on Thursday for the University's chapter of It's On Us, which strives to end sexual assault on college campuses. Photo: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami
By Ashley A. Williams

Senior Diana Mercado tabled on Thursday for the University's chapter of It's On Us, which strives to end sexual assault on college campuses. Photo: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami

Student-led program aims to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses

By Ashley A. Williams
The It’s On Us Ambassador Program at the University of Miami is recruiting new members to help advance its mission of keeping the campus community safe.

Diana Mercado and Gianna Milan want their peers to know there’s zero tolerance for sexual assault and gender-based violence at the University of Miami.

As part of the University of Miami’s ongoing effort to end sexual violence, the University’s chapter of It’s On Us (IOU) is calling on undergraduate and graduate students to join the organization so they can learn strategies and acquire resources for keeping the campus community safe. It’s On Us is a national organization that works to combat sexual assault on college campuses, provide education about consent, and promote bystander intervention.

“Sexual assault is not commonly spoken of, but it’s a very prevalent issue nationwide,” said Mercado, a senior studying neuroscience and the programming chair of the University’s chapter of IOU. “I know how important it is for people to know their resources and to make people feel supported in a time of need.”

Milan, a junior double majoring in musical performance and journalism, enjoys being an It’s On Us student ambassador because of the opportunity to advocate for an important cause.

“It’s On Us has helped me recover from my own personal situations, so I joined to increase awareness about Title IX and how to report incidents and the protective measures people can take,” said Milan, referring to the federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance and covers all people—regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, part- or full-time status, disability, race, or national origin.

Each year, IOU student ambassadors and executive board members aim to highlight the sexual misconduct policies, reporting options, and procedures on campus. The group also fosters an environment where all students—no matter their sex, gender-identity, or gender expression—feel safe. Throughout the semester, members of the organization work diligently to plan interactive workshops and tabling events. According to Mercado and Milan, the most memorable annual event is Take Back the Night, where students gather to voluntarily share their stories. The event is part of Spring Week of Action, a collaborative array of activities on topics related to sexual assault, which will take place this year from April 11-15 on the Coral Gables Campus.

As the advisor for the IOU Ambassador Program, Raquel McDowell, assistant dean of students and Title IX investigator, ensures students meet their yearlong voluntary duties, which include attending biweekly meetings and tabling or presenting at a minimum of three events. She encourages students who are not only passionate about ending sexual and gender-based violence but also want to learn more about it to apply to be an ambassador in the program.

“No matter your gender identity, we are seeking students­—graduate students included—who are willing to do the work,” said McDowell. “A common thinking is that this is a survivors-only support group, and while IOU does support survivors, we also welcome—and need—allies.”

Applications to join IOU are considered on a rolling basis. Those interested can apply online.

For more information, follow the University’s It’s On Us Instagram.