By: Claire Crittendon – Features Editor
Content Warning: Domestic and sexual violence
April is national sexual assault awareness month, and from April 20 to April 30, both The White Ribbon Campaign and Denim Day took place virtually throughout the community.
Kicking off The White Ribbon Campaign’s momentum was Deputy Title IX coordinator Professor Raye, senior Title IX intern Kaeli Leddy, Athletic Director Kristy Walter, and Professor Raye’s directed study students.
With just one week to turn both campaigns digital, “time [was] such a valuable resource for us and we just didn’t have it,” said Raye. However, both events gained more traction than expected.
Originating in Canada, The White Ribbon Campaign is “designed to engage men in stepping up against sexual and domestic violence. And in particular, the language they use is “gendered violence” or “violence against women,” said Raye. “We’re always trying to be more inclusive in the campaigns in terms of male survivors and the LGBTQIA community, so we don’t generally use language that would focus exclusively on men’s engagement or men’s perpetration.”
But, in 2013, after conferring with Matt Swoveland, former director of The Second Step, a Newton-based domestic violence organization, Raye agreed with the campaign’s mission “given that the majority of violence is perpetrated by men, whether it’s against men or against women, that it was important for men to stand up to demonstrate their commitment to ending sexual and domestic violence.” Because of the campaign’s virtual aspect this year, the students and Raye decided to make it a completely gender inclusive campaign as a means to combat the COVID-19 isolation and promote campus-wide unity.
The campaign was five days long, and comprised of taking the pledge and signing the banner, reaching out to classmates, discussing why individuals steps up against domestic and sexual violence, wearing white in solidarity with survivors, and adding to the survivor support online word cloud.
Raye and Leddy did run into some issues with the digital banner. “We had some snafus. It got erased by students about eight times,” said Raye. “I kept saying to Kaeli, there’s nothing we can do except do our best.”
That didn’t stop the momentum however. “We had a great turnout, the athletic department made a great video showcasing their support from the director through coaches and trainers about how they participated,” said Leddy. “We had almost over 300 signatures on the banner … It was really gratifying to see that people really do care about these issues, and they do want to participate.”
Being solely online, men’s volleyball, women’s lacrosse, men’s lacrosse, softball and baseball didn’t get to host their White Ribbon games, but athletics remained involved nonetheless, producing multiple videos to show their support.
“It’s not a one and done thing,” said Walter, who spearheaded the athletic department’s dedication. “[Athletes] need to walk the talk and to be supporters and ambassadors year round for this.”
Following White Ribbon’s run, beginning on April 28 was Denim Day. Originating in Italy in 1992 when a young woman was sexually assaulted by her driving instructor. The judge overturned the conviction, using her jeans as a way of saying she must have consented because they were tight enough that she must have assisted in taking them off, implying her consent. The next day, the women in the Italian legislature wore denim to protest and show their solidarity with the survivor. Denim Day was brought to Lasell three years ago by now-alums Abigail Tague (‘18) and Mickayla Cobb (‘18).
Senior Title IX intern Alexis Lagana, joined by Raye and her directed study group, produced a three-day campaign, unlike anything ever done on campus.
“The first two days we called ‘Patching together,’” said Lagana. In these first two days, the aforementioned group, located all over New England, through social media promotion, collected both survivor stories and words of encouragement to write out on previously-cut denim patches.
Participants could either send their messages directly to facilitators, or through an anonymous Survey Monkey link. According to Raye, they got more responses than ever before.
“[I think this is] because that gives survivors the outlet to share anonymous stories and not have to worry about ‘okay, maybe someone’s going to recognize the handwriting. Maybe someone notices me.’ So it went a lot better and was a lot more empowering for survivors,” said Lagana.
April 30, the last day of Denim Day, was headed with the slogan “Rock your denim.”
“We were in one of our meetings, and we were saying, so, what can we do that would be really fun [and] that’s different than just wearing white?” said Raye. “And [Senior AnnaMarie Seiler, a member of Raye’s directed study] said, “there’s these great TikTok videos.” Of course, I didn’t really know what TikTok was. So, she showed me a few and then showed us how to do it.”
The Instagram account @lasell_standsup reposted all Lasell students that shared themselves wearing denim, as well as reposting many TikToks produced by members of Raye’s directed study and athletics.
“I want to give props to my directed study, to both my Title IX interns, both Kaeli and Alexis were amazing … And [Title IX coordinator] Jennifer O’Keeffe is always so supportive of our work,” said Raye.
“I am so impressed by the determination of our students to bring attention to these important issues during this unprecedented time,” said O’Keeffe. “Isolation can increase the risk of violence. We must continue to find creative ways to support survivors and provide resources.”
“Isolation is really hard and tough on everybody and we’re all feeling it … but [for] survivors of sexual and domestic violence, isolation just heightens the danger,” said Raye. “Continuing to be activists, no matter what your medium is, is crucial to allowing people to amplify their voices and be a part of the healing process for folks.”
If you are in need of assistance, The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by texting “LOVEIS” to 22522.