Tips for Advocacy at Universities
Tips for Advocacy at Universities
Are you frustrated with responses to sexual assault and relationship abuse at your university? Want to take action? If so, this resource, created by a Stanford graduate and previous Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness intern, is for you.
Your compassion and resolve to take action are important first steps. Read on for five additional steps that will help you drive sustained positive impact:
Step 1: Learn about the dynamics of sexual assault and relationship abuse
- Take time to learn about the causes of sexual assault and relationship abuse—hint: it’s not alcohol or testosterone, but rather, our sexist systems that encourage use of power & control. For more information, visit:
- Don’t leave out relationship abuse—make sure to include “relationship abuse” in the title of task forces, committees, or student groups working in this area. The dynamics of sexual assault overlap with, but also differ from, the dynamics of relationship abuse. Sexual assault can occur within an abusive relationship, and when it does happen in that context, we need to respond differently than when sexual assault happens separately from relationship abuse.
- Learn how to put the survivor first. Abuse and assault take choice away from the survivor; our systems should seek to restore that choice to the survivor, or else we risk re-victimization. For more information, visit:
Step 2: Learn the history of activism at your school
- In all likelihood, you are not the first person to take action at your school. Do some research to learn:
- Your goal here is to learn what problems have been addressed and eradicated at your university. Examples of long-term change will help give you hope and resolve as you do the difficult work to make things better.
- Sexual assault and relationship abuse impact university life at many levels. Consider where your university stands today and look for gaps in the following areas:
Direct services for survivors:
First responders in law enforcement:
University Management of these topics:
Monitoring Campus Culture:
- Resources for training on relationship abuse and sexual assault:
- For more recommendations for universities, please visit:
Step 3: Recognize what your university has done well
- Recognize that university policies and administrators are balancing many interests and stakeholders. There are times when apparent inaction occurs in order to accommodate the wishes of the survivor. This perspective might help us be compassionate with the challenges universities face behind the scenes.
- University administrators will also be more receptive to your recommendations if you acknowledge the good work that they have done and start with the assumption that they are well-intentioned. Your goal is to educate them on how to act on those good intentions in a better way.
- We are still suggesting that you protest, call out mistakes, and highlight the changes that need to be enacted; however, if you do so in a strategic way, you will ultimately be able to drive more change.
Step 4: Look for a team to build a movement
- University culture is difficult to change. That’s why it’s important to work in a team, so that you can support each other and build more momentum for change.
- Student activism has contributed a great deal to change. However, we’ve also seen throughout history that the on-campus activism can fade away when students graduate. To ensure long-term change, connect with long-term university staff who can continue the efforts and drive change from within the university.
- Refer to your list of people who have taken action at your university on this issue and reach out to them. Learn about the challenges they have faced previously, the actions they are taking today, and the remaining barriers and possible solutions that they see.
- If you see gaps in the work being done today, don’t immediately start your own thing. Seek to engage current activists and build broader support from the university community.
Step 5: Make informed recommendations
- Now that you understand the dynamics of sexual assault and relationship abuse, know about what your university has done already, and are acting as part of a team of concerned community members, you are ready to make recommendations.
- Identify the gaps that you see in university actions today. Be specific in your requests. Vague requests are easy to misinterpret and ignore. Consider the following examples:
- Make sure to use the backfire test to ensure that your recommendations improve survivor safety and don’t put the survivor at risk. To do the backfire test, ask yourself the following questions:
- Next, think about the best way to bring about the changes you hope to see. As part of this, think about the university system and what is blocking change today. Choose a direction that allows you to address that barrier. Avenues for action include:
- Double-check your recommendations before you act. This is important! Before you go public with any initiative, make sure to consult with a trained professional who has worked in the field of sexual assault and relationship abuse. This is an important step because we want to be sure that we are doing everything we can to increase survivor safety and not decrease it. Experienced professionals can identify unanticipated counter-effects.
- Finally, don’t lose sight of the bigger goal: To change university culture so that students feel safe from sexual assault and relationship abuse. It’s easy to get attached to your recommendations or your initiative, but the important thing is that you help to drive change, whether or not it was “your” idea.