Rocking the Campus this April

Written by Garrett Christensen

“Survivor’s Rock” Campaign Kicking Off Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

Photo by Garrett Christensen

April isn’t just the month of Easter festivities, it’s the time to share stories, make voices heard, and speak up on behalf of silent victims of sexual and domestic abuse. For Eastern Oregon University, however, those voices will make the rounds, not in the form of packets and presentations. Instead, the EOU campus will be home to a grand collection of rocks and stones painted for and by survivors of sexual assault in addition to a denim day demonstration of defiance. 

The “Survivor’s Rock” campaign is the brainchild of EOU privileged campus advocate and member of Shelter From the Storm, Jessa Suthann. A staunch advocate and a survivor herself, Suthann began coordination for the campaign last December after discovering a similar project online by, according to her, an unnamed “small grassroots non-profit like Shelter From the Storm.” Still the first of its kind for an Oregon university, Suthann has hopes raising awareness for sexual assault both through the visibility of the project on campus and the potential of the format to spread awareness online.  

“My idea is that EOU students, staff and some community members paint a rock for the survivors rock project. The rock is to be painted along the lines of sexual assault. Maybe they could put on their rock a statistic or a saying like ‘your voice has power’ for example or ‘sexual violence, not on my campus’, something like. And on the back of the rock whoever painted it will put their name or their club…then as students find the rock throughout campus during April, the point is, they take a selfie of the rock, upload it to their social media platforms.” 

And while a central piece of the project, it’s not just the taglines and statistics on the rocks that bring awareness to campus. Participating students were encouraged to further research and discuss sexual assault awareness to find inspiration for the rock painting. Suthann even attended various club meetings to speak with students about the project and their rights under Title IX. Such talks can be important as, according to Suthann, 18 to 20-year-old college students are a higher risk population for sexual assault and rape.  

The actual rock painting was finished over Winter Term. In total around 200 rocks were painted by nine different groups: the Phycology club, the Education Club, Associated Students of Eastern Oregon university (ASEOU),  Speel-Ya, the Sage club, Residence life and the Art club along with Shelter From the Storm and a La Grande High School art class. 

Though there were some challenges in the planning process,  the rock painting was still a success, with Suthann telling The Voice, “I’m very pleased with the amount of student involvement that I got and just thank you to everybody that participated. It was my idea, but I could not have made it happen without students and staff wanting to be a part of it too.” 

This rock-solid showing of solidarity it isn’t the only campus event for sexual assault awareness month (SAAM). Denim day is Wednesday, April 27. ASEOU will be hanging denim jeans up around campus and students are encouraged to wear their own denim. Denim day started as a  protest against a 1998 overturning of a rape conviction in Muro Lucano, Italy under the guise that the victim’s denim jeans were so tight, they could not have been removed without consent. Members of the Italian parliament wore denim jeans to various protests and, as a show of support, the city of Los Angeles established denim day in 1999. Suthann told The Voice, “The point is that everybody wears denim jeans in solidarity with rape victims that do not receive the justice that they deserve.” 

Of course, the campaign is just pickup up. Rocks still need to be set up around campus and it comes down to students participating, spreading the rocks around (figuratively), putting on their denim jeans and coming out to show their support. It’s a time for solidarity and activism, but for those that have survived, it can also be a time of safe healing and recovery. As a reminder from Suthann, 

“It does happen, it is happening and it’s ok to tell your story, it’s ok to heal on your own time. Gealing from sexual assault looks different from one person to the next…It’s ok to talk about it and get it off your chest…it’s a really common occurrence. There are support systems and resources for people that experienced sexual assault.” 

SAAM runs for the duration of April. T-shirts are planned to be distributed to club participants. Rock painters should speak to their club leadership for additional information. Participants can take their rocks back at the end of the month if the rocks can be located on campus. Jessa Suthann’s office is in Library 216. Students may drop by without an appointment. Suthann maintains the confidentiality rights equivalent of a medical practitioner and will not report any information without explicit student consent.  

For those looking for additional participation, other off-campus SAAM events include:  

  • April 6 “Consent Chronicles Virtual Event.” 
  • April 15 “How do I Teach Consent as a Parent? Virtual Event.”  
  • April 16 “March to SAAM” by Shelter From the Storm.  

Oregon’s advocate privilege law: ORS-40.264, allows advocates that meet statute guidelines to have legal privilege similar to that of a doctor, lawyer or mental health professional. They cannot share the survivor’s information without a written release. Campus based advocates are professional staff trained to support victims of sexual violence in college and university settings. Advocates receive specialty training and offer survivors information, emotional support and assistance finding resources that work best for the survivors’ needs and situation.   

Shelter from the storm’s website is available: https://www.unioncountysfs.org/ 

Sign up for “Consent Chronicles” is available at: https://www.mobilize.us/nsvrc/event/448288/ 

Sign up for “Teach Consent” is available at: “https://www.mobilize.us/nsvrc/event/450121/ 

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