FY students react to Hoos Got Your Back initiative

October 22, 2014

Story by: Carly Gorelick

The Red Zone, the first three months of the school year, marks the time where 50 percent of all reported campus sexual assaults are said to occur. According to the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study funded by the National Institute of Justice, most of these assaults are directed toward first and second-year females. This fact, coupled with the struggle first-years already incur by being placed in a new environment, has encouraged coordinators of Hoos Got Your Back to account for the disproportionately high influence the Red Zone has on the first-years in our community.

The campaign has set out to be proactive on the matter. They presented their campaign video at a first-year safety orientation meeting at the beginning of the semester. Like student organizers Will Cadigan and Emily Renda have noted, these educational

efforts, like the video, are essential for promoting dialogue and preventative measures on sexual misconduct.

“The passive bystander problem we have on college campuses stems from the fact that bystander education comes too late,” Renda said. “By the time students arrive at college, we are at best putting a Band-Aid on a serious problem of social norming and harmful behaviors through bystander intervention training.”

While the organizers recognize that these educational efforts come too late for students, they also maintain that these belated efforts are improving.

“When I was a first year, people weren’t talking about it,” Cadigan said. “I remember my orientation. We got a lot of presentations but they were mostly about hazing and drinking. Now you know [about sexual misconduct/bystander conduct] from the minute you become under the charge of the University.”

The opinions of current first-years are also important for recognizing how effective the Hoos Got Your Back campaign has been thus far.  To assess these opinions, I created a written survey that I randomly distributed to first-years on Grounds. The majority of the survey responses to the campaign video were positive in regard to the University.

“The video gave me a unified sense of community, which is important for battling anything as a university,” wrote an anonymous first-year.

Another anonymous first-year said she believed that “Hoos Got Your Back’s” goals would materialize because “U.Va. has done a great job of educating everyone on being an effective bystander and facilitating that.”

First-year Libby Bland commented that after watching the videos, “I expect for my peers and teachers to look out for me and others, kind of like secret guardian angels.”

These responses demonstrate not only the expectations students have for safety on U.Va. Grounds, but their appreciation for “Hoo’s Got Your Back”’s efforts to meet these expectations.

However, not all responses maintained the same optimism. Of the first-year respondents who were asked whether the video corroborated or challenged their ideas about sexual misconduct at U.Va., one student was surprised by the statistically “high number of bystanders per victim” who could have helped. All other respondents left that question blank, wrote “no,” or mentioned how the video taught them nothing new.

“The video didn’t necessarily surprise me. I was glad that it was shown and it was a good first step but it was very simplistic in terms of actually engaging the idea of what sexual assault is,” said first-year Evelyn Wang, a member of U.Va.’s sexual assault education group called One Less. “I’m not sure what real effect it would have unless its message was continually taught/compounded.”

Responses to the survey have been similar: First-years are appreciating U.Va.’s efforts with “Hoos Got Your Back,” but the effect of the campaign video is uncertain. Recognition of these responses, however, could encourage coordinators of “Hoos Got Your Back” to consider other ways of attracting the attention of current first-years and thus impacting those statistically most vulnerable during this Red Zone.

Read more about reactions to Hoos Got Your Back:

The perspective of student organizers

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