Ending sexual assault is in everyone’s power, speaker tells UWRF audience

Posted November 18, 2015

Everyone on a college campus has the power to fight sexual assault, an educator and scholar told an audience Nov. 11 at UW-River Falls.

Keith Edwards, a Minneapolis-based speaker and educator on sexual assault prevention, spoke on the topic of “Ending Rape.” Edwards has made presentations about sexual assault at more than 90 colleges and universities during the past 15 years.

His presence on campus was due largely to the efforts of Melanie Ayers, an associate professor and coordinator of the Women and Gender Studies Program; the Student Feminist Organization; and the University Fellow for Diversity and Inclusivity. Ayers in particular found Edwards to be a perfect guest to invite to campus because of the “It’s On Us” campaign at UWRF, which seeks to educate students about how sexual assault can be fought against.

UWRF is no stranger to the issue. The 2015-2016 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report for the university reported 10 different sex offenses, including rape and fondling.

Compared to the entire UW System 2014, River Falls ranks lower than campuses such as UW-Madison and UW-Eau Claire for reported sexual assaults, but prevailing attitudes towards sexual violence are still a concern among students and faculty.

Ayers remarked on an event that justified bringing Edwards to the college.

“Early in the semester the campus showed the documentary ‘The Hunting Ground,’ which is a film about sexual assault on campuses, and this was the kick-off event for the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign,” she recalled. “It was a great, eye-opening event but there were some comments made at the event that some people construed as victim-blaming, so there’s clearly the need for education around these issues. Not only for students but for faculty, staff, and administration.”

Edwards largely discussed how sexual assault is something that needs to be fought against by everyone, both men and women. He made it clear to the audience that he did not want any person of any gender or identification to feel like they were at fault, instead tackling on the issue of those who rape or assault specifically.

He spoke of misogyny in marketing, the way people make themselves weak through societal expectations, and what is considered sexual consent and what is not.

When the presentation ended, he got a standing ovation.

Sydney Walsh, president of the Student Feminist Organization, said that her expectations for the event were well met.

“I think he did an awesome job with it,” she said after the presentation. “He really got it down to it being everyone’s issue, because I think a lot of people were worried he would talk about how terrible men are and make everyone feel attacked, and I personally think he did a good job at not doing that.

“I think he met my expectations with presenting something that everyone could get on board with.”

Edwards himself was able to give his word at the end, saying that for the people who could not attend his lecture, he wanted to impart just one thing for them to keep in mind.

“We all have a chance to be a part of the solution to ending sexual violence, every single one of us,” he said. “If you are not sure how to do that, talk to someone and help figure it out, because we can all be a part of the solution.”

Walsh said that the “It’s On Us” campaign will continue, with smaller events and further education about sexual offenses to make sure the message is still prevalent and strong.