Colorful slips of paper were draped over walls, coat racks, chairs and a podium Monday afternoon, symbolizing the pervasive nature of sexual assault on campus — but also the united fight to stop it.
Kristine Irwin, a Pittsburgh Action Against Rape volunteer, spoke about her assault and changing campus climates, while Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Pitt’s counseling services, Pitt police and student groups revealed the It’s On Us paper chain at the William Pitt Union Monday afternoon.
“Today, it’s time to break our collective silence about this,” Irwinsaid.
About 150 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Union’s Kurtzmann Room to reveal the about 800-foot chain. As the It’s On Us Task Force toured campus and visited student groups asking for pledges, members gathered 4,200 small slips of paper with signatures from faculty, staff and students promising to stop sexual assault on campus. Those slips form the chain, which is longer than the Cathedral of Learning is tall.
In September 2014, Pitt’s It’s On Us campaign started as part of the nationwide version of the campaign launched by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. The campaign urges colleges and universities around the country to pledge to create an environment that fights sexual assault and supports survivors.
Christopher Hoffmann, a grad student and member of the It’s On Us sexual assault task force, coordinated the chain project at Pitt with Alia Gehr-Seloover, another Pitt grad student.
Hoffmann started the chain in October 2014 with Megan Crilly, a 2015 graduate school alumna, as a way to bring the online pledge “into the real world,” Hoffmann said.
“We wanted to have this reception as both a thank you and as a way to recognize effort to educate people about sexual assault prevention all over campus,” Hoffman said.
According to Pitt’s September 2015 report on sexual violence on campus, 23.6 percent of undergraduate female students reported experiencing sexual violence in their four years on campus. The survey also found that 6.2 percent of undergraduate men reported experiencing sexual violence while at Pitt.
After the reveal, It’s On Us Student Task Force volunteers moved the chain to Nordy’s Place, its temporary home for a week. On Monday, the chain will move to Alumni Hall for a few days, then continue traveling through campus.
The student organizers also invited students, faculty and staff to sign a quilt, which the task force will hang in the Health and Wellness Center.
The chain’s reveal follows Sexual Responsibility Week, a national event that occurs around Valentine’s Day. According to Hoffmann, the Monday after Sexual Responsibility Week worked best logistically for the unveiling of the chain.
The chain’s reveal also occurs about three weeks after the launch of the “It’s On Us PA” campaign.
On Jan. 29, Governor Tom Wolf announced the launch of the “It’s On Us PA” campaign, the first statewide It’s On Us campaign, which aims to improve awareness of sexual assault and reduce barriers to reporting incidences across Pennsylvania schools, colleges and universities.
“I think [Pitt is] doing such a tremendous job,” Irwin said about Pitt’s efforts to address sexual assault, particularly in regards to raising awareness and student organizations involved with sexual assault.
Gehr-Seloover said Pitt is the only school she knows of that has done a chain project.
“We came up with it as an idea because the actual chain is made up of a bunch of individual links to create something bigger,” Hoffmann said. “We work together to promote dignity and respect for everyone and to support survivors.”
At the unveiling, Gallagher — one of the first 50 signators of the chain — discussed Pitt’s commitment to preventing sexual assault.
“With your help, we’ll continue to make this a core part of Pitt’s DNA,” Gallagher said on the effort to end sexual assault on campus.
As part of Pitt’s administrative efforts to address sexual assault, Title IX Coordinator Katie Pope discussed the Title IX Office’s resources.
“The biggest part of our role is to answer questions,” Pope said. “We’re there to help walk you through the various resources.”
Currently, Pitt’s Sexual Assault Task Force, which includes members from its Title IX and Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education offices, is using the data from the survey to fight sexual assault on campus.
Student groups such as Let’s RAVE and PantherWELL have trained peer educators that present programs on domestic violence, sexual assault and dating violence, and incoming students are required to complete an online course on sexual harassment and assault called Haven.
Pitt Police receive training for responding to and investigating sex offenses as well as stalking incidents and domestic violence.
Pitt’s faculty and staff can take online modules on sexual harassment and federal regulations regarding sexual violence, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and attend training sessions on understanding Title IX each semester.
For Hoffmann, the chain is a physical manifestation of concern about sexual assault on campus.
“I think symbolically the idea of a chain represents that as the Pitt community, we need to work together to promote dignity and respect and that we value that,” Hoffmann said.
Marian Vanek, the director of Student Health Service and chair of Pitt’s It’s On Us task force, said the paper chain campaign is a small part of the efforts to end sexual assault on campus.
“It takes many links together to become very powerful,” said Vanek. “No one person can end [sexual assault]. No one link signifies the strength of the chain. It takes many.”