Chants of “Believe survivors,” and “K-State don’t wait,” rang out across Manhattan from participants in the Wildcat Walk to End Sexual Violence on April 23.
Despite the rain, more than thirty participants joined in the walk from City Park to the K-State Union courtyard –– the same distance traveled by sexual violence survivors who choose to report their experiences at the K-State Office of Institutional Equity.
Freshman in animal science Lexie Gerrard was one of those who took part in the walk. Gerrard said she has friends who have been victims of sexual violence and that she wants to be an advocate to speak out and help in any way she can.
“I don’t believe [the issue of sexual assault] is covered enough and I don’t think people recognize the severity of the issues and how horribly it affects victims,” Gerrard said. “I think that silences victims and does nothing to help them, which is completely and totally unfair because they’re victims and they need help and advocacy.”
Participants held signs bearing the words “I ask for consent” as they made their way to the Union where they listened to the testimonies of guest speakers and sexual violence survivors.
Sara Haggard, sophomore in medical biochemistry and Student Governing Association sexual assault and prevention director, organized the walk with the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education and kicked off the speaker session of the event.
In honor of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Haggard said the event was dedicated to solidarity with survivors on Kansas State campuses, as well as to generating support for university-wide sexual violence awareness and prevention.
She celebrated the launch of Don’t Wait K-State, an Instagram campaign sharing the experiences of sexual violence survivors at K-State and said that while these stories are told to raise awareness about this issue, it is “imperative” that this awareness encourages K-State to take action.
Haggard said the amount of prevention funds K-State allocates per student is lower than the national average. While an average institution would budget around $3.75 per student and an advanced institution would allocate $9.35 K-State budgets $1.17 per student. She also said that K-State employs one sexual violence prevention specialist, while the University of Kansas employs five.
Haggard said the current system in place for Title IX at K-State isn’t working. Currently, Greek life houses are outside of the university’s jurisdiction. Therefore, Haggard said, Title IX violations that take place off campus are investigated by “untrained Greek life students.” She said this creates a conflict of interest as students conduct their own Title IX investigations and said K-State needs to do more for survivors.
Rachel Levitt spoke on behalf of the K-State Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Department, highlighting some statistics of how sexual violence impacts the LGBTQ+ community.
“One of the really important statistics that people often throw around is that one in five cis men and one in three cis women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime,” Levitt said. “But for transgender people, it’s one in two, and of those one in two trans folks that will experience sexual violence, 35% will experience sexual assault five times or more,” Levitt said.
Levitt said this number is higher for members of the trans community with intersectional identities, including trans people who are people of color or who have disabilities.
Sexual violence survivors shared their stories and offered themselves as support for anyone going through what they did.
“If you’re a survivor, I want you to know that you are believed,” Emily Gregg, survivor and freshman in psychology said. “There are people who will listen and help you in any way they can. I hope my experience can help to not only teach my peers about survivors but to let Kansas State know what can be improved upon.”
Recent K-State graduate and former president of Cats Against Sexual Violence Paige Eichkorn organized the Wildcat Walk to End Sexual Violence in 2019. As a sexual violence survivor, she shared her story at the event this year and said she believes it is “essential” to raise awareness about sexual violence and prevention.
“It’s just so crucial to have places like the CARE office that you can have those conversations in and to have their trainings of Wildcats Make a Pact, and just be a proactive bystander and to know what to do in those potentially violent situations,” Eichkorn said. “It doesn’t have to be at a party, it doesn’t have to be off campus somewhere, [sexual violence] could happen at any time. So, preparing people starting with a conversation is vital –– to people’s survival, too. So many women are raped and then killed. You could be potentially saving someone’s life if you know what to do.”
Additional speakers at the event included vice president for student life and the dean of students Thomas Lane, a forensic nurse from Ascension Via Christi, K-State’s new Title IX director Stephanie Lott and the assistant director of K-State Counseling Services Kodee Walls.
Walls said that every K-State student has 24 therapy sessions with K-State Counseling Services paid for in their privilege fee, including eight sessions a semester which can be used over the summer.
“Our job is to help empower survivors so that we can shift from that victim experience, which is a real experience, into the space of being a survivor where you can take those risks and feel and grow and stretch and find your voice to work through victim-blaming, that we can all internalize,” Walls said.
CARE office survivor advocate Alayna Colburn said the CARE office provides confidential, free and voluntary services and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment.
With CARE, Colburn is leading an initiative which was recently approved by President Richard Myers to have a campus-wide climate survey taken by all KSU faculty, staff and students that includes specific language and questions pertaining to sexual violence on campus, in hopes to have a more accurate understanding of how this issue is affecting the K-State community. In her speech, Colburn called upon the university to take action against sexual violence.
“As Desmond Tutu has proclaimed, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,”” Colburn said. “It shouldn’t have to happen to you for it to matter to you. This is not a time for neutrality. K-State, don’t wait.”