“I feel like I did that to myself”

Bryant students band together to help end sexual assault

Class of 2019’s Christina Palazzo with her pledge. (Photo courtesy of Liam Rice)

“I told him to stop. He thought I was joking. I froze.” Kristina Erickson, Beloit College.

“I had no intention of sleeping with this woman. I kept telling her.” Daniel Episcope, University of the Pacific.

“I kept asking for help, and no one would help me.” Sarah Honos, Eastern Michigan University.

It is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year (Fisher, National Institute of Justice). Considering the make-up of our community here at Bryant University, this is a chilling statistic. Whether it is experienced on some far-off campus through the news or directly on our campus, sexual assault is currently an unfortunate zeitgeist of the college experience. It is this harsh reality that spurred the #IPledge Campaign, a student-led movement to educate on sexual assault prevention and destigmatize the process of coming forward if an assault occurs. This article will record the events leading to the formation of the #IPledge Campaign and the events that have recently occurred on campus.

Prior to the semester’s start, approximately forty students participated in Linked Through Leadership: CHANGE, a week-long leadership retreat focused on social justice theory and implementation. The program was headed by Susan Zarnowski, Associate Director of Campus Engagement, Liam Rice ’17, Jillian Guadet ’17, Elizabeth Oluokun ’18, Molly Gearan ’18, and alumnus Vernon Baskerville ’16. Featuring students with majors ranging from International Business to Communications and hailing from student organizations, such as Student Programing Board and Sigma Sigma Sigma, the cohorts were diverse in both experiences and outlooks.

The goal of the program was simple: to educate Bryant University students on cultural and identity issues throughout the socio-economic community and identify tangible goals to combat these issues. Awareness and assistance were the words of the week. Each of the five days focused on a specific identity: General Education, LGTBQ+, Women/Dating Violence, Race/Ethnicity/Invisible Disability, Goals. Throughout each day, participants were provided educational experiences ranging from academic texts to activist presentations; throughout the experience, presenters and coordinators challenges students to harness the knowledge they were receiving and utilize it in an applied aspect at Bryant University. Participants, utilizing the design thinking skills learned during Bryant IDEA, ideated on potential programs and goals for the University, settling on a Sexual Assault mattress campaign as their headliner. Additionally, each student pledged individual goals for throughout the academic year. This was the genesis of the #IPledge Campaign.

Sexual assault was an issue that ran deep for Coordinator Liam Rice ‘ 17, prompting him to create a tangible project to fight the epidemic. Rice, who was touched by the “Carry that Weight” campaign at Columbia University, prompted the students to sign their names on a University mattress bearing a pledge to help end sexual assault and combat the stigma in reporting. This mattress, as well as the #IPledge whiteboards, were displayed in the Fisher Student Center October 3rd. Students from the CHANGE experienced called students and faculty over to take the pledge, sign the mattress, and make their own individual pledges. By the end of the day, over 250 signatures decorated the mattress, representing a campus coming together and firmly claiming they are resources for those in need.

The campaign does not end here. Look out for the #IPledge mattress to pop up around campus, a constant reminder that the fight to create a safer community is not done. If you see the mattress, feel free to come up and sign! Rice looks to continue to foster safe spaces on campus for coming forward and talking about sexual assault and the stigma around reporting. If interested in sponsoring the #IPledge mattress or any related questions, please contact Liam Rice at lrice3@bryant.edu.