During the 58th Student Senate meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 24, representatives from “Step Up! New Paltz” and The Red Flag Campaign introduced their programs to the members of the senate body. Both programs have a common goal: to inform students about the dangers of being a passive bystander and encourage intervention in difficult social situations. Such situations include bullying, harassment, dating violence, sexual assault and substance abuse.
Senator Cait O’Connor, third-year secondary education major and self-proclaimed “sexual assault survivors’ advocate,” spoke highly of the new programs, calling them vital opportunities to educate and “mobilize all of our campus.”
“[Step Up! New Paltz] empowers people to act in these situations, to help someone who may be unable to help themselves,” O’Connor said. “These programs will benefit students and people on our campus because they teach others to not be afraid to speak up in the face of injustice, harm to other people or situations of discomfort or wrongdoing against others.”
The most important aspect of these programs, according to O’Connor, are the strategies they provide students and faculty.
“The goal [of Step Up! New Paltz] is to break down [common misconceptions] so we are prepared with the tools to cease the culture of acceptance around sexual and dating violence,” she said.
O’Connor alluded to recent cases of sexual assault and rape in the media. The prevalence of such incidents and the failure of institutions to penalize perpetrators have prompted preventative measures across college campuses nationwide.
According to O’Connor, the introduction of these programs was prompted by widespread failure to report incidents of sexual assault and violence at SUNY New Paltz and other SUNY schools. Although students know how common and real sexual offenses are, victims often feel scared and unable to come forward and file formal reports.
“Senators have always spoken on these issues, but we have really started to mobilize on them as of last semester,” O’Connor said. “[This was] prompted by a fraternity incident and stories from survivors being brought to our attention.”
O’Connor stressed the universal reach of these programs, which aim to encourage people of all ranks of life to speak up.
“What is important to know about these programs is that they are meant to mobilize all of our campus — including queer, trans, non-binary students and faculty, Greek life organizations and the statistical and most-often-blamed perpetrator, cisgender males, to act up against sexual assault, date rape and sexual and intimate partner violence,” O’Connor said. “It can happen to anyone, across all genders, across all races and demographic backgrounds and in any and all types of relationships.”