This week marked the launch of the MIT “It’s On Us” campaign. “It’s On Us” is a national awareness campaign developed by the White House in order to eliminate sexual assault on college campuses. As a part of the “It’s On Us, MIT” campaign, students, faculty and staff are invited to sign the MIT Bystander Pledge. The pledge was written by MIT students of the Title IX Working Group, the student-staff coalition that organized the It’s On Us campaign at MIT.
The purpose of developing the MIT Bystander Pledge was to send a concrete and clear call to action for individuals to make an impact on sexual assault at MIT. The pledge was informed by the results of the Campus Attitudes on Sexual Assault (CASA) survey and students’ personal experiences at MIT. The pledge is a set of four actions designed to inspire individuals to start addressing sexual assault within their own communities.
The goal of the It’s On Us program at MIT is twofold: to empower members of the MIT community to act as active bystanders in order to stop sexual assault before it happens and to create an informed community that makes campus safe and supportive for those who have been affected by sexual assault.
By signing the bystander pledge, students, faculty and staff agree to take on part of our shared responsibility to establish a safe campus environment. The pledge is a personal commitment to help achieve these goals within MIT’s smaller communities. Those who sign are committing to learn and to think about the role individuals have in establishing both positive and negative community standards. They are also pledging to take action as active bystanders in situations where sexual assault may occur, which is any situation where consent has not or cannot be given for any reason, and to support other active bystanders in being part of the sexual assault prevention movement at MIT.
Lastly, the pledge is a promise to learn and critically think about sexual assault as a community issue, to establish positive community attitudes and standards, and to support individuals who have been affected by sexual assault. Simply put, signing the pledge is an indication that you would like to be part of the solution, rather than passively condone the status quo.
The prevalence of sexual assault (experienced by more than 1 in 6 female undergraduates*) and misconduct (experienced by 1 in 3 female undergraduates) found by the CASA survey inspired the pledge to Learn. This part of the pledge was designed to encourage individuals to seek a sophisticated comprehension of sexual assault within one’s community. This can be achieved through a few simple steps: begin a dialogue within close communities (such as informally discussing among friends or organizing forums), ask questions of the experts to develop an educated understanding of the issue (the staff of VPR and the Title IX office are great places to start), and incorporate this understanding into community dialogues to promote informed awareness on campus.
The CASA survey results suggest that there may be confusion as to what constitutes sexual assault, misconduct, and consent. Attitudes that were particularly prevalent among survey respondents demonstrate that students believe that rape can be “unintentional” or a result of “miscommunication” and that a person who has been assaulted or raped may be “at least somewhat responsible for putting themselves in that position” in the first place. These attitudes must be re-examined in order for all of us to effectively address sexual assault on campus. The pledge to Think is a promise to consider one’s personal role in establishing a safe community free of sexual assault. It means taking the time to understand how comments and beliefs impact others and the larger community. Think about how misconceptions about sex and consent have the potential for harm in the community, and identify situations in which sexual assault may occur.
According to the CASA survey, MIT students would respect someone acting to prevent sexual assault (97 percent of respondents); in fact, students count on friends to act to protect them at a party or in social situations from anything “bad” occurring (90 percent of respondents). However, less than half of undergraduate respondents reported that they have engaged in specific bystander behaviors themselves when given the opportunity.
The disconnect between expectation, belief, and actual action inspired the pledge to Act. This is a promise to intervene to prevent a potential sexual assault. It is a commitment to take action in the moment — to help a person, not a statistic. This action can be as simple as checking in with a friend at a party if it seems that they are unable to remove themselves from a potentially harmful situation (i.e. too drunk, someone isn’t leaving them alone, or they are being intentionally isolated), distracting someone who is trying to get a drunk person to do something sexual, or speaking up when someone says something that promotes attitudes on sex and consent that may permit or even encourage sexual violence within one’s personal community. Individuals are encouraged to seek out clubs, organizations, and resources on campus so that they may incorporate existing bystander intervention efforts into their own sexual assault prevention strategies.
Of CASA respondents who experienced sexual assault, 90 percent of people who have talked about their experience with someone went to a friend. This statistic, coupled with the pledge-writers’ personal experiences with the tight-knit communities present at MIT, inspired the Support section of the MIT pledge. In times of personal pain or confusion, it is natural to seek assistance from people one trusts. The pledge to Support is a promise to respond to people seeking help in a way that is deserving of that trust. This means listening with an open mind, not casting judgment, and expressing empathy when someone is in need. Support also means referring people to resources (like VPR on campus or BARCC off campus), and seeking out these resources if one experiences personal distress as a result of hearing a disclosure.
This is not an issue that can be solved by a select few all at once, but there are ways members of the community can act now to begin making a positive impact so that we are not individuals acting alone, but rather people working together side by side. The MIT Bystander Pledge was developed to inspire individuals to seize the potential for change in everyday interpersonal interactions. Sexual assault is everyone’s issue. Stopping sexual assault is on us at MIT.
*17 percent of female undergraduate respondents experienced sexual assault involving force, physical threat or incapacitation; thus, this does not include sexual assaults that did not involve these categories.