Illuminating the darkest corners

Campus group provides sexual assault prevention, training and advocacy

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Illiminate's pins and stickers, designed by PSU marketing students. Cassie Duncanson/PSU Vanguard

Illuminate, a new division of Portland State’s Center for Student Health and Counseling, started with a push from students. The Student Alliance for Sexual Safety was pivotal in establishing advocacy for interpersonal violence and was already being built by the Women’s Resource Center.

According to its webpage, Illuminate uses “the power of prevention education to promote healthy relationships and sexuality by addressing the underlying social determinants of violence and to create equal and respectful relationships. Illuminate seeks to shed light on the social injustices that lead to sexual and relationship violence and to create social change through prevention programming such as bystander intervention, anti-oppression, consent workshops and social norms campaigns.”

Illuminate’s goals reflect national trends to create comprehensive prevention work in regard to IPV, particularly on college campuses, and sanctions associated with Title IX included citations that required those colleges to begin bringing prevention work onto campus. Most schools that want to be leaders are looking to what Title IX endeavors to encompass.

Who’s in the Illuminate Office?

“[PSU] did not have sanctions around IPV,” according to Amy Kayon, Illuminate’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention coordinator. “There’s a groundswell of student and administrative need and want—a desire to be out in front to what could be mandated and building the advocacy program from that.”

Before working at Portland State, Kayon was the coordinator for the statewide youth crisis line. After that, she volunteered for the Sexual Assault Research Center in Washington County before accepting a coordinator position. “That prevention [work] set me up to do work at PSU because PSU is such an urban commuter campus,” Kayon said.

Working in high schools, she specifically looked at ways to change behaviors, knowledge and attitudes. “One of the great things about working within the campus is its strong community identity—of being part of PSU as opposed to belonging to an outside agency.” Her Master of Teaching degree has also given her a strong sense for curriculum development, and this background helps her think systemically when building programs.

“Our first year was very successful, focusing on comprehensive prevention in three different places on campus and offering bystander and consent workshop campus wide,” Kayon said. Workshops were built with the help of peer educators who helped collaborate and inform the content.

Peer Educators

Illuminate currently has two paid peer educators. Anastasia Hale and Jessica Le got involved with Illuminate by taking Public Administration 409: Sexual Violence Prevention, Education, and Response, a 3-credit course which looks at different views on advocacy and prevention education on PSU’s campus. The class specifically examines sexual harassment, sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. Completion of the course allows students to pursue advocacy work with the Women’s Resource Center or, as Hale and Le chose, to pursue prevention work with Illuminate.

Le, who focuses her psychology degree on criminal studies, said she “never really thought about prevention” prior to taking PA409. While prevention and advocacy work are certainly different sides of the same coin, Jessica became interested in “getting at the root of the problem…prevention efforts as opposed to reacting.”

Much of the work that Le and Hale do goes beyond doing workshops and working with other programs, both on campus and in the community; they are also preparing Illuminate for the long haul. Much of the peer educators’ current work—organization—might seem like a menial task, but they are setting up Illuminate for the next generation of students, creating systems that Illuminate can use for programming, for communicating with the community, and for scheduling events and working with campus programs. Their successors in Illuminate and the following generations that will benefit from their hard work.

Hale especially loves Illuminate’s name and logo, designed by PSU’s Marketing program. “They aren’t scary, in your face,” Hale said. “It helps with tabling.” The unique logo and name open the conversation to students who might not otherwise have any interaction with the subject.

Hale has been surprised by the amount of student engagement. Workshops are mandatory for student athletes and Resident Assistant training and are held in student housing. “The people who come are genuinely engaged and want to get better,” Hale said. “They leave feeling empowered, [wanting] to do something about the issues.”

Student Involvement and Workshops

Because of heavy student involvement, these workshops reflect the campus. “A lot of PSU students are wanting to interact with the topic of consent,” Kayon said.

Illuminate recently led a consent workshop for the Queer Resource Center’s Sex Week. It was well received, and the conversation seemed to resonate with the students.

Peer educators have been doing a lot of work during the month of February, embracing Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk about sex and consent.

Bystander and consent workshops have been held in many residential buildings (Psst…Free pizza). Illuminate has built workshops specifically with Athletics, Residential Life and International Student Life programs in mind.

Illuminate is rooted in the community and relies on its volunteers. All volunteers go through training that has been approved by the attorney general’s sexual assault task force. The online module meets standards for confidentiality privilege.

One Master of Public Administration student volunteer (who wished to remain anonymous) has created a volunteer management protocol system. Their involvement has been a “beautiful partnership with program, [helping to create] system[s] and structure how to engage students when they want to volunteer.” A Master of Public Health student has been helping with program development, particularly with the international student life program, and one of Illuminate’s interns will spend spring term developing queer- and trans-specific programming with QRC, being particularly cognizant that not all queer students use QRC.

“The interest and collaboration by the students on campus has really driven success this first year,” Kayon said. “They are driving the same level of innovation and development in year two.”

Looking Forward

Master of Social Work student Alix Prior is looking at ways to build Illuminate by reaching out to different schools and programs at PSU and inviting them to do comprehensive prevention work within the program. One of the biggest challenges has been reaching out to every student: only approximately 2,000 of PSU’s almost 30,000 students live on campus, and not every student is involved in extracurricular activities which mandate workshops and training. Every student, though, is enrolled in classes. Prior is looking at ways to build Illuminate presence and relationships with students in the classroom and “building sustainable relationships with departments.” She is currently working on developing programming with the Resource Center for Students with Children.

Prior is also cultivating programs for orientation and matriculation, under the mandate that all incoming students will take Illuminate’s bystander workshop. This will provide incoming students with an element of prevention work; the timing—the week before Viking Week—will allow transfer and other non-traditional students who aren’t coming straight from high school to be involved.

Illuminate’s work with Resident Life has sought to require all first-year residents (traditional freshmen) to take the bystander and consent workshop within the first two weeks of school. According to Kayon, this helps open up the “opportunity to come in and do more programming and cover more topics, knowing that everybody who comes in has done the bystander workshop.” It frees Illuminate up to do other prevention work.

The second year will have an emphasis on workshop development beyond consent and bystander, looking to issues of depression, harmful gender stereotypes, toxic masculinity, substance abuse and media representation.

In the coming year, Illuminate will be working with PSU psychology professor Keith Kaufman, who recently received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss situational prevention work. Kaufman will create a handbook based on that research, and on the work he will be doing with eight universities, including PSU, where he will be working with Illuminate and Kayon.

“[He will be] training me on how to help facilitate the groups,” Kayon said. “My goal is that when he’s done handing off the handbook [we will be able] to continue this type of work—we’d like it to come into the Illuminate umbrella.” Kayon added that this type of discussion and work addresses “small and big-picture sexual violence prevention work that can drive at some of the policy changes that are a little bit more difficult to address, but really drive at systemic changes that help prevent perpetration and victimization.”

Upcoming Events

Illuminate’s next big event is An Evening with Brenda Tracy, 5:30–8 p.m., April 5 in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom, cosponsored by AAUW, WRC, PSU Global Diversity and Inclusion, and PSU Athletics. Tracy will be spending the evening sharing her story of survival and advocacy, and will discuss on-campus solutions and her own history of legislative advocacy work within the state of Oregon. More information about the event can be found on the event’s Facebook page.

Another exciting upcoming event is Denim Day; this will be Illuminate’s first year running the event. Denim Day will take place from 9 a.m.–3 p.m. on April 26 on the Park Blocks; there will be free food, raffles and plenty of swag. Illuminate is currently looking for donations of denim: jeans, jackets, vests, chaps—any and everything denim. Donation boxes will be in on-campus centers, including the Queer Resource Center and Women’s Resource Center. These items will be used as part of an interactive activity on Denim Day, and you won’t want to miss out.

How Can I Help?

Currently, Illuminate is looking for student volunteers, and there are ample opportunities with varying time commitments. Members are looking for coordinators for Denim Day, students who can give presentations and do outreach work, and students who want to give input on the workshops and various programs that Illuminate is working on.

Kayon says she is “all ears all the time for what students want on campus.”

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