Student-led Not on My Campus UT Austin is working to eradicate sexual assault on the University of Texas campus.
By Chantal Rice, Photos courtesy of Not on My Campus UT Austin
Change starts with you: Never has that charge been more crucial. With one in five American women becoming the victims of rape at some point in their lifetimes, and one recent University of Texas survey finding 15 percent of female undergraduate students at UT have been raped and another 18 percent of UT students have experienced unwanted sexual touching, one student-led organization is fighting back. It’s a group that’s growing a movement to end the silence often enshrouding the issue of sexual assault and emboldening fellow Longhorns to take personal responsibility to thwart sexual assault on the Forty Acres.
Not on My Campus UT Austin, an affiliate of the student-led organization founded at Southern Methodist University in 2015, works to prevent sexual violence on campus and establish a supportive environment for survivors.
“Our mission is around preventing sexual assault through education and awareness. We’re never here to blame a survivor or victim. We’re only here to help,” says Tatum Zeko, president of Not on My Campus UT Austin.
That helps comes in myriad forms, including advocacy, education and support. Members of the organization work to ensure every UT student knows and has access to the helpful resources available to them, whether that involves sharing info about so-called Red Zones (big party weekends or events when incidents of sexual assault usually spike); aiding a student in getting an escort home through UT’s SURE Walk or SURE Ride programs; procuring info about the university’s available health, counseling and emergency services; or helping victims report sexual-assault incidents to authorities and UT’s Title IX office. Indeed, Not on My Campus UT Austin reps will even spend hours with sexual-assault victims to make sure they don’t have to endure the reporting process and any potential exams alone, but rather with a supportive confidant. Though Zeko admits it’s an emotionally arduous experience, she notes it’s an essential one.
“First, we ask [sexual-assault victims] how they’re doing and make sure reporting is what they want. We’ll be there with them the whole way,” she says. “One of my friends put it a really good way: For survivors, it’s hard to come face to face and speak your truth out loud. Those truths belong to them. We’re just here to help support them however we can.”
A key component of Not on My Campus UT Austin involves in-depth, grassroots peer education, with peer educators getting specific training about sexual assault, bystander intervention and survivor support through focused workshops conducted each semester. Zeko says the group trained about 130 UT students in February alone, and has made great strides to bring on peer educators from the campus’ fraternities and sororities, as well as those involved in various spirit groups, student societies and educational organizations.
Zeko acknowledges it’s difficult to gage how the group’s work has impacted the number of sexual assaults occurring at UT but says a boost in sexual-assault reports, in fact, amounts to a positive result.
“If there’s an increase in reporting, that’s actually a good thing,” she says. “It means people feel safe coming forward, which hasn’t always been the case.”
Not on My Campus UT can also boast some more tangible accomplishments, including gaining endorsements from UT President Gregory Fenves and former UT football coach Mack Brown; getting more than 2,000 students to sign the Not on My Campus pledge to help end sexual violence on the Austin campus; hosting advocacy training with an array of Texas politicians, including women’s rights advocate Wendy Davis; and even securing a meeting with beloved feminist and activist Gloria Steinem to discuss sexual-violence prevention.
Rolling with its momentum, Not on My Campus UT Austin plans to host its next peer-education training event for students Sept. 1 and 2, and Zeko says she hopes to attract as many as 150 passionate UT students who will help take responsibility for the university’s student culture, become advocates for sexual-assault survivors and make a positive difference within the campus community and indeed, the world.
For more information about Not on My Campus UT Austin and the group’s upcoming peer-education training event for UT students in early September, visit notonmycampusutaustin.com.