We must eliminate the culture of silence on campuses across the nation. On my campus, most students do not have a problem admitting that sexual assault occurs, however, the culture surrounding sexual assault makes it an enigmatic issue where bystanders do not feel empowered to do something. As leaders in our communities we have to be the ultimate active bystanders and take initiative to put together engaging programs to tackle this issue and foster sustainable cultural change.
A multi-dimensional approach is needed to combat sexual assault. We must find unique ways to engage our communities in learning this education—whether that’s through theater, small-group discussions, spoken-word, or weekly dorm student panels. After reading Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal, I discovered Forum Theater, a method through which the spectators in the audience become “spect-actors” as they empower themselves to participate in coming up with solutions alongside the performers (Ahrens). To me, Forum Theater held promise in mobilizing students and engaging them in community dialogue and social change. I reached out specifically to interACT, a troupe from California State University Long Beach that would use dramatic techniques to move participants out of the passive spectator role into the active bystander role. Students would get a chance to try out their interventions on stage alongside the performers who stay in character.
Here are some things to think about as you put together your own prevention program:
As student leaders, we are in a unique moment to champion coordination, public awareness, and community support to combat an issue that has perpetuated human existence for thousands of years. The onus is on us. About 30 audience members were called up to the stage to demonstrate their solutions, and even more actively participated during the audience question and answer sessions. Theevent attracted more than 275 students, and feedback from administration and students was nearly all positive and constructive. We began a deeper dialogue, as attendees said they were more open to taking ownership in sexual assault situations after watching their peers participate in interACT’s show.