State legislators praise Eastern Michigan University's efforts to prevent sexual assaults

EMU's Ellen Gold notes how proactive program targets needs of specific university populations

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University’s award-winning proposal, “The SMART Project: Sexual Misconduct Awareness and Reporting Tools for a Safer EMU Community,” was presented at a hearing in Lansing Tuesday (March 8) as part of the statewide initiative to increase awareness and prevent sexual assaults on college campuses.

Eastern Michigan and three other grant awardees (Ferris State University, Western Michigan University and the University of Michigan – Flint) were asked to share their grant-supported initiatives with legislators who are preparing next year’s budget and considering the continued funding of the first-year state grant program.

EMU's Ellen Gold testifies before Lansing lawmakers on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Ellen Gold, assistant vice president for student well-being at EMU, testified before members of the State Police and Higher Education subcommittees, both part of the Standing Committee on Appropriations.

Out of 22 Michigan universities and colleges receiving grant funds, EMU’s SMART proposal received a grant of $53,926 in Nov. 2015 This was the second highest amount awarded to any of the grantee institutions.

During her testimony, Gold said EMU’s efforts are designed to:

  •  Increase help-seeking behaviors among EMU students
  •  Reduce the negative attitudes and myths about sexual assault that frame a victim blaming mentality.
  • Increase the number of students, faculty and staff who are aware of the University’s sexual misconduct policy, reporting protocol, and available resources.
  •  Create a coordinated campus network that works to promote sexual assault prevention, education, and victim’s rights.

Taking a coordinated approach

“While committee members recognized that all the campuses are targeting the general population in their outreach campaigns, Eastern Michigan was specifically cited for focusing on specific groups in its efforts, such as student athletes, the LBGTQ community, the Honors College, Students of Color and the Greek system,” Gold said she told legislators.

Gold also said that, “The EMU project is designed to develop a coordinated approach that shares accurate, up-to-date information, and provides education and training to understand and increase help-seeking behaviors while reducing negative attitudes and myths about sexual assaults and the ‘blaming the victim mentality’ that is framed in stigma, fear and inaccurate information.”

Rep. Michael McCready, chair of the higher education subcommittee, praised EMU for its student-driven focus and participation.

“Our campaign’s foundation is built on student involvement in every aspect of our work,” Gold told the lawmakers. “We will have over 70 students participating in focus groups, along with student graphic artists, web designers, program coordinators, and videographers. Students are also involved in designing and implementing the campaign’s social media components. We are also starting student focus groups in order get input to develop effective messaging that will resonate with our students.”

The ‘I Choose’ campaign

Gold described the campaign’s first phase– the development of EMU’s “I Choose” social norms marketing campaign, which runs through May 2016. The campaign will focus primarily on the undergraduate student population, along with smaller components directed to graduate students, faculty and staff.

The tagline, “I Choose…” for messaging on posters and videos, was selected based on student focus group input last spring. The tagline can be used in various ways, such as:

  • To get consent.
  • To respect my partner.
  • To help a friend in need.  
  • To combat rape culture.

“The marketing campaign overall will promote a positive image, so that those students recovering from a sexual assault will no longer feel alienated and isolated,” Gold told legislators. “They will know how and where to seek out resources on campus and in the community.”

An “I Choose” website will allow students to directly download information and materials designed and created by students. It also will contain video messages and personal stories of hope, hotlines and a calendar of activities, training and events, Gold said.

Gold says a trio of publications will be produced during phase two of the campaign, which runs May through August. The publications include: 1. A faculty and staff guide that focuses on the student sexual misconduct policy, protocols for reports of incidents, and available resources. 2. A survivor handbook; and 3. A reporting and resource wallet card with pertinent information on reporting and resource numbers for distribution to the general student population.

The state lawmakers praised the development of the wallet card, which Eastern plans to distribute at orientation in the fall, when freshmen are first on campus, Gold said.

“Sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking are serious problems on colleges across the country, and our first-year students are quite vulnerable,” Gold said in summing up the program. “We want to engage students in the first seven weeks on campus, a time when they are transitioning into their new life and may not know how or be comfortable enough to speak out when there is a problem. We’ll also reach out to targeted student groups and then evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts after a year.”

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

March 09, 2016

Written by:
Media Relations

Geoff Larcom