By Pablo Hernandez
In the United States and elsewhere, the month of April is sexual assault awareness month. For many organizations and institutions, this inspires widespread campaigns that aim to bring attention to and discussion about the sensitive topic.
One such organization, ARISE, implements their very own campaign every year across a select number of college campuses. ARISE is a non-profit organization that is responsible for creating “The Solidarity Project.” The project features a nine-foot-tall blackboard box, where people can write positive messages of encouragement and comfort for those who may be connected to sexual assault in any way.
The project has appeared at the University of Oregon for the last four years, and according to supervisor James Ramirez, there is no end in sight. For Ramirez, the project serves to “spark a real change in what it means to be a student at a university or what it means to be human and how to treat – you know, how we interact and treat one another.”
According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, between 20 and 25 percent of women in college and about 15 percent of men will experience some form of sexual assault throughout their college careers. Of those cases that occur, nearly 90 percent of them go unreported – allowing universities to often turn a blind eye to the underlying issue at hand.
“I think when something like this happens, when the assault occurs, it’s easy to think your value’s diminished as a human being. And I think this gives us an opportunity for us to be like ‘Hey, I do belong to this community, and I am not alone,’” said Ramirez. This is the sole purpose of “The Solidarity Project”, for individuals to be able to come together through shared experiences and provide each other with a safe space to interact.
This feeling of community that is created through the shared experiences of many is what Edgar Quispe says inspires others to act and share stories. Quispe, who also oversees the project, recognizes that sexual assault is a very difficult subject to talk about in detail – especially for victims. As a result, the project is also seen as a safe space for anyone to be able to vent their emotions or to share their experiences.
According to Quispe, being able to talk to others about the issue is the first step in healing and helps to “create a space for community to come together and heal and be a part of each other’s stories, and have stories merge together… And to just give a platform to a voice.” The idea, explained Quispe, is that when one person steps up and shares their story this inspires others to let their voices be heard and thus marks the beginning of the healing process. For Quispe, the project has served as a learning experience, especially in terms of how to respectfully present and talk about such a sensitive subject.
In regards to the future of the project both Quispe and Ramirez are hopeful that the campaign will serve as an inspiration for other organizations. Indeed, the effect of “The Solidarity Project” is beneficial for students to have an outlet, but the project itself has the potential to reach a much larger audience across a nation that experiences this issue all over.
“We don’t want to be the only group in the world that has a positive impact,” said Ramirez. “If [“The Solidarity Project”] is something that could be good at other schools, take it and run with it.”