Project SAFE hosts Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming throughout April

Vanderbilt students and faculty will continue to engage in educational and skills-building initiatives through the end of April.

Project Safe’s Prevention Procession, as photographed on April 14, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Burke)

Abigail Burke

Project Safe’s Prevention Procession, as photographed on April 14, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Burke)

Ekta Anand and Aashi Gurijala

Vanderbilt’s Project Safe Center for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response  has commemorated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) during April with educational seminars, empowerment events and their annual Prevention Procession and Survivor Speak Out event. The theme this year, “Building Safe Online Spaces Together,” was set by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and, along with student input, guided SAAM programming during the month. 

So far, Project Safe has offered 15 SAAM programs, with 16 more to come this week. SAAM kicked off at Vanderbilt with a Block Party held on April 4 co-hosted by Project Safe and the Office of Greek Life. The event consisted of four stations, including a sexual health panel with staff from the Women’s Center and Project Safe, a self-defense station and a spin-the-wheel sex conversation station. Students were given an event passport, which they had to fill with three stickers from the stations to scan for attendance. Junior Ben Powdermaker, an intern at Project Safe and Interfraternity Council president, helped plan the event and said he believes it had a positive effect on the community. 

“Due to location, timing and type of event, we were able to get a lot of students to participate with over 400 students swiping in. Second, the passport system forced students to actively participate in the stations, and students who may normally not learn well in a lecture-type environment had a much more hands-on experience,” Powdermaker said. “Finally, sex, consent and discussing these topics can and should be fun, and this event allowed for that.”

One of Project Safe’s largest annual events of the year, the Prevention Procession and Survivor Speak Out, was held on April 14. Students decorated paper lanterns with messages of support for sexual assault survivors and walked from Library Lawn to Alumni Hall. Survivors then had the opportunity to share their experiences. 

“There’s a lot of general programming throughout the month, but this is just one of those where a lot of the student body gets to come together and celebrate sexual assault awareness month,” senior Abigail Burke, a Project SAFE intern, said. “We had a really good turnout, and people were really supportive, especially during the Survivors Speak Out.”

Project SAFE also hosted self-defense classes every Tuesday in April. First-year Audrey Lingan, an attendee, stated that the class’s emphasis on confidence and personal boundaries was beneficial to her. 

“I kind of always wanted to take a self-defense class, and the people were just really nice. I really liked how they focused not on beating people up but empowerment and how to keep yourself safe,” Lingan said. “They also really emphasized pulling or sticking to your boundaries and what’s comfortable for you, so I walked out feeling a lot more confident.”

Cara Tuttle Bell, director of Project Safe, echoed Lingan’s statements, emphasizing that initially hesitant students were surprised by how much they learned from the self-defense classes.

“I’ve encountered a few raised eyebrows at seeing us promote the board-breaking activity, but I urge you, if you don’t get it, to talk to one of the students who broke a board,” Bell said. “It is exhilarating! It helps a lot of people feel more confident, almost instantly, in asserting themselves.” 

Looking toward the rest of April, Project SAFE has planned events such as Sex in the Dark for April 27, which will feature an anonymous Q&A about sexual health and relationships. Per Project Safe’s Anchor Link, the goal of the event is to promote communication and conversation about sexual awareness and identity to encourage students to feel comfortable in their skin and community.

“Whether you’re aware of it or not, [sexual assault is] so prevalent. Everybody knows somebody that has experienced that, even if they haven’t come out and said it,” Burke said. “I think Project SAFE is one of the most important resources on campus in that aspect. There’s so many positives to how we present this topic that I think kind of works to destigmatize it, especially on a college campus where people definitely aren’t super comfortable talking about it.”