A recent rise in incidents of sexual assault at colleges and universities around the nation led to a challenge from President Barack Obama for institutions to focus on prevention and an increased awareness of these incidents. In response, UT’s Center for Health Education and Wellness launched a campaign focusing on communication and defining consent.
The campaign was geared toward two goals: first, to educate students about the definition of consent, and second, to open discussion and help students become accustomed to talking about a topic that is awkward and uncomfortable for many.
“Communication is a key element of consent and sexual assault prevention,” said Ashley Blamey, director of the center and chair of the university’s Sexual Assault Response Team. “These are important conversations, and they may be happening for the first time in many students’ lives.”
For the consent campaign, the focus message was that consent is separate from any other context or behavior. A series of sixteen posters were produced with messages like “Indecision does not mean yes” and “Being a flirt does not mean yes.” Each poster included one of three key components of consent—“Consent is unmistakable,” “Consent is mutual,” and “Consent is an enthusiastic ‘yes’”—along with the single tagline “If it’s not yes, it’s rape.” The posters featured bold text and simple layouts with neon colors.
“We wanted to make sure that the messages applied to everyone, and that they actively contradicted the victim-blaming that we often see in sexual assault cases,” said Blamey.
As students arrived for the start of the 2014–2015 school year, the posters were already up across campus. A print ad featured images of all sixteen posters, and electronic versions were displayed on digital screens.
During the 2015 spring semester, the campaign introduced a set of twenty-second video spots, featuring the “…does not mean yes” messages spoken by a diverse group of students. They were added to the university’s YouTube channel and communicated via social media throughout the month of April in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Also in April, the center held a “Hike the Hill in Heels” event, during which men and women donned high heels and marched from the Torchbearer in Circle Park to Ayres Hall to raise awareness about sexual assault. Teams paid entry fees to walk in the march, and all money raised went to the Helen Ross McNabb Center Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee.
The initial campaign was well received, drawing praise as a model program at a sexual violence prevention conference and earning both a Special Judges Award and a silver ADDY award in the American Advertising Association’s East Tennessee competition. It also won a gold award from the Tennessee College Public Relations Association.
An expanded campaign is in the works for 2015–2016, with a series of new elements to encourage further discussion of consent and related issues along with a fresh set of…does not mean yes” messages drawn from student submissions.
“It’s our intent to keep moving students forward in their thinking on this issue. The first steps are always the most challenging, and now we have something solid to build on,” said Blamey.
Find out more about university efforts to raise awareness of and help prevent sexual assaults on campus at wellness.utk.edu and sexualassault.utk.edu. Watch the defining consent videos at tiny.utk.edu/consent.