Opinion: Steps to end campus sexual assault

Sue Snyder
First Lady Sue Snyder writes: "My goal from the beginning of this initiative has been to change the culture surrounding sexual assault in Michigan."

Students throughout Michigan are currently beginning classes at different colleges and universities. From the moment they step foot on campus, students will learn to navigate busy schedules, homework assignments, extracurricular activities and new relationships. While they are making memories that will last a lifetime, many don’t know that during these first few weeks of school, they are at the highest risk for experiencing sexual assault on campus.

When my youngest daughter began college, I was heartbroken to learn how many students are assaulted during the first few weeks of school. What should be the start of an exciting new chapter in a young person’s life can suddenly begin a cycle of guilt, shame, anxiety and fear of speaking out. As a parent, I believe we need to do everything possible to ensure our campuses—our students’ homes away from home—are as safe as possible. This is what led to beginning my Inform. Empower. Prevent. Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault initiative four years ago.

In 2015, I partnered with the Michigan State Police to develop the Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program to help colleges and universities provide awareness and prevention programming on campuses. The Governor proposed $500,000 from our state’s general fund budget to start this grant program, and thanks to bipartisan support within the Michigan Legislature, the funding was approved and has been renewed and increased every year since.

I’m proud to say Michigan’s colleges and universities have developed innovative, student-driven awareness and prevention strategies for their campuses. Two unique approaches included bystander trainings for off-campus bars and cab companies and beverage coasters that change colors if certain drugs are in someone’s drink. Other strategies were social media awareness campaigns, inviting topic experts to give campus-wide trainings, purchasing customizable mobile applications, creating programs to engage men, Greek life and athletic communities in these conversations, and much more.

From the beginning, we’ve emphasized the need for these campus programs to be evidence-based and trauma-informed. It’s essential that we’re teaching our kids not just what sexual assault is, but also how to recognize when a peer is in danger, be an active bystander, foster healthy intimate relationships and best respond when an assault is reported on campus.

We must also find ways to better engage traditionally marginalized communities on campus to help create a more inclusive atmosphere for all students. I believe these are some of the ways we can initiate culture change and develop a safer, more supportive environment for survivors.

It’s encouraging to see how the support for this grant program has gained momentum over the years. To date, we’ve invested more than $2.5 million in this grant program, with this year marking our largest annual investment of $1 million.

In April, I re-convened the Campus Sexual Assault Workgroup to develop a roadmap of best practices for prevention. Our hope is that institutions will use this roadmap as a model for their campuses and use state grant funding to make these best practices a reality. This roadmap will be available in the coming weeks and at the upcoming Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault summit at Western Michigan University on Sept. 24.

My goal from the beginning of this initiative has been to change the culture surrounding sexual assault in Michigan. While we’ve made incredible progress so far, there is still more work that needs to be done.

By working together, I know Michigan will continue to be a leader in making our college and university campuses safer—for students and survivors.

Sue Snyder is first lady of Michigan.


*Applications for the 2018-2019 Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program are available now and will be accepted until Monday, Oct. 8. Visit EndCampusSexualAssault.com to learn more.

If you have been sexually assaulted and would like to speak with a counselor, you can call Michigan’s 24/7, free, confidential helpline at 1-855-VOICES4.