Students advocate sexual assault awareness along with Hope Harbor

Griffin Fletcher

As part of a two-semester-long senior capstone project within the major of public relations, a group of five WKU students led a public relations campaign aimed at raising sexual assault awareness in Bowling Green.

At 4 p.m. on March 22, the students, along with a representative from Hope Harbor, a sexual trauma recovery center in Bowling Green, held an event called Donut Be a Bystander, where they served donuts and spoke about Hope Harbor and sexual assault awareness and prevention in the lobby of Pearce Ford Tower.

Partnering with Hope Harbor, the students worked to increase outreach and introduce more WKU students to Hope Harbor’s services offered.

Louisville senior and public relations and Spanish major Katie Norton, a member of the group, started volunteering at Hope Harbor about a year ago. Norton said her work with the organization has shaped her view of sexual trauma in Bowling Green.

“I’ve been able to see that it is an issue in our community,” Norton said. “It’s really important for people to know that they do have these resources, because it happens way more than people think it does.”

Megan Talcott, Hope Harbor director of prevention education, said she is excited to see WKU students engage in sexual assault activism, especially with Sexual Assault Awareness Month — April — so near.

“Everyone is welcome,” Talcott said. “We want as many people possible to get in the conversation.”

Talcott said bystander intervention is key in protecting potential victims of assault.

“We know it works,” Talcott said. “We know, when bystanders get involved, they can significantly reduce violence and sexual assault.”

In order to best serve WKU, when the group started its campaign back in November, it surveyed students living in PFT and the members of Delta Zeta and Alpha Gamma Delta sororities to check the level of sexual assault awareness among those students.

The group used survey responses to help structure its campaign, which focused on a media presence and featured two awareness events, first at the Greek Leadership Symposium on Feb. 24 and second in the lobby of PFT, where students were able to learn more about Hope Harbor and participate in the creation of an awareness banner by tracing their hand onto the banner and writing a personal word of strength inside their handprint.

PFT residence hall director Holly Brandewie said she believes the group’s message is important to WKU students.

“When it comes to sexual assault awareness, one of the biggest components is learning how to intervene and be a positive bystander,” Brandewie said.

Brandewie later added, “The fact that these women are taking the opportunity to share that with our students is very motivational.”

Brandewie said she believes WKU students should know we are all responsible for helping decrease sexual assault cases on campus.

“We all play a role, and I think that once we all realize that we all play a role is when change can happen,” Brandewie said.

Group member Heather Carpenter, a Lancaster senior majoring in public relations and Chinese, said she and the group have been very appreciative of Hope Harbor’s and PFT’s support and participation in its campaign.

“Hope Harbor and PFT have been really awesome to partner with,” Carpenter said. “They both have been super good about communicating with us.”

Brandenburg freshman and broadcasting major Devon English lives in PFT and attended the group’s second event. English said sexual assault prevention should be a topic of discussion at WKU.

“People need to know what it is, and they need to, basically, stand up for it,” English said.

In order to complete its campaign, the group plans to again survey PFT residents and the members of Delta Zeta and Alpha Gamma Delta in April to see if awareness among the groups has increased since its first survey.

Associate professor of public relations Vicki Bagwell, who is teaching the group’s capstone course, emphasized the legitimacy of the group’s campaign. Given its two semesters of preparation, Bagwell said the campaign has provided great public relations experience to the group’s individual members.

“It’s a true PR campaign,” Bagwell said, later adding, “It gives students a really good chance to absorb this over the course of six months.”

In order to support the campaign, the group encourages students to reach out to Hope Harbor to volunteer or donate goods. Students may also follow Hope Harbor on social media and make use of the campaign’s and Hope Harbor’s joint hashtag, #HandsForHopeBG.

Reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]