BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and for several Fort Hays and community organizations, a time to educate others about healthy relationships and the resources available for victims and survivors of sexual violence.
The Center for Empowering Victims of Gender-based Violence, which is housed in FHSU’s Department of Criminal Justice, hosted the second annual Love and Healthy Relationship Expo on Wednesday. The event was a collaborative effort between both community and campus organizations.
Jana’s Campaign and Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services joined a number of campus groups for the event, including the Police Department, Compliance Office, Health and Wellness Services, Student Government Association, Social Work Club, Gender and Sexuality Alliance and Arts for Social Change.
Participants could talk with each organization by going from table to table. Event coordinator and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Ziwei Qi, said this relaxed atmosphere contributed to the event’s success.
“There’s no pressure,” she said. “You can just be browsing and asking questions. I think it’s important to allow these types of conversations to be more comfortable. It’s not just something that has to be too strange or too severe.”
Education was a main focus of the event. For Qi, this meant sharing what a healthy relationship is and how to be an ally for victims and survivors of sexual violence.
“If you know someone or experience some red alarms, like, ‘I’m not sure if this is good,’ you should be educated and know you will be supported,” she said. “That’s why it is very important to have this opportunity, so everyone knows what resources exist and, if they need them, where to find help.”
While there will be a number of other events throughout the month, as well as in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Qi said this type of education should take place year-round and be normalized. For example, she said she incorporates conversations about victim advocacy and rights in her classes.
“There are so many great people doing great work,” Qi said. “This is just an opportunity to start with something here and hopefully other organizations can host their own, so we can always have different events like this throughout the year.”
Qi also wishes to see the event evolve in future years, and there has already been some success on that front from last year to this year. By having more organizations involved, a more diverse set of issues were discussed, such as those facing the LGBTQIA+ community. The event also helped promote change in policy, with SGA passing a resolution to officially recognize every April as National Sexual Assault Awareness month.
“Hopefully we can keep expanding,” Qi said.
More information about the Center for Empowering Victims of Gender-based Violence and the work they do can be found on their webpage. Resources offered by Jana’s Campaign and Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services can also be found online.