According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, female college students ages 18-24 are three times more likely than other women to experience sexual violence. With these statistics and knowledge, the Sexual Assault Awareness Team, SAAT, at St. Ambrose University offers many resources for students. One of the resources includes the self-defense class that was scheduled for February 20, 2023. Just one week before the event was planned to happen, it was canceled due to several reasons, one of which was Title IX concerns.
The faculty/staff advisor of SAAT, Lisa Fortner, said, “Title IX is a law that protects individuals from being discriminated against based on sex or gender. We wanted to stay in compliance with the University, so we began navigating our options to change this [the self-defense class] to a more inclusive event.”
Many other SAAT members agreed with the postponement of the self-defense class, and SAAT is now working with PRISM to host an on-campus self-defense event later this spring.
SAAT is a group of students and advocates who are committed to helping victims while also spreading awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence. The team coordinates several interactive events to spread awareness throughout the year.
The director of social media for SAAT, Veronica Alexis, said, “I value that it [SAAT] is a place that is open and safe for survivors to go. I also believe that all the events we host such as, Walk a Mile, The Clothesline Project, and Take Back the Night are so important to not only survivors but also the campus because they [students] can learn about sexual assault and domestic violence.”
Fortner agreed, “The thing I value most about SAAT is our mission and what we do. The mission of SAAT is to make sure all people have a safe campus free of violence. We do this by raising awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence, and promoting healthy relationships.”
SAAT provides many resources for St. Ambrose students, one resource being confidential student advocates. The advocates are trained through Family Resources to help and support students who have been impacted by sexual and domestic violence.
“The trained SAAT advocates serve as a confidential person to talk to, to provide resources (both off and on campus), and assist in the reporting process if the survivor chooses that route,” Fortner said. “Overall our SAAT advocates are trained on how to help their peers navigate their traumatic experience, and offer them a lending hand to help them on their healing journey.”
Student and member of SAAT, Kayla Devine, said, “I value being a part of SAAT because as someone who is a survivor, I think it is important for young girls and guys to know that there are students who will advocate for them, as well as staff members.”
With the mission of creating a safe campus, SAAT planned a self-defense class, which was offered to only women.
“This event was proposed as women only for two reasons,” secretary and DEI representative, Julia Fogelman, said. “First, the community member who volunteered to teach the class free of charge stated that she only had training and felt comfortable working with women. Second, some individuals may feel more comfortable in a class with other women, and having men at the event may be triggering for individuals who have experienced sexual assault.”
However,SAAT realized that there were concerns that the event was not inclusive to all, so the class was postponed and moved to an off-campus location.
“Title IX is an important step in ensuring equal opportunities and holding universities accountable for issues such as sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence,” Fogelman said. “In this case, our event was not complying with Title IX because it was going to restrict access to the event to only those who were assigned female at birth.”
Fogelman continued and said, “The instructor did not feel comfortable working with trans and gender-nonconforming individuals which posed a significant issue for us [SAAT]. SAAT strives to be an inclusive and safe space for all individuals, especially the LGBTQ+ community, which, we know, faces additional challenges when it comes to sexual and domestic violence.”
When the instructor was asked for an interview, she said, “I won’t be able to answer your questions. My biggest focus is the women and girls participating in the classes.”
SAAT is now collaborating with PRISM to host a self-defense class this spring that will be open to all individuals.
“Our [SAAT] goal is always to uplift and support our SAU community and we feel that this is the best way to do that,” Fogelman said. “We expect many attendees may be women and/or individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, but we are working to organize an event that will be beneficial for people of all genders, body types, and abilities. We are all very excited about this new event!”