15. Dana Bolger: Going Beyond "It's On Us"

Photo credit: Jennifer Ludden/NPR

Photo credit: Jennifer Ludden/NPR

"You don’t get a gold star in my book for buying an #ItsOnUs t-shirt or changing your profile picture. It’s on all of us to go beyond this campaign, to demand more from each other and from ourselves. Ending violence won’t be easy — if it were, we’d have done it long ago — and, as we’ve said before, that’s precisely why we have to do it now."  Dana Bolger

When I was a college student and a peer educator with GW Students Against Sexual Assault, we didn’t have “#ItsOnUs". Yes, we had hashtags (I’m not that old). What we didn’t have was a strong, nationwide campaign featuring an endless list of influencers changing hearts and minds and drawing attention to the epidemic that is campus sexual assault.

Only a few years later, celebrities like Kerry Washington, Common, Lance Bass and Olivia Munn don It’s On Us campaign t-shirts. Their message, to prevent sexual assault before it occurs, has been spread far and wide, having been introduced by President Barack Obama. In fact, since its 2014 launch, It's On Us shared that more than 500 schools had joined in, hosting more than 2,000 events. More than 95 partner organizations had joined the campaign by the final campaign report released in January 2017. Even more strikingly, more than 400,000 people had taken the pledge.

“This pledge is a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault,” explains the It’s On Us website."It is a promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution."

With countless recognition by outlets including TIME Magazine, USA Today, Billboard Magazine and The White House, the influence of It’s On Us is undeniable. The core message of the pledge has resonated widely and has become a pop culture staple of sorts, whether through iconic moments – Lady Gaga performing at the Grammy’s with 30 survivors onstage – and eye-catching videos, including a Funny or Die video featuring former VP Biden and actor Adam Devine, which has received more than 1.3 million views on the Funny or Die website alone.

As impactful and important as the It’s On Us campaign is, one reality is that it’s possible – and necessary – to take it a step further. Dana Bolger, co-founder and former Executive Director of Know Your IX, an advocacy group equipping students with the knowledge and resources to combat sexual violence, put it perfectly: “It’s on us to go beyond it’s on us".

Bolger, Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School, founded Know Your IX in April 2013 alongside Yale Law School student, Alexandra Brodsky. As survivors of campus sexual assault, they founded the organization as a "survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence."

In response to the launch of the It’s On Us campaign in 2014, Bolger released an op-ed, pushing people to address the root causes of campus sexual violence if we do want to end it. She writes, "What if being an engaged bystander meant being someone who first and foremost is fiercely anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-oppression? A person who does more than interrupt individual 'situations in which sexual assault may occur' but rather takes it upon themselves to recognize and dismantle the very power structures that produce and perpetuate violence to begin with?"

To be honest, when I read Bolger’s reflections, I was in awe. It exposed me, an advocate against sexual violence, to the idea that was can unknowingly cause harm as advocates if we don’t use our voice to stand against injustice, stand for justice and call out violence in all it’s forms. Bolger’s post can – and should – be read in full here. In it, she points to three key actions for us to take to combat the violence surrounding us.

1. It’s On You to recognize and dismantle institutions that tolerate and perpetuate violence.

2. It’s On You to be your own bystander.

3. It’s On You to reconceptualize what violence is and recognize it in all its forms.

While Bolger’s accolades and contributions are varied, her work to push our thinking as advocates is invaluable. It’s simply not enough to say we stand against sexual assault. We need to actually stand against sexual assault, and that’s not as simple as intervening when we think someone is in immediate danger. In short, it means holding institutions and individuals accountable, using our privilege for the betterment of others and opening our minds to the non-dominant narrative of violence. Then, and only then, can we begin to end violence.

Hear more on what motivated Dana Bolger to co-found Know Your IX from a 2014 interview with Bolger on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Matthew ScottComment