Evan Steinlauf is a student at Gallaudet University. (Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia)

Evan Steinlauf, a junior at Gallaudet University, writes about an event Tuesday at the school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington D.C.

This week at Gallaudet University, more than 1,200 students, faculty, and staff wearing teal “It’s On Us” T-shirts marched through campus in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month’s National Day of Action. “It’s On Us” is a White House-led initiative that asks men and women across America to make a personal commitment to be a part of the solution to combat campus sexual assault.

“I started seeing teal ‘It’s On Us’ T-shirts on students weeks before the event and knew something important was beginning to take root,” senior Evan Staltz said.

The event would not have been possible without the immense amount of time and effort contributed by students from a class titled “Sexual Violence, Stalking/Cyber Stalking, Bullying/Cyber Bullying and Bystander Intervention on College and University Campuses,” led by faculty member Kathryn Baldridge. Students who registered for the class had no idea how integral they would be in passing this knowledge beyond the walls of one classroom into the consciousness of the entire university.

“One class or a few individual groups would not have a big enough impact,” Baldridge said at a pre-march rally in front of a sea of teal as people exchanged hugs and high-fives. “My goal was to make Gallaudet University a unified front in the fight against sexual assault.”

Professor Baldridge and her students organized the day-long event that featured informational public service announcements, photo booths, an “It’s On Us” pledge, information booths from Deaf Abused Women Network and the University’s Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, as well as an evening dance party designed to bring attention to song lyrics that are often overlooked as encouraging sexual violence.  At mid-day there was a rally and march, culminating in a group photograph in the heart of the beautiful campus in Northeast Washington. “The energy coursing through campus was palpable. This event has brought the issue of sexual assault out from the shadows and into the spotlight,” junior Katelyn Mathis said.

Preceding the march, the bleachers of the Field House gymnasium were overflowing as university President T. Alan Hurwitz reaffirmed Gallaudet’s commitment to ensuring the safety of every student.  “Having President Hurwitz here to support our class project really made us feel like Gallaudet is looking out for us,” said junior Bianca Hardin. “I am so proud to be part of a community that comes together to make a difference.”

Established in 1864, Gallaudet is the world’s only four-year liberal arts university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.  Because of the bilingual (American Sign Language and English) campus environment, deaf students who may have experienced sexual assault are more likely to report what happened to them at facilities on campus where they have direct communication access. Federal data on incidents don’t necessarily include all cases reported to local law enforcement, hospitals, or rape crisis centers. Regardless, Gallaudet has made addressing the issue a top priority.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is observed during April, and Baldridge’s class will continue to host events throughout the month. “This is not something that just goes away with one day of action. We have to be diligent in changing the culture of sexual assault that is pervasive on college campuses,” teaching assistant Kallissa Bailey said.

As seen from the success of Tuesday’s Day of Action, Gallaudet University is taking active steps in addressing sexual assault on its campus.

Read more about Gallaudet: 

Gallaudet University marks 150 years since Lincoln signed a bill for deaf higher education

Gallaudet marks ‘Deaf President Now’