UMD students gather at McKeldin Mall to raise awareness of sexual assault

Students from the University of Maryland participated in Preventing Sexual Assault’s first in-person Occupy McKeldin event since 2019 on Friday afternoon.

Amanda Sherman, one of PSA’s co-event coordinators, said the 10-hour event, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. dogs.

“Basically, it’s to show the student body that we stand up against rape culture, and we’re here to educate and raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus,” said Sherman, a junior marketing student.

The annual Occupy McKeldin event is always the group’s biggest event of the year. They also hold Slut Walk and “Real Talk” events throughout the academic year.

Hailey Chaikin, senior student in communications and PSA co-chair, said the main goal of the all-day event is to raise awareness, not only among people who already know about the group’s presence, but also to reach those who have less knowledge about the subject.

This year’s theme of “every 68 seconds” is broader than previous themes because PSA co-chair Rachel Salem said the group wants to convey to the student body the urgency of this issue, especially during Assault Awareness Month. Sexual.

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Sophie Sandberg, founder of Cat Calls of NYC, speaks at Occupy McKeldin 2022. The event was organized by UMD Preventing Sexual Assault on April 22, 2022. (Frances O’Connor/The Diamondback)

“Bringing a statistic like that to everyone’s attention is something we really wanted to do to get attention,” said Salem, a senior management student. “Finding one that is so vague really allowed us to…make sure that we were providing diverse perspectives…because everyone has something different to share in the realm of sexual assault.”

Sophie Sandberg, founder of Catcalls of NYC, spoke at the event and highlighted the importance of standing against whistling as it is also a form of power-based violence and is intertwined with the harm of patriarchy.

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Sandberg’s organization is a street art initiative against this type of harassment. Members of Catcalls of NYC go around the city and write in chalk on the sidewalk the phrases that people have shouted at unsuspecting women or people who present themselves as women.

After his speech, he invited people to write down different pick-up lines that people have yelled at them or witnessed to draw attention to this topic. She said college students are in a powerful position where they could “denormalize” something like whistling.

“I think college students have the power to say, ‘No, this isn’t right, it’s not just words, and I’m going to stand up for others facing this,’” Sandberg said.

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Audience members listen to speakers at Occupy McKeldin on April 22, 2022. PSA organized the event to raise awareness of sexual assault on the UMD campus. (Giuseppe LoPiccolo / The Diamondback)

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Kelsey Flavin, a marketing sophomore who attended the event, said it’s important to talk about these issues, as well as share resources for those who need them. She said she’s been complimented on in Washington, DC and in Laurel, Maryland, among other places, and actually having a conversation about it and getting attention is something she wants to see more of.

“It’s good information to have real resources and ways to combat it rather than most of the time, as the speaker was saying, I walk around with my head down and pretend it’s not happening,” Flavin said.

The shared stories and empowerment got Alec Pool, a junior computer science student, thinking about how sexual assault can affect those close to him, like his mother, sister, and friends.

Pool said walking around and reading the chalk quotes and hearing people’s anecdotes really moved him and made him more aware of the pervasiveness of this issue and got him thinking about how to support people in the future.

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“It’s so sad and so prevalent that it’s almost devalued,” Pool said. “This is such a small fraction as well, like if maybe one person came here and wrote one thing you know, like if every person wrote every time this happened to them, it would cover the entire campus.”

One of the most important things that Chaikin wanted people to have after attending this event is to end the stigma of silence around talking about these issues.

“Getting people to leave that conversation saying, ‘I don’t care what people think of me, I want to do the right thing,’ is really valuable,” he said.