WUSASS joins the fight to prevent sexual assault on campus
Washington University Survivors and Allies for Social Support (WUSASS) is a new club on campus dedicated towards empowering survivors to reclaim their campus experiences and educate their peers about sexual assault prevention. Founded during the summer of 2022 by junior and president Erin Ritter, WUSASS’ main mission has been to hold space for students with sexual trauma who have felt excluded from places they once felt comfortable at.
“WUSASS is trying to give people the skills that they need to deal with the fact that the administration is not as willing to protect students during these events,” Ritter said.
The first priority of WUSASS is cultivating a safe and empowering community of like-minded people. The club engages in collaborations and social mixers with other student groups, while maintaining a strict attendance list and coordinating bystander intervention and sober contacts to ensure all students feel safe.
WUSASS also facilitates trainings and discussions surrounding RSVP (Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention). Their most recent training was conducted by SARAH (Sexual Assualt and Rape Anonymous Hotline) Safe, which focused on engaging in trauma-informed speech and supporting peers who disclosed traumatic sexual experiences.
“We decided to go with this training because when accompanying other members to events or parties, it is very easy for them to become triggered if they don’t have access to the type of mental health resources that help them identify their triggers and learn how to respond to them,” Ritter said. “In this case, you could use support from the people around you.”
Sophomore Claudia Markel, the training organizer at WUSASS, said that these trainings are required before members are allowed to go to parties as the sober contact. The club goes by a “by members, for members” buddy system, where per a member’s request, individuals are paired up with one another to serve as their support when venturing into the social scene. Members of WUSASS are largely anonymous, so attendees at the party or gathering aren’t aware of the bystander’s club status.
Currently, WUSASS goes to both on and off-campus parties, and they are currently working on ways to intervene with sexual violence at fraternities — which will necessitate greater training — before sending their members out to them.
While there are a few other sexual assault awareness clubs on campus, Ritter noted that there isn’t widespread conversation about bystander intervention training, especially when it comes to putting this training into practice. While many clubs offer hotlines for support after a situation has occurred, not many offer interactive training and education to help equip members with the tools they need to diffuse a situation in the moment.
“I think everyone knows that sexual assault does happen on WashU’s campus, and there is not going to be a trained person at every single party,” Markel said. With the dedicated and educated members of WUSASS, Markel stated how they plan to share their information not only to club members, but also to all WashU students.
“We want to spread the bystander intervention protocol so that people will be able to defuse a situation. We are here to teach them how to do it safely,” Markel said.
WUSASS can be reached via email, at [email protected] or Instagram @wu_sass.