Last September, the White House announced an ambitious campaign to change culture on campuses: The “It’s On Us” campaign. At first glance, the concept does not seem dissimilar from previous generation public-service announcements, like “Say ‘No’ To Drugs.” A series of short videos—often with young celebrities—encouraging safer and more appropriate sexual conduct, in particular honing in on consent and bystander intervention. But, in practice, the campaign is much more sophisticated and clever than a simple media blitz—or, more aptly, it is a new incarnation of what media blitz means in the 21st century on college campuses.
One year into the program, though, it is difficult to accurately measure the success or shortcomings for the program.
The task that the “It’s On Us” campaign is undertaking is enormous. As the initiative reached one year old, the Association of American Colleges announced the troubling results from a survey of 150,000 students at 27 universities that found one out of four women are sexually assaulted during their years at college, worse than statistics used a year ago (one in five) to frame the “It’s On Us” launch.
In an article in the school newspaper at LSU, Rachael Hebert, president and CEO of Baton Rouge Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, pointed out that when statistics involving sexual assault increase, it’s not necessarily the number of assaults that are increasing, but that the number reported has—which may actually indicate a positive trend of more reporting and awareness.
The initiative, through hundreds of short videos distributed through social media and other grassroots campaigns have most notably focused on contest and bystander intervention. According to studies considered by Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, better articulating consent and motivating more bystander invention are two key factors towards reducing sexual misconduct.
But changing culture on a campus—let alone campuses nationwide—is akin to changing the direction of a giant freighter ship at sea; it is a slow process. Moreover, sexual assault is a far underreported crime and measuring how and whether attitudes and actions around sexual assault are changing is an elusive exercise.
That said, the program has scored several major, empirical successes: Some 300 colleges are actively promoting the campaign. Schools like Georgia Tech admirably have promoted the campaign, with a particular emphasis on its sport programs. Student-athletes individually produced confessional and instructional videos, which have been widely viewed by peers, and the varsity baseball players even wore “It’s on Us” t-shirts during warm-ups.
More telling, though, is the depth and reach of the program. It was not simply rolled out as a grassroots effort, but is a highly sophisticated media campaign.
“We are committed to creating an environment—be it a dorm room, a party, a bar or club, or the greater college campus—where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported,” said a press release from the White House when the program was first announced in September 2014.
But what that elementary sentiment did not reveal is how clever the media plan is: The campaign has employed the NCAA as a collaborator, which student-athletes creating short videos and leading seminars at dozens of colleges. Moreover, as the media landscape has dramatically changed in the couple decades, with students adopting their own sources of information; whether it is the college radio station, Facebook or Twitter, students no longer receive their information from major sources like the New York Times or ABC News—or, at least not singularly so.
Addressing that idea of a fragmented media landscape, the “It’s On Us” campaign is perhaps one of the most clever and modern media campaigns. In addition to partnering with the NCAA, the campaign has launched on several other media platforms—meeting students where they are; like, working with both Electronic Arts, a video gaming company, and with Viacom, which owns MTV, VH1 and BET.
Although there is no empirical data yet about the initiative’s successes, the first year has been an accomplishment in terms of its sincere and wide-reaching implementation.