Faculty, students work to eliminate "Red Zone" through awareness, bystanders

By Mara Shapiro

The first weeks back on campus can be exciting. Students move into their new dorms and apartments, reunite with old friends, make tons of new ones and get adjusted to their new school schedules. However, the first six weeks back on campus are also known by another name: the Red Zone.

The Red Zone is the period during the school year when there is an increased risk in sexual assault or violence. According to Molly McLay, assistant director of the Women’s Resource Center, the average age of a sexual assault survivor is 18 and a half, the typical age of a college freshman.

McLay said the Red Zone can be caused by students adjusting to the new social environments in a college setting.

“I also think, given the season, it’s warm weather the first weeks back, so people are celebrating, which there might be more alcohol and drugs used,” she said. “Alcohol plays a role in 75 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses. But vulnerability doesn’t equal responsibility, and it is never the victim’s fault.”

Both McLay and detective Robert Murphy of the University of Illinois Police Department stress the importance of students having knowledge of strategies for prevention and intervention. Murphy and McLay helped come up with a new bystander workshop at the Women’s Resource Center: I-Care. Students can go to the center and request to take it.

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    Murphy specifically advocates that friends get into the habit of forming buddy systems and looking out for one another. Murphy explained that this should be a year-round concept, but at the beginning of the year, it can be hard to make sure that while you are out having fun; you also need to watch out for those around you.

    “You’re meeting brand new people. … We all need to watch out for each other,” Murphy said. “I think students do a good job once they get to know everybody and go out together and come back together. In the beginning, they’re trying to figure it all out.”

    McLay elaborates more on good strategies and tactics an active bystander can employ if they see questionable behavior.

    “What we really focus on is being an active bystander, reacting in situations where there might be sexually disrespectful situations happening. All of us have a role to keep campus safe,” McLay said. “We can intervene through direct confrontation or distraction, like spilling drinks or getting other bystanders involved,” McLay said.

    Being an active bystander is possible for anyone on campus.

    “The bystander strategy is important because anyone can do that, whether they know the person or not,” he said. “This increases the community where we are holding people who are perpetrating sexual disrespect accountable.”

    While I-Care isn’t mandatory for students, FYCARE is a required workshop that all freshmen and transfer students must take. FYCARE classes are put on during the first seven weeks of classes, which falls directly during the Red Zone.

    Cameron Rosenthal, first-time FYCARE facilitator and junior in Engineering, agrees that students may feel “uncool” if they intervene but that it is well worth the discomfort if it means preventing an assault.

    “It’s okay to intervene if you see something that you know isn’t right. It can be awkward, it can feel like you’re the only one at the party that is not being cool or anything, but you’re usually not the only one,” Rosenthal said. “It’s really that you can prevent something horrible that can happen to another person.”

    Rosenthal, whose high school best friend was sexually assaulted, thought he could put the skills and experiences he has to good use by becoming a facilitator.

    “The most important thing you need to be able to do is listen,” he said. “In FYCARE, the things you are taught you should say are, ‘I believe you,’ and ‘It’s not your fault.’”

    Rosenthal also explained how he and other facilitators have partnered with the Student Senate on their Red Zone Campaign.

    “Mitch Dickey (Illinois Senate President) brought together a few FYCARE facilitators and people behind the “It’s On Us” campaign and had us brainstorm things we could do as a group against the Red Zone,” Rosenthal said. “We discussed social media campaigns, bringing more attention to it during the (time period) on campus.”

    With the University’s recent crowning of “number one party school in the nation” by The Princeton Review, this might cause concern for students, staff and parents about the pressure that students may feel to keep up the reputation through risky means. However, neither McLay, Murphy or Rosenthal thought that this title would affect sexual assault.

    “Sexual assault can happen in any environment, often times happens in survivors’ own homes,” McLay said. “It’s important to think about situations in which there might be a risk but also to recognize to think about prevention all the time.”

    From a student’s perspective, Rosenthal did not think that this reputation would affect people’s judgments when it comes to doing the right thing.

    “I don’t think that because we party a lot it is going to have a negative effect. We should be able to have fun, and the fact that we are the best at having fun doesn’t mean that people can’t intervene on others’ behalf,” Rosenthal said. “If something bad is happening, it doesn’t mean that people can’t think straight in any ways they see fit.”

    Both Murphy and McLay said that sexual assault can happen at any time during the school year despite the increased risk during the Red Zone. But McLay, who coordinates FYCARE, believes that holding the program during the Red Zone is crucial.

    If students would like to become more well informed about sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention, they can go to the Women’s Resource Center, the Counseling Center at McKinley Health Center, the Student Resource Center through the Dean of Students Office or they can go log onto the website Wecare.Illinois.edu. When it comes to reporting an assault, students can go to the police station.

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