Creating Change

UM Students Organize Sexual Assault Awareness Week

by Christian Kiemele, Nelson Weller Intern

UM junior Braden Fitzgerald may be one of the most involved students on campus. He is a senator for the University’s student government organization, ASUM, serving on the Marketing and Outreach Committee and as chair of the Student Political Action Committee. He is involved with the Committee of University Fraternity and Sorority Oversight and the Presidential Search Committee, student director of the Student Involvement Network (SIN), president of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity (SigEp), and chair of the Montana Public Interest Research Student Group.

What drives Fitzgerald is a single mission: to create the change he feels is needed on campus.

Lately, that includes addressing the issue of sexual assault. He is leading his fraternity in organizing a week-long philanthropy event called Sexual Assault Awareness Week, or SAAW.

“I attended SigEp’s premier leadership institute, and I had a chance to talk to SigEps from other chapters about their philanthropy events,” Fitzgerald says. “One of the best I heard about was a week like this.”

Sexual Assault Awareness Week, taking place April 3-8, is both an opportunity to discuss this important issue and a fundraiser. The UM week will support the YWCA of Missoula, which advocates for and empowers women and families facing poverty, violence and discrimination.

Fitzgerald realized that his chapter was perfectly suited to take the lead on SAAW, rallying other organizations on campus to join in. In recent years, the UM SigEp chapter has been very involved with the local YWCA, and so chose to raise funds for that organization. Students and community members will be able to make donations at every event during the week.

The week kicks off with a 24-hour see-saw on the Oval by SigEp, with tabling from all the involved resources and organizations on campus. The week’s events continue with a performance called the “Missoula Monologues,” centered around toxic masculinity and rape culture, followed by a screening of the film “The Hunting Grounds,” an interactive artistic display called “Pushing Boundaries” on the Oval and a volleyball tournament called “Volley Against Violence.”

Fitzgeral says launching SAAW has been intense, but worthwhile.

“Every organization has been wonderful to work with, and everyone is super passionate about this issue, both of which have been vital for making this a reality.”

The planning process started by getting the entire fraternity chapter on board. From there, Fitzgerald sat down with several different organizations on campus about partnering; in the end, he signed on seven groups, including SIN, the Student Advocacy Resource Center, the Davidson Honors College, the Women’s Resource Center, the UM Police Department, Advocates for Nonviolence and the Curry Health Center.

Among the hurdles Fitzgerald has faced include people challenging the notion that a fraternity should be organizing a sexual assault awareness week. Fitzgerald acknowledges that this is something he and his SigEp brothers struggled with, too, but feels that it ultimately is a big part of showing support for victims and in creating a culture of positive change on campus.

“The fraternity is really passionate about that issue, and that’s why we decided to lead the charge. We also did realize, however, that we couldn’t be the only voice. Our event partners have been amazing as we try to find a way to impact campus in a positive and tangible way.”

While leading the planning process for SAAW, Fitzgerald has also had to keep up with classes, work and his other service and volunteer commitments. Doing so has, at times, been a balancing act. He has tried to take things on one at a time, day by day, and allocate duties to others when he needs to.

“Part of my roles within SigEp and SIN is empowering others to create change on campus,” he says. “Everyone came into this so willing to work together and be passionate about their events that it’s going to make the whole week wonderful.”

Students like Braden Fitzgerald are making a difference, for UM and the community. You can, too. To support the work of groups like the Student Advocacy Resource Center, which helps students who have experienced sexual assault, relationship violence, bullying or discrimination, visit SupportUM.org/give.

To learn more about Sexual Assault Awareness Week, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/160817941103748/.

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