Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, April 26, 2018

Faces of activism: Senior reflects on changes in sexual assault awareness, prevention at AU

Liliana Ascencio aims to "push the University" to do more for survivors

Faces of activism: Senior reflects on changes in sexual assault awareness, prevention at AU

Liliana Ascencio walked into an executive board meeting for Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV) during her sophomore year out of curiosity. Now, Ascencio is the group’s co-director and has seen SASV evolve over time.

“We’ve played a lot of roles,” Ascencio, a senior studying public health, said. “We started out much more as a grassroots organization focused on mobilizing crowds, protests and direction action. I think over time we’ve also incorporated education into our platform.”

Part of their efforts in education and sexual assault prevention was helping to implement Empower AU. First introduced in 2015, Empower AU is a mandatory consent education program that is taught as part of the University’s freshman orientation.

Empower AU was also a key reason why AU won the Prevention Excellence Award from the nation’s leading education technology innovators, EVERFI Inc. AU was one of five universities to receive the honor.

“We were one of the biggest pushers, biggest strivers for Empower AU to be instituted,” Ascencio said. “A former member of SASV, Faith Ferber, was very vocal and instrumental in the implementation of Empower AU. It is an amazing change in sort of how we conceive, how we think about sexual violence prevention.”

SASV holds a variety of events, some of which have been focused on educating students about how to report a sexual assault on campus and possible changes to Title IX policies under the Trump administration.

The group is also focused on providing support to survivors of sexual assault, especially by being an intermediary between students and sexual assault support services at AU. The group also provides self-care spaces and events for survivors.

“What we aim to do is push the University,” Ascencio said. “And to push our students to gain knowledge about sexual-violence prevention, and also to create substantial change for survivors on our campus.”

Despite positive changes to AU’s campus culture, Ascencio said there are still serious challenges for survivors, though some of those problems are not limited to AU.

“We still have an issue with believing survivors,” Ascencio said. “We still have an issue with listening to survivors and students are not necessarily prepared or trained to deal with that … It’s not necessarily AU-specific, but we all come from that cultural framework, regardless of our upbringing.”

Ascencio said she is motivated to advocate on behalf of survivors due to her personal connection to people impacted by sexual violence.

“I’ve had family and friends also experience sexual violence,” Ascencio said. “Seeing their experience also motivated me to try to make a change in our culture, in our society, and working with in AU’s campus is a start to making that change. It makes me feel connected to my community and I like doing something positive.”

This profile is part of a series about student activists at AU written by students in Jane Hall’s Advanced Reporting class.

news@theeagleonline.com


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