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September 16, 2009
By Skyler Dillon
Last semester, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Counseling Services launched the peer-educating program Personal Safety and Sexual Assault Prevention (psASAP) to increase awareness, safety and confidence around campus. On September 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., psASAP will host a free “Guarded by the Pack” safety fair with games and prizes in front of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center to teach students how to be prepared and to stay safe.
“People come to college with this feeling of invincibility, like they can do anything,” said Katie Olson, psASAP program coordinator. “We want to show them how to keep that excitement through all of the four or five years that they’re here while staying safe at the same time.”
An estimated one in four women become the victims of rape or sexual assault in their lifetimes, and college-age women are the most affected. To try to lower this statistic, psASAP offers presentations on how to minimize students’ risk. The presentations, which are given to Greek organizations, orientation groups and clubs as well as regular academic classes, give students information about resources available at the University for those who have become victims as well as tips on how to avoid dangerous situations. According to Olson, the presentations give many students a new perspective on the importance of looking out for one’s own safety.
“I’ve had [residence hall students] come up and say how eye-opening it is,” she said. “They lose that attitude of ‘oh, it will never happen to me,’ and that’s important, especially if they pass the information on to their friends.”
There is a large network of support for safety-concerned students at Nevada, including the University Counseling Services, the University Police Department, the Associate Students of the University of Nevada’s Campus Escort, the Student Health Center, the Office of Student Conduct and the Crisis Call Center, all of which form the psASAP program’s advisory team. Under the guidance of the advisory team, Olson and nine undergraduate peer educators, from criminal justice majors to education majors, operate psASAP and give the presentations. Olson hopes to give the program a more well-known presence on campus this year by developing new brochures and T-shirts.
“We’d like the program to become something every student recognizes,” she said. “We want students to know they can come to us with anything, and we’ll get them where they need to go.”
Olson stressed that ultimately, each student must take responsibility for his or her own safety.
“Trust your gut feeling,” she advised. “If something feels wrong, don’t do it. Use the buddy system and know the people you’re with.”
It also helps to learn about the resources available on campus, and the “Guarded by the Pack” rally is meant to allow students to do just that.
“The help you need is right there,” said Olson. “You just have to use it.”