Four hundred and twenty small white flags were planted on the green lawn at the heart of Calvin College’s campus on April 30, drawing the attention of those who passed by. Around noon, 30 students, faculty, and staff of the Grand Rapids, Mich., college circled the flags and prayed.
The flags, placed by Calvin’s Sexual Assault Prevention Team (SAPT), represented the number of people (one in six women and one in 30 men) on Calvin’s campus who, statistically speaking, will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. April is sexual assault awareness month.
College chaplain Mary Hulst led the group in prayer for victims and wrongdoers, expressing sorrow that the gift of sex can be distorted and exploited and the hope that it will one day be restored.
SAPT members and nonmembers alike attended the prayer. “I heard about sexual assault awareness month in the Student News and I wanted to get involved in some way,” said Drew Folkerts, a sophomore at Calvin and member of Cottonwood Christian Reformed Church in Jenison, Mich. “This seemed like a great way to show my support.”
Also present was Bonnie Nicholas, director of Safe Church Ministry of the Christian Reformed Church. “Many Calvin students become leaders in their churches,” she said, “and the more they know about sexual assault and abuse, the more they can be active in their churches, especially to prevent it before it happens.”
The Calvin community was invited to sign a pledge to be part of the solution rather than a bystander as a part of the It’s On Us campaign, a nationwide effort to stop sexual assault. Computers were available in Johnny’s Café on the campus all day so people could visit itsonus.org and sign the pledge. They could also sign a large banner to represent their pledge.
While many people assume that sexual assault is not prevalent on the Calvin campus, Calvin students experience sexual assault in line with national college statistics, according to Renee De Vries, an SAPT member. She hopes the visual representation of the flags raised awareness of the problem and drew survivors to seek help.
“If you’re a survivor and you feel like you’re the only person on this campus who has gone through that, that’s a pretty lonely place to be,” De Vries said. “If there’s one person who walks by and thinks, ‘Wow, I must not be the only one,’ and they get help, then that is a success.”
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