If you’ve seen infographics about sexual misconduct at Duke on your Instagram feed, you’ve likely seen the work of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Education (SHAPE) Initiative. However, the group’s social media presence is part of a larger goal.
SHAPE was initially developed within the Duke Student Government campus life committee by seniors Eden Schumer and Jake Jeffries in the 2018-19 academic year. It grew into an awareness campaign the following year and is now a fully fledged organization that aims to eradicate sexual violence on Duke’s campus. As of October 2020, the organization had 30 members divided between three areas: prevention, education and response.
“We were energized by the idea of a student group on campus solely devoted to this work since one with this mission did not already publicly exist or have the platform we sought to achieve, and found comfort in building a safe, far-reaching community for survivors and allies that was by and for students,” SHAPE executive directors wrote in a joint statement.
Before SHAPE, there was Duke Students Against Gender Violence, a coalition of student groups and campus affiliates ranging from Women’s Center Gender Violence Prevention interns to the Interfraternity Council Sexual Assault Prevention Team. However, the coalition lost its formal DSG recognition in fall 2019 after being recognized a year prior.
Coalition building between student groups is one goal the SHAPE executive directors highlighted in their statement. They also emphasized the need to reform campus policy, ensure accountability for perpetrators, restore trust in Duke, increase access to resources, utilize campus centers and center marginalized groups.
A spring 2018 survey found that 47.8% of female respondents and 13.5% of male respondents had been sexually assaulted since matriculating to Duke. LGBTQ+ students were more likely to report being assaulted than cisgender and/or heterosexual students, and disabled students were more likely to report being assaulted than abled students.
The organization’s digital strategy stems from its goal of starting conversations within the community. Its cultivated presence on Instagram and Twitter was part of a rebrand that took place at the beginning of the year, according to SHAPE marketing director Audrey Magnuson, a senior. Magnuson also pointed to the Black Lives Matter movement as a catalyst for the recent shift in how activists use social media to disseminate information and rally support.
“So much information around sexual assault stays in the dark because it can be uncomfortable to talk about and often times people don’t know the scope of the problem or even where to start the conversation,” Magnuson wrote. “We aimed to make information around sexual assault information accessible to help facilitate these community conversations at Duke.”
One example of this was SHAPE’s #LetsTalk campaign, a series of Instagram posts about consent. The campaign reached around 2,000 accounts within a week, Magnuson wrote.
The group also developed the First-Year Letters campaign, which was inspired by their goal to “make sexual violence prevention and education efforts more accessible and personable, especially for those interested in getting involved with the work or learning more about available support resources for themselves or someone they know.” The group delivered 300 pamphlets to East and West Campus residence halls and shared digital versions via listservs, GroupMe and social media. First-years were targeted for outreach because they were still becoming acclimated to the University, the executive directors wrote.
In addition to education, SHAPE led social media fundraisers in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month for multiple Durham-based organizations led by people of color that support survivors of sexual violence. They also put up flyers, handed out teal ribbons and painted a mural on the East Campus Bridge in collaboration with other student organizations.
While their campaigns have seen success, the organization did not coordinate SHAPE Week this year due to logistical challenges.
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“The logistical challenges to planning such a campaign, such as limited in-person gatherings, uncertainty of the pandemic, reduced virtual event engagement (“Zoom fatigue”), and just general exhaustion, seemed to outweigh the benefits of hosting another campaign week this year,” Schumer wrote. The group hopes to have a SHAPE Week campaign next year.
SHAPE’s approach to advocacy is partially shaped by its connections with student advocates at peer institutions and other anti-sexual violence activists, connections fostered by Schumer’s involvement with the Hidden Voices WeAreHere Visionary Leadership Cohort. Schumer wrote in a statement that efforts to tackle sexual violence at Duke need to “come from the top down” while also including social and athletic organizations and centering marginalized groups.
Schumer added that the University needs to commit to having conversations about “Step 0”—a negotiation period in which the community decides what progress looks and feels like, what resources need to be utilized more and what commitments and investments are needed—before taking further action.
“Without meaningful conversations with the student body about what sexual violence prevention looks like, there is disconnect between what students hold students accountable for, and what students hold administrators accountable for,” Schumer wrote.
The executive directors wrote in their statement that the University is more reactive than preventative when it should be both, a “disconnect” that influenced the organization’s direction.
“Duke takes its approach to the prevention of and response to sexual misconduct very seriously,” wrote Kimberly Hewitt, vice president for institutional equity, in an email.
Hewitt wrote that the University engages with students, including SHAPE leadership, through the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Committee which meets regularly. She highlighted examples of University prevention initiatives, including Prevent Act Challenge Teach training, party monitors and the introduction of the Balthrop-Cassidy Fellowship, in which student fellows “build connections between students and administration for the purpose of increasing the awareness of prevention and response efforts.” The Student Affairs team is also “heavily invested in prevention” and has utilized a variety of channels to increase access and knowledge of its offerings, Hewitt wrote.
The Next Generation Living and Learning Experience was also described as being supportive of prevention on a larger scale.
“As we continue to build and scale our prevention efforts, campus partners like the Balthrop-Cassidy fellows, the Women's Center, and DuWell would love to hear more from students about prevention tools they'd like to see on campus,” Hewitt wrote.
In addition to its other goals, SHAPE hopes to use its platform to uplift the work of other organizations in Durham, across the state and nationwide.
“We want to see the day where Duke does not need SHAPE, but until then, change is urgent and vital to the safety and wellbeing of everyone,” the executive directors wrote.