Students Against Sexual Violence: An old student organization under a new name


Madalyn Buursma

Jamie Atkinson, Julia Smith, and Taylor Hartman

“Help yourself to snacks,” everyone kept saying. The room was full of chatter, as students started gathering in a Hiemenga classroom, eventually taking their seats. The 10 students were there for the second meeting of Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV), a student organization educating students about sexual violence and how to combat it.

After introductions — everyone went around and said which snack they’d like to see in the future — three of the student leaders got up for a presentation on the “Power and Control Wheel,” a diagram created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP) explaining ways an abuser might control their victim. Later, the group went over nine case studies, examining and discussing which parts of the Power and Control Wheel were present in each case.  

Madalyn Buursma
Jamie Atkinson and Taylor Hartman explain the power and control wheel

SASV is not a new organization on campus. Up until this semester, the group had been called the Sexual Assault Prevention Team (SAPT). They changed the name to reflect a slight change in focus for the group.

“We wanted our focus to shift a little bit towards educating ourselves,” explained junior Jamie Atkinson, a student leader for the group. The name change also reflects the group “broadening our focus to include more stuff than just preventative measures,” she said.

Starting next year, SASV will be continuing SAPT as a more focused program. The prevention team will be made up of peer educators, who will run bystander training workshops in the dorms.

“I think that will be a powerful piece on campus,” said Julia Smith, the faculty advisor for the group. The prevention team will have a year of training, she explained, and will “feel empowered and equipped with knowledge, and … be able to share that with their peers.”

It’s not the first time the group changed its name, either.

The original group was created in 1989, following a student affairs committee created to make recommendations about sexual assault on campus. One of the recommendations was to develop a response for victims of sexual assault, and to address this, the Response Team for Sexual Assault (RTSA) was created, formed with student life professionals.

The group was involved with developing procedures and policies on Calvin’s campus. They also created programming for students and did training for resident directors and resident assistants. Around 2007, both students and faculty members had joined the group — including professor Nancy Van Noord, who teaches Women’s Self Defense — and it was renamed SAPT.

Photo courtesy of
The commons lawn flag event.

Last year, the group planted white flags with handwritten notes on them on the Commons lawn during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Each flag represented a Calvin student, staff and faculty member who will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.  

The group plans on doing the Flag Event again this year, on April 18, during dorm worship. Students will be invited to plant the flags themselves, Smith explained.

At their next meeting, which takes place every other Tuesday, they will be having speaker Bonnie Nicholas, director of the CRC Safe Church Ministry. CRC churches are encouraged to develop their own safe church ministry, Smith explained, and Nicholas is a resource for these churches.

“Sometimes we feel like sexual assault is a taboo topic within the church,” Atkinson said, “and so it’ll be interesting to hear the church’s perspective on this — or at least hers.”

Junior Taylor Hartman, another student leader, and Atkinson joined the group their freshman year, and were excited to take leadership roles this year.

Through the meetings, Hartman hopes students will learn how to take initiative on some of the things they may be learning about the topic. She also hopes students will learn what to do if someone they know tells them about an assault.

“The person that most people told was their friend or their roommate, so then what do you as a friend or roommate do: I think it’s really important to know,” she said, referencing a Campus Climate Study on sexual violence done by Professor Venema, who presented her findings to the group at their first meeting.

Throughout the years, the group has achieved a lot: they have co-sponsored many events with the Sexuality Series on sexual violence-related topics, and were involved with putting in to place Safe Spaces as well as comprehensive policies for the faculty, staff and student handbooks.

“So that piece of the original work that needed to be done is done,” Smith said. The new name, then, addresses a piece that had been missing.

“Students are really actually quite galvanized to get on board,” Smith said. “Especially after Me Too, and all the stories that we hear in the news, and the awareness that that’s generating.” The student discussions will be a place for students to discuss these things, and to educate themselves about the topics.

“I think it’s really important to educate yourself on this topic, just so you can recognize it in everyday life or in your friends’ relationships,” Atkinson said. “We’re equipping ourselves to deal with it in the broken world that we live in.”

After the meeting, as the students put the room back together and finished off the snacks, some discussions on the topic continued as they headed out into the halls.

All students are welcome to attend their meetings, which will take place March 12 and 26, and April 16 and 30, from 4-5 p.m. in HH 336.