Project Orange works to raise domestic violence awareness through conversation

Sandra Puebla, senior political science major, introduces herself to the audience as a panelist for Tuesday evening’s discussion with Project Orange.

By Sophia Mullowney

DeKALB — The latest Project Orange event, “If Only You Knew,” educated the campus community and shed light on the experiences of abuse victims.

The Student Association held its first sexual assault-focused event 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Multipurpose Room of Stevenson Towers.

Attendance was high, continuing the forum’s high level of participation among students from prior events, such as the #NoShameCampaign and “The Hate You Give,” both held in February.

SA President Khiree Cross, who served as a panel member during an open forum session, said the value of “If Only You Knew” comes from exposing attendees to unfamiliar perspectives and experiences concerning abuse and providing the right language for empowering discussions.

“Continuing to make people aware of these things prevents people from doing them,” Cross said, referring to the panel’s discussion about the traits of abusive relationships, commonly held generalizations and the practice of consent.

Prevention Specialist Kaiya Kersh, representing local domestic violence shelter Safe Passage, provided statistics on sexual assault, and information on Illinois victim advocacy legislation with an emphasis on Safe Passage’s role in providing services to DeKalb County.

Kersh said Project Orange serves as a great opportunity for community members to educate themselves on the realities of abuse and provide methods for taking action.

The bulk of the event was devoted to an open forum in which SA Senator Naomi Bolden posed a series of questions to a panel composed of SA and members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

The sorority is the first to be established by African-American women, and Bolden said the NIU chapter has played a big role in promoting Project Orange events since the first Project Orange gathering in February.

The panel offered views on hypotheticals before turning the discussion over to attendees who shared experiences, perceptions and support.

Discussion topics ranged from the high incidents of perpetrators knowing their victims, double standards applied on the basis of gender and methods of addressing rape culture at NIU.

Following the dialogue, SA Senator Cassandra Kamp shared her own experiences with abuse. From the perspective of a victim, she shed some light on the difficulties of reporting abuse and the challenges in moving forward from an unhealthy relationship.

She encouraged other victims to find support in friends and community advocacy groups.

“Eventually you’ll find what you need and know you deserve better,” Kamp said. “There [are] so many people who love you.”

Kamp also provided advice on serving as an active bystander in observing and reporting instances of abuse.

She said this could manifest as reporting a crime in progress or providing support for a friend in an abusive relationship. 

Regardless of the desires of a victim to report or stay silent about a crime, she said everyone should be knowledgeable of their own capability to serve as an advocate.

“[Victims] might not need you to fix it, but they do need you to listen,” Kamp said.

Students in attendance said they found the event to be highly informative for taking further action at the campus level

First-year communication major Lee Wagner said he plans on attending future Project Orange events and raising awareness around sexual assault through his own efforts.

SA Treasurer Essence Coleman said she appreciated hearing victim testimonies.

“For [Kamp] to share her story like that was really compelling,” Coleman said. “Hopefully it touched someone in there to come forward on their own.”