RespectCon to explore social justice, sexual assault prevention

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | March 22, 2016

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RespectCon student organizers include (clockwise from bottom left) Micha Rubin 17PH, Ciara Nadelkov 18L, Andrea Gamboa 17C, Andrea Natale 17L, Audrey Cleaver-Bartholomew 17C and Elyse Morin 19PhD.

Sexual Assault Awareness month kicks off at Emory with "RespectCon 2016: Understanding Sexual Violence through a Social Justice Lens," which runs April 1-2 at the Emory University Conference Center.

Created by Emory students, the gathering was launched in 2013 to help foster conversations around the intersections of social justice with sexual assault prevention on college and university campuses.

Since then, the focus has expanded and participant interest has grown every year, which has helped nurture a unique identity for the conference, says Drew Rizzo, assistant director for Emory's Respect Program, which is within Campus Life's Office of Health Promotion.

"There are a couple of other conferences out there that use a similar framework, examining intersecting identities and forms of violence," he says. "But this conference is created by students for campus communities, and they put a lot of work into it."

This year, RespectCon is projected to draw close to 150 attendees from 36 academic institutions and community-based organizations representing 17 states. In fact, it has officially outgrown the Dobbs University Center and will be held for the first time in the Emory Conference Center, Rizzo says.

The conference is open to anyone involved in college and university sexual assault prevention and response work, including survivor advocates, preventionists, program directors and coordinators, students, and those involved with community organizations that work closely with college campuses.

The deadline for conference registration is Monday, March 28, at 11:30 p.m.

Emory students interested in attending are eligible to have their conference fee waived, but space is limited. Students are asked to submit a brief biography and fill out a scholarship form, which includes a statement about how attending the conference will offer personal, professional or academic benefits.

Not afraid to ask hard questions

Activities begin at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 1, with a Pre-Conference Summit for professional staff members from colleges, universities and community-based organizations. The focus will include the rapidly changing landscape of federal, state and local policies and practices relating to sexual assault prevention and survivor support.

The general conference begins Saturday, April 2, with a presentation at 9 a.m. by keynote speaker Sharyn Potter, who directs the Prevention Innovations Research Center and teaches in the Department of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire.

Potter co-developed the "Know Your Power" Bystander Social Marketing Campaign, which models active bystander behaviors to reduce sexual and relationship violence and stalking. She received both her doctorate in medical sociology and a master's degree in public health from Emory.

What draws people to RespectCon "is that we're not afraid to candidly discuss what is not working and push the boundaries of the current conversations," says Elyse Morin, a second-year graduate student in neuroscience who is serving as the conference's senior student coordinator.

"It's not the traditional discussions about sexual assault awareness and advocacy — it encourages unconventional analyses: how feminism is exploiting women of color, violence as an inherent component of masculinity, and barriers of marginalized groups," Morin says.

The conference line-up includes topics such as using comics as educational tools for sexual assault prevention; masculinity as a failed project; bystander intervention for communities of color; intergenerational violence; overcoming peer educational challenges; and promoting and encouraging conversations around healthy relationships on college campuses.

Wanda Swan, Respect Program associate director, remembers attending RespectCon before she came to Emory. For those who work around sexual assault prevention advocacy within an academic affairs setting, the conference offers a much-needed forum for support and camaraderie, she says.

"There are definitely not a lot of conferences like RespectCon," Swan says. "But as an advocate who works on a college campus, there are times when you really need another trained professional with which to bounce ideas around, someone whose mind clicks the same way as yours, in order to look at how to best and effectively serve students and promote a survivor-supportive community. RespectCon creates these environments for us."

"This is an opportunity to bring some great minds to the table, creating spaces for thought leaders to strategize on concepts that could very well impact our future communities." she adds.

For more information about the conference or the Respect Program, contact Drew Rizzo at drew.rizzo@emory.edu or 404-727-6842.