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Raising Awareness on Campus with 1BlueString: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

Something I have come to realize as both a sexual violence educator and advocate is that many people do not want to engage with topics that make them uncomfortable—including college students. In my work as the Male Victim Program Coordinator at the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), one of my goals has been to find effective ways to engage men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood.

Research teaches us that 1 in 6 men, including college students, faculty and staff, experienced abusive sexual interactions in childhood and that few men acknowledge it or seek help for any negative consequences. Typically, men wait until their 30’s, 40’s or even later before beginning to deal with the negative effects of unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood. By reaching out to young men on college campuses, we will encourage them to begin their recovery processes earlier in life, before negative behaviors and thinking become adult habits.

So we know they’re there. We know they would benefit from support to heal. But how can we reach them?

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One awareness campaign in particular, 1BlueString, has taken off on the UNH campus and the response has been fantastic. 1BlueString asks guitarists to replace one of their six strings with a blue string to symbolize and support the 1 in 6 men sexually abused in childhood. It’s a great way to introduce a difficult topic without being heavy-handed.

…it is possible to engage students in uncomfortable topics in ways that are not re-victimizing, triggering, or harmful to the healing process

At UNH, there is a monthly event that students run called ‘The Grind’—a free acoustic open-mic night and coffee house, which happens on the first Friday of every month. It’s an established event on campus, which always is at capacity for attendance. I thought this would be a perfect place to engage with a population of students that we don’t usually reach about a topic that I wanted to raise awareness for.

I can’t say enough good things about the amazing students who run this event. I went to the student co-chairs of “The Grind” and asked if I could set up a table and get two minutes of mic time at the start of the evening, to explain the cause. They loved the idea, and it has been a regular partnership ever since.

At each monthly event, I sit at the 1BlueString table with a box full of both the acoustic and electric strings. After my two minutes on the mic explaining the campaign, I sit and engage with students who would like to learn more. For the 2014-2015 year there were 8 Grinds and we engaged with a total of 803 students.

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I’ve heard so many amazing responses to the 1BlueString campaign coming to UNH from students, faculty and staff. It shows that it is possible to engage students in uncomfortable topics in ways that are not re-victimizing, triggering, or harmful to the healing process that we want to help men start. I was especially moved by words I received in an email from a survivor who came to a couple of The Grind nights (and gave permission for me to use his story.)

“…I felt as though I was standing up against abuse by just taking a string. It interested me, to know 1 in every 6 men has been abused, and I thought about all the other men that experienced the same thing I did. I felt like less of a victim after taking the string, and although it was just something small, it seemed to me like I somehow made a difference. Thank you for everything that you do, and although I don’t necessarily struggle facing my abuse on a regular basis, I’ll always keep you, and SHARPP in consideration if I ever feel like I need some guidance. “ –P

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Now obviously there is no perfect end-all, be-all awareness strategy that works for everyone. I am just trying to highlight the fact that possibilities exist, and that when you ask, there are places that are willing to help. 1in6 has a wealth of opportunities for people to ask questions and partner to gain new ideas and insight.

Whether you are on a college campus, a local town support center, or other agency, know that there are ways you can raise awareness and engage with people in the most important place—where they already are, both physically and emotionally, in their own healing process. I encourage you all to learn more at the 1BlueString website and, particularly for those working with college-age men, to visit 1in6’s College Campus Campaign page for more information. You can also find 1BlueString on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

I recently became the new Education and Training Coordinator for 1in6. If I can be a resource to you in any way, please feel free to contact me at Zachary@1in6.org.

zachary_feature_imageZachary Ahmad-Kahloon is a New England-based, sexual-assault advocate and educator with a specialty around college campuses. In addition to his work as 1in6’s new Education and Training Coordinator, he is a staff member at the University of New Hampshire’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) where he serves as the Male Victim Program Coordinator.

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