Stony Brook Fights Sexual Assault

By Jimin Kim and Bridget Downes

This April, Stony Brook University hosted its largest ever Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). A total of 33 events took place in just 22 days to inform students and the community on how to prevent sexual assault.

Student groups and university organizations collaborated to hold a variety of sexual assault awareness programs. Each event took its own unique approach in teaching students on how to prevent sexual assault, or power-based violence.

While one or two presentations a week about sexual assault awareness is typical for Christine Szaraz, the Prevention and Outreach Counselor for the Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO), she attended up to four events each day in April.

“I’ll never say no to these presentations because it’s taken my entire career here at Stony Brook to see the level of demand for these kinds of services reach this peak,” said Szaraz.

Reported rape decreased in Suffolk County and New York state in 2012. But, sexual assault reports increased at Stony Brook that year. According to an SBU campus police report, there were 17 sexual assaults at SBU in 2012, which is five more than in 2011 and 10 more than in 2010.

In addition, the recent scandal of SBU alumna Sarah Tubbs who sued the school for “deliberate indifference” for how it handled her sexual assault case has drawn more attention to the topic of sexual assault on college campuses.

Moderator Christine Szaraz stood on the podium as campus officials spoke about preventing sexual assault and resources for victims at the Panel Discussion on Campus Sexual Assault Policies and Resources. Photo by  Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).
Moderator Christine Szaraz stood on the podium as campus officials spoke about preventing sexual assault and presented resources for rape victims at the Panel Discussion on Campus Sexual Assault Policies and Resources. Photo by Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).

According to Szaraz who moderated the Panel Discussion on Campus Sexual Assault Policies and Resources on campus, sexual assault has always been a problem in colleges in the U.S.

“I think what may contribute to the idea that the level of intensity around violence has increased, or maybe there’s more violence than there ever was is the media attention and presence,” Szaraz said.

Michelle Tepper, left, sat on the panel with Karen Dybus, right, physician assistant for SBU's Student Health Service, who spoke about how her department addresses sexual assault. Photo by  Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).
Michelle Tepper, left, sat on the panel with Karen Dybus, right, physician assistant for SBU’s Student Health Service, who spoke about how her department addresses sexual assault. Photo by Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).

She discussed how sexual assault goes beyond the physical attack commonly associated with rape. She said that people today are more educated on what actually qualifies as rape, which is when someone has sex with a person who simply says no. This has led to more people identifying and reporting sexual assault.

“If someone thinks that rape is this really narrow limited set of circumstances, it’s just a stranger jumping out of the bushes with a knife or a gun, then you’re not going to see a whole range of circumstances that legally qualify as rape even if it’s happening right in front of you,” said Szaraz.

Johnathan Sacco explains the steps students should take when they identify someone who is in danger of sexual assault. Photo by  Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).
SUFA President Matthew Sacco explained the steps students should take when they identify someone who is in danger of sexual assault. Photo by Jimin Kim (April 23, 2015).

Matthew Sacco, a senior English major at SBU, tried to inform students that sexual assault can manifest itself in more subtle ways. He is the president and founder of Students United for Action (SUFA), and organized a campaign called “Light in the Dark” where members inform students about how to intervene as a bystander witnessing sexual assault. During the evening of Thursday, April 23, SUFA members taped glow sticks to pamphlets with information about bystander intervention and handed them out to students.

Johnathan Sacco hands out a flier and a glow stick about sexual assault bystander prevention to students in the Union. Photo by  Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).
Matthew Sacco hands out a flier and a glow stick about sexual assault bystander prevention to students in the Union. Photo by Jimin Kim (April 23, 2015).

The glow sticks were intended to invite more students to hear the members discuss their mission, rather than trying to gain their attention by simply giving them a piece of paper. The Student Union was their main destination where crowds of sororities and fraternities huddled around the entrance, waiting for their rides to attend house parties off campus.

“After doing this outreach for a very long time, you understand when someone is ready to have a conversation or even when having a conversation about sexual assault is triggering someone’s personal experiences,” said Sacco, who spent the night handing out glow sticks to students and engaging them in conversations about the mission of “Light in the Dark.”

SUFA President Jonathan Sacco discusses with SUFA volunteers, Kathleen Loverde and Tanya Barbot about their strategy for handing glow sticks and pamphlets to students about how to stop sexual assault as a bystander. Photo by  Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).
Matthew Sacco discusses with SUFA volunteers, Kathleen Loverde, a junior business major, and Tanya Barbot, a junior psychology and sociology double major, about a strategy for informing students on how to stop sexual assault as a bystander. Photo by Jimin Kim (April 29, 2015).

“It’s been really amazing to be a part of this because I’ve had so many great conversations with people and I think it’s been really amazing empowering advocates who really didn’t know how  to address the issue.”

A core theme of SAAM was emphasizing that sexual assault doesn’t discriminate whom it affects.

“Sexual violence is not about women, it’s about community,” said Dr. Smita Majumdar Das, CPO Assistant Director. “Men, women, everyone is equally impacted by violence. So, when we’re looking at a community, we’re looking at how we as a community change our norms and step in when violence occurs. It’s about you, it’s about me, it’s about everyone to play our part in this.”

SUFA volunteer Tanya Barbot sticks in a student’s backpack a glow stick and its accompanying flier featuring information about stopping sexual assault as a bystander. Photo by Jimin Kim (April 23, 2015).

Tanya Barbot, a junior psychology and sociology double major, volunteered to help SUFA with their “Light in the Dark” event. She sought to inform both male and female students about the issue of bystander intervention.

“There’s a lot of people who are afraid to step in because they feel like they don’t really have a say in what’s going on or they’re afraid of the repercussions of what can happen,” Tanya Barbot said, as students chattered around her in their fraternity or sorority groups. “But, they need to understand that they need to protect other people.”

“Light in the Dark” wasn’t the only event on SBU that looked to spread sexual assault awareness. On April 27, junior english major, Christine Publik, hosted an event titled “50 Shades of Grey Areas” in the H Quad on campus. She used the event to tackle the important issue of how to define sexual consent, and to avoid the “grey” areas.

“Consent is defined by SBU as a negation or the act of saying no,” said Publik. “Rape culture, victim blaming and what people think consent is in general is really important for me because the policies are there, but there are so much more in between like the ‘grey’ areas.”

The “50 Shades of Grey Areas” event on April 27 sought to help students understand how to define sexual consent and prevent sexual assault. Photo by Bridget Downes (April 27, 2015).
The “50 Shades of Grey Areas” event on April 27 sought to help students understand how to define sexual consent and prevent sexual assault. Photo by Bridget Downes (April 27, 2015).

Publik’s event title is a play on words in reference to the highly acclaimed and controversial book and movie adaptation “50 Shades of Grey.” The story drew attention to abusive relationships, which is closely associated with domestic violence and sexual assault. Some argued that the relationship between the two characters falsely portrayed a positive BDSM relationship. Hence, Publik’s use of the title “50 Shades of Grey Areas.”

Groups of students marched on Wed. April 14 at the academic mall to protest against sexual violence in the “Walk in their Shoes,” event. Photo by Bridget Downes (April 14, 2015).
Groups of students marched on April 14 at the academic mall to protest against sexual violence in the “Walk in their Shoes” event. Photo by Bridget Downes (April 14, 2015).

Additionally, groups of students gathered on the afternoon of April 14 for a march through the SBU academic mall. This event was called “Walk in their Shoes,” and was hosted by one of the campus sororities and Megan Smedley, an internship consultant at the SBU Career Center. Participants shouted, “Stop the violence, stop the silence,” catching the attention of many onlookers with their energy.

With the wide array of sexual assault awareness programs that took place this April, Szaraz plans to host even more events next year. She compared the amount of focus students gave to sexual assault awareness when she graduated from SBU in 2003 to the attention the topic draws today.

“So, what I’m seeing is the temperature generally having come up if we’re looking at warmer being better and more people getting involved and engaged,” said Szaraz. “When I was a student, I would say that the temperature was rather cool. It was tepid water. But, now the water is really warm. I don’t think we’re simmering, but we’re approaching that simmering point.”

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Data journalism portrays how education affects wages

Data journalism is an eye-opening tool to illustrate how people with less education are paid low wages in today’s economy.

The New York Times story, Why American Workers Without Much Education Are Being Hammered, uses data to drive this point home. From 1990 to 2013, there has been shift of male workers from once high paying manufacturing jobs to positions in food service, cleaning and groundskeeping. Thus, less-educated males are receiving wages that are far lower than those from decades ago.

The graph below, assembled by The New York Times, illustrates the low wages men without a college degree are earning in this economy.

Photo credit The New York Times. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 22, 2015).

Also, the Times points out how the median wages of 30 to 45-year-old men who didn’t graduate from high school fell by a massive 20 percent from 1990 to 2013 after adjusting for inflation. The graph below from the Hamilton Project portrays this change.

Photo credit the Hamilton Project. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 22, 2015).

Therefore, statistics add credibility to how less education correlates to lower-paying jobs in today’s economy. Therefore, data journalism can strongly support a story.

Boosting my social media presence

@jiminkim92 on Twitter. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 4, 2015).
@jiminkim92 on Twitter. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 9, 2015).

This semester, my social media presence has grown through my managing the Twitter accounts of my start-up, AllKickboxing, and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Since February, I have gained 60 followers on my Twitter account.

AllKickboxing's Twitter account, @AllKickboxing_ Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 4, 2015).
AllKickboxing’s Twitter account, @AllKickboxing_. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 9, 2015).

I frequently favorite and retweet AllKickboxing’s tweets to help promote its podcast or blog. Through this “double-dipping” promotional strategy, people in the mixed martial arts community have started following my personal Twitter account. For instance, Victor Cui, the CEO of ONE Championship, the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in Asia, began following me on Twitter.

Furthermore, on Twitter, I constantly search the hashtags “MMA” and “kickboxing” to engage with people who post tweets that include that hashtag. This has helped me connect with the niche MMA fan base.

For the Alda Center, I take a similar approach by tweeting content using the center’s account and retweeting it on my personal handle. Through retweeting the center’s workshop dates and science contests, scientists and professors have started following me on Twitter. Furthermore, I regularly search the news feed for tweets that use the hashtag “scicomm,” which is short for science communication, to find people who may be interested in the Alda Center’s programs.

(Tweet by @AldaCenter on Twitter promoting a science communication talk).

I have also grown the Facebook account of the Stony Brook University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. By promoting guest journalism workshops and weekly meetings using SBU-SPJ’s Facebook page and sharing the posts on my own Facebook timeline, I have been attracting attention to the club. I have also made new friends on Facebook who are interested in joining SBU-SPJ.

Facebook page of SBU-SPJ. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 9, 2015).

Furthermore, I have learned a valuable lesson on how to properly use hashtags. An Instagram post allows a maximum of 30 hashtags. But, hashtags increase the size of your post and take up more real estate in the Instagram feed. Thus, people are likely to ignore a post that’s heavy with hashtags for breaking social media etiquette. Since decreasing the number of hashtags, my Instagram posts for AllKickboxing have generated more favorites.

I really look forward to cultivating my social media presence even more.

Freedom far from home (podcast draft)

For Bihua Yu, America has been a growing experience. The Chinese international student moved to America to attend Stony Brook University with the hopes becoming a college math professor in China. But, what she’s been getting is more than just a career booster. She enjoys the freedom of living half a world away and growing up as an independent person.

‘Serial’ unites podcasting and investigative journalism

"Serial, a podcast investigating a 1999 murder case, uses effective audio production techniques to engage its millions of listeners." Photo credit Serial. Screen shot by Jimin Kim (March 26, 2015).
“Serial,” a podcast investigating a 1999 murder case, uses effective audio production techniques to engage its millions of listeners. Photo credit “Serial.” Screen shot by Jimin Kim (March 26, 2015).

Investigating a murder on the air is a smash hit.

In season one of the hit podcast, “Serial,” narrator and reporter, Sarah Koenig, explores the murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior who was killed in 1999. Baltimore police arrested Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for the murder. Koenig digs through the past to discover if Syed, who serves a life sentence, is truly guilty of the crime.

Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of Serial, investigates Lee's murder.
Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of “Serial,” investigates Hae Min Lee’s murder. Photo credit “Serial.” Screen shot by Jimin Kim (March 26, 2015).

The show meticulously turns the process of investigative journalism into a story, instead of presenting only the basic details of the murder case and the people involved.

Furthermore, “Serial” showcases a plethora of sound bites. In episode one, Koenig includes a phone interview she conducted with Syed who from behind bars, states that he never killed Lee. At the end of the clips of Syed talking, the audio fades out to lead in to Koenig’s narration. The transition is seamless, sustaining the dramatic tension of the story.

Koenig also reads pages from Lee’s diary in the first person. In episode two, when Koenig reads a passage Lee wrote describing her prom date with Syed, ’90s love songs play in the background. Thus, at times when it’s appropriate to the story, Koenig becomes the subjects themselves, talking from their perspective. This technique vividly illustrates scenes in readers’ minds.

Another example of effective audio is Koenig’s delivery. She isn’t melodramatic when explaining her investigative findings and maintains a sense of objectivity. She also reads a very well-written script that presents the numerous details of the investigation in an organized fashion.

The script also adds a sense of mystery and ends each episode on a cliffhanger, enticing audiences to listen to the next installment. For instance, in episode one, Koenig says, “Asia’s story, then, is legally worthless. A witness who says she saw you at the exact moment when the state contends you were strangling a young woman in a car is worthless.” Koenig identifies holes in the testimony of one of the key murder witnesses, encouraging readers to listen on and find out if Syed is innocent as he claims.

It’s no surprise that “Serial” reached more than 5 million downloads and streams faster than any other podcast in iTunes history. The show grips readers, thoroughly investigating Lee’s murder and effectively telling the story through its audio production. The use of smooth audio transitions, old interviews and an original show soundtrack all boost the listening experience of “Serial.”