Westminster Men against Rape and Sexual Assault Club Created

Joseph Opoku holding up a "Not on Our Campus Sign" in JCI. PHOTO BY JIM MALVEN.

Joseph Opoku holding up a “Not on Our Campus Sign” in JCI. PHOTO BY JIM MALVEN.

BY JIM MALVEN
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

After fully developing during the fall semester, the first official MARS meeting took place on April 20, and the newly-elected officers are ready to get even more people involved in the fight against sexual assault.


Perhaps the best and brightest new organization of the 2014-15 school year is the Westminster Men against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS) Club.  As its name suggests, MARS is a student-run organization that focuses on educating men about how they can act to prevent rape and sexual assault.

However, while MARS’s programming is geared more towards men, membership is open to anyone, regardless of gender.  In fact, the club’s treasurer, Clarisse Leech, ’17, is female.  Faculty adviser Dr. Mark Boulton said that rather than discriminating on the basis of gender, the organization focuses more heavily on what men can do because men are statistically more likely than females to be assailants, and thus more able to prevent assault from occurring.

But according to Wellness Center executive director Dr. Kasi Lacey, who initiated the process of bringing MARS to Westminster, men are not well-suited to prevent assault without the proper training, which is precisely why, she says, she was so determined to implement a MARS program at Westminster.  Dr. Lacey said that, “Given that I have worked with survivors of sexual assault and participated in outreach/prevention programming on college campuses for the last 10 years, I have noticed at times a void in men’s participation.”  She added, “I know this absence of men was not due to [a] lack of concern,” but that it “just seemed that they were unsure [of] how to get involved, and also sometimes lacking male role models to show them how to engage in conversation about preventing sexual assault.”

Dr. Lacey first found out about MARS during her time at the University of Missouri, where she performed her pre-doctoral work, and then, due to the unfortunate necessity of such programs, she communicated the idea to various members of the Westminster community, including Dr. Boulton, who said, “I thought that any effort to help her create a healthier sexual environment on campus is worth a shot.”  Lacey and Boulton agree that although sexual assault is often an uncomfortable topic to discuss, things cannot improve if people continue to ignore it.  Dr. Boulton said he recognizes that “it is an issue [that] every campus has.”

Dr. Lacey further commented, “Ultimately, sexual assault is a human issue and something that all campuses need to address.”

In addition, Dr. Lacey stated that MARS has also gained significant support from other positive male role models such as Dr. Nate Leonard, Dr. Keith Hardeman, Dr. Bob Cowles, Dr. Tobias Gibson, Dr. James McRae, and many others.”

Of course, the student-run organization could not function without the help of young people who are dedicated to combating rape and sexual assault.  “We’ve had fantastic turnouts at the meetings,” Dr. Boulton said. He noted that there are already many people who are “stepping up” and making a statement that some of the things that go on around campus are just not acceptable.

Dr. Lacey said she has been “beyond ecstatic to see the positive response and participation of faculty, staff, and students.”

Newly-elected president Tyler Oberlag, ’16, recounted that he first became interested in MARS by accident, when he overheard a discussion between Dr. Boulton and Dr. Lacey.  Now, Oberlag realizes that, “[MARS] is an organization that every student can be a part of and should be a part of.”

After fully developing during the fall semester, the first official MARS meeting took place on April 20, in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  During the meeting, students and officers alike expressed various ideas about how to advertise the organization to the Westminster community.  Later that week, Oberlag, Dr. Boulton, and other MARS officers were stationed at a table in JCI urging passers-by to have their picture taken with a “Not on Our Campus” sign, referring to the push to eliminate rape and sexual assault from Westminster.

Although MARS has not been at Westminster for even a full year, it has already had a profound impact on Westminster and the surrounding community, which Dr. Lacey credits to its devoted members as well as similar organizations.  “We currently have so many offices and student organizations that are working towards improving the campus climate,” she said.  Now, MARS members just want more and more people to get involved and to have more people fighting against sexual assault.  A specific goal that Oberlag has is to “get more programming involved in LST classes; that’s our big goal right now – to have something early in the school year that gets freshmen involved.” He added, “We have a lot of good ideas, but it’s going to take a lot of planning to get where we need to go.”

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