WASHINGTON — It's just about the one year mark for the signature policy effort led by senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett aimed at changing the culture around sexual assault on campus known as "It's On Us".
In its first 12 months, the effort has united high-profile collegiate organizations like sports conferences as well as TV networks, social media companies, and celebrities with campus activists to spread an anti-assault message focused on empowering students to call out sexual assault and intervene to stop it. More than 300 schools have student-run It's On Us campaigns, the White House says, and more than 650 events have been held since President Obama announced the campaign last September. Particular emphasis has been put on empowering men to be allies to women classmates, who statistics show are still more likely to be sexually assaulted than other groups.
The It's On Us campaign trademark is younger celebrities delivering stark messages about sexual assault and the culture on college campuses. On Tuesday came the latest iteration, a new PSA featuring stars like Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Josh Hutcherson that Jarrett says tries to put the idea of consent at the top of mind for incoming students as they head back to school or arrive at college for the first time. The opening weeks of a new school year are among those where the danger for sexual assaults is the highest and so, White House aides said Monday, the time when It's On Us is needed more than ever.
The simple message of the new administration PSA: Without consent, sex is rape. Period.
"Consent: If you don't get it, you don't get it," Hutcherson and Saldana say at the end of the 30-second spot in one of the darker double entendres out there.
Reducing campus sexual assault has been a big policy effort for the White House and a personal focus for Jarrett, a longtime adviser to the president. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, she said It's On Us has beat expectations in its first years in terms of the number of schools participating and the engagement from national organizations. The It's On Us online campaign has attracted 3 billion impressions, the White House said, including more than 10 million online views of the PSAs.
But the anti-sexual assault mandate for It's On Us, and the Obama administration in general, is far larger than a popular online effort. Jarrett emphasized that the administration is trying to change the culture around sexual assault on campus, coming alongside a new national focus on sexual politics that has included discussions of sexism, consent, rape and assault.
Jarrett was bullish on the first year of It's On Us, saying the campaign has helped to make changes already on campus. Asked if women are safer from sexual assault on campuses than they were a couple years ago, she offered a qualified "yes."
"Changing cultures doesn't happen overnight," she said, saying that campus reforms are occurring on a campus-by-campus basis and some campuses are better than others.
But the awareness has risen, Jarrett said. Anecdotally, White House aides added, students and parents are now asking about a school's culture around sexual assault and consent when on college tours and considering which schools to attend. Those questions will lead to the more dramatic cultural shifts the White House is hoping for.
"I just can't overemphasize that just the thought that this would be a factor in a student's decision about whether or not to attend a college or university is a very important sign," she said. "Because the market will move in the right direction, if colleges and universities are finding that they're having a difficult time attracting the most talented students because their culture is one that is tolerant of sexual assault, there will be enormous pressure on them to change."