UNH Observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month One Year Following Protests Outside President’s House


Sarah Donovan, Content Editor

Sexual assault is a topic of growing concern for universities nationwide, where the rate of sexual assault is disproportionately higher compared to outside college settings. This topic hits close to home at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), where it has been almost a year and a half since students protested outside President James W. Dean’s house on Oct. 25, 2021. The protest occurred in response to an email sent by the President addressing an alleged sexual assault that took place in Stoke Hall on Oct. 15, 2021.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 26.4% of undergraduate females experience sexual violence or rape through physical force and 6.8% of undergraduate college males experience the same. 

The UNH Comprehensive Prevention Plan found that in a single year, 17% of the student body at UNH has experienced sexual violence. Near the end of the protest in Oct. of 2021, Dean stated that the university needed to take action towards making students feel safer on campus, acknowledging the outcry of safety concerns regarding sexual violence.

Since the fall of the 21’ protests, the UNH administration has laid out a direct framework of action toward preventing future interpersonal violence (IPV). Outlined in President Dean’s email on April 3., addressing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), the university has highlighted the UNH Comprehensive Prevention Plan. The goals of the plan are to “Prevent perpetration of interpersonal violence, minimize negative outcomes of related to alcohol & other drug use, foster a culture of care and empathy, graduate students who are fully-formed sexual citizens and build protective & inclusive environments that support students’ informed decision making.”

One of the ways that UNH is implementing this plan to achieve its goals is by facilitating a long-term and short-term plan for creating an institutional culture of care. Leading this mission of sexual assault prevention is UNH’s Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP). Throughout the month of April, SHARPP is hosting weekly educational events from trivia, movies and speakers. 

SHARPP held an event called “How to Speak Your Language of Sex, Love, and Play” on April 10., featuring guest lecturer Mx. Aredvi Azad. As a queer and trans/genderfluid person, Azad is a sexual violence prevention educator, as well as a speaker and trainer. Azad has spent over a decade speaking about sexual trauma and healing, in addition to creating educational media for their audiences. 

Azad’s talk focused on people’s feelings about sex and their response to sex. They started their talk by giving the audience a long list of terms to describe their initial feelings about sex if they were to sum it up in a few choice words. The top response of what sex meant to them from the audience of about 20 participants was “relationships.” Azad said that this was positive and somewhat unusual, as usually when they did this exercise the response was typically “shame.” 

Azad brought forth that the top response they normally see is “shame” because of the existing system of sexual oppression. “Sexual oppression is a system of marginalization upholding the rigid moral, cultural, and legal structures that dictate which types of bodies, sex, love and relationships deserve recognition, legitimacy and protection,” they said. 

They discussed that sexual violence is all around us and that “oppression breeds violence.” 

They reflected that despite the difficulty of this topic, having conversations to address negative feelings about sex from potentially harmful experiences or what people are taught growing up that create negative feelings about sex is critically important. 

Throughout the speech, SHARPP staff were there to support students and answer any questions.

For Rachel Stewart, director of SHARPP, honoring SAAM is essential because “recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month represents the fact that [the] only way that we will ultimately end interpersonal violence is through creating a culture of consent and accountability, which begins with the awareness of each and every one of us.”

Stewart said that SHARPP is supporting SAAM by providing a wide variety of educational sessions for students who may have varying relationships with the topics addressed. Other events SHARPP has supported this month have included “Spotlight on Healthy Relationships & Queer Identities,” tailored specifically tailored to the LGBTQIA+ community, a weekly Friday Lunch & Learn series where various workshops cover topics related to sexual assault, Leadership Labs such as the one that featured  Mx. Azad and a weekly survivor support group aiming to create community at UNH.

Michael Blackman, dean of students, said his role regarding SAAM is to support SHARPP’s programs by making sure students are aware of the many events they are holding this month. He said that he shares the events with the Division of Student Life, which encompasses 22 departments. 

Blackman said that he thinks SHARPP’s events are supporting students in a positive way, especially in regard to the variety of programs offered. SHARPP is a 24/7 help center for anyone who needs support. SHARPP’s services include emotional support, advocacy and accompaniment to the hospital, support in the navigation of the healing process and many other resources to aid survivors.

All of these resources on campus are to provide students with support and education, heightened during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

To reach SHARPP’s 24/7 hotline to speak with a confidential advocate, call (603)- 862-7233. Appointments can be made via phone at (603)-862-3494, or drop into Wolff House anytime between on weekdays. To learn more about SHARPP, explore their website here