COPE asks students to take a stand against sexual violence

COPE Member stakes sign near The Rock Plaza, Monday, April 3. Photo credit: Emily Connell

Students on campus are deciding there will always be a safe space for survivors on campus. COPE (Counseling, Outreach, Peer Education), a branch of UM’s counseling center run by peer educators, took over The Rock Plaza on Monday, April 3rd, in a flurry of student performances and engaging discussionsdedicated to creating a network of support for survivors of sexual assault.

“Our goal was to bring people together and create a community through the words, through the singing, through the flags, and I think we were really able to achieve that,” said Cassandra Michel, co-chair of COPE and a senior majoring in psychology and community and applied psychological studies.

“Raising the Flag: Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence,” created a platform for students to share their poetry, music and testimony surrounding the touchy subject. The event aimed to raise awareness of sexual assault, as well as to connect students with appropriate resources on campus, such as mental health counseling.

Attendees concluded with a pledge to end sexual violence and stakedflags with supportive messages around the U statue in a gesture of solidarity.

“We had an amazing group of student performers who inspired the audience,” said Emily Connell, Co-Chair of COPE, and senior majoring in community and applied psychological Studies. “Participants left this event feeling empowered to take a stand against sexual violence.”

In a broader sense, said Kate Ei, membership chair of COPE and senior majoring in exercise physiology, the organization’s role on campus is to provide safe spaces for at risk-students. Ei explained that COPE bridges a gap between the campus community and the counseling center by educating students, focusing especially on de-stigmatizing seeking mental health support.

“You know, we’re students too,” Kate said. “That’s why our goal is always to start conversations and hope that our events are approachable because it is a group of their peers. It breaks down some barriers on accessing the resources in the counseling center by having peers be ones that they can ask questions to at these events.”

The aim of “Raising the Flag,” Connell said, was to demonstrate the impact that sexual violence has on students and to empower survivors to amplify their voices.

“We wanted students to leave the event feeling confident in their ability to be an ally and stop sexual violence when you see it,” Connell said. “I think our goals were met! Students were reminded of the campus and community resources and how to utilize them in a situation of sexual violence.”

Ultimately, Connell said, the purpose of COPE is to spur healthy conversation around these difficult issues and make sure students continue to speak up for themselves on campus.

“COPE’s goal in every event we do is to create a safe space for students to talk about mental health and other topics, like sexual violence, that affect our mental health,” Connell said. “I think it is important for students to feel a sense of belonging, and that is what we try to do when we engage in outreach. We want our peers to know they are supported.”