When Rachael Fresh arrived at Utah State University, she didn’t even know sexual assault was a problem on campus.
But in 2014, when she was on the studentbody president’s cabinet, Fresh recalled how then-USU Student Association President Doug Fiefia brought in “some really shocking statistics” on colleges campuses throughout the U.S.
“You never talk about it when you’re growing up in Utah,” Fresh said. “We had a couple of people come forward and talk about their own experiences. I told Doug I wanted to get on this initiative and help the people of Utah State.”
The initiative Fresh was referring to was “It’s On Us,” an effort created by the Obama administration to stop sexual violence on campus.
Fresh has done so much more on the issue of sexual violence on campus since that time, and it has caught the attention of others.
She was recently named a member of the Young Emerging Leaders Advisory Council, under the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
According to a UCASA news release, the council will bring “valuable youth perspectives” to UCASA’s efforts and work with “communities and schools across the state demonstrating that young people are the key to preventing and eliminating sexual violence in our communities.”
Fresh talked about sexual violence and what she hopes comes out of her one-year appointment to the council.
Q: UCASA is not just focused on preventing sexual violence on college and university campuses, it’s about preventing sexual assault and rape anywhere, right?
A: Yes, definitely. Their focus is on the whole state — from prevention to understanding to intervention, they have 14 different programs that focus on that. This Young Emerging Leaders Council is just to get younger voices in there. My knowledge is what’s going on at Utah State and what’s going on on college campuses. That’s why I believe I’m on the council, is to have that voice.
Q: What can the youth voice do to prevent sexual violence?
A: I think it can be tremendously effective because I believe a solution we have to the problems in this world is education. If we start people off young, having knowledge about sexual assault and how to prevent it or what to do when it happens to you … the better it’s going to be in the long run.
So UCASA is doing an amazing job at helping people, but this (council) is just to bring an element of, “Here are these younger people who have this passion, who have an understanding, to come and give their voice.”
Q: How is the council going to go about helping prevent sexual assault in our community?
A: As a council we meet once a month, and right now we’re just developing the council — we’re creating a charter, we’re creating a structure of how we’re going to work in the future.
Then, we’re all choosing programs we’re really interested in. Personally, I want to go into high school education, and so I’m very passionate about teaching high schoolers before they get to college that this is a problem so they’re not coming here like I was.
Q: Talk about that a little more — how you plan to educate high school students.
A: One of my passions is mental health, and I was able to go to two high schools in Cache Valley. (Sexual assault) is kind of the same thing (as mental health) — there’s a large stigma; it’s an awkward topic; no high school wants to talk about it. But I found that when you sat down with students and you tell them personal stories and you give them statistics, they rise above.
I truly believe if you come forward and say, “Hey guys, you’re walking into college; that’s a huge adjustment. You’re going to be facing stuff that’s hard, and here’s one thing you might face: (sexual assault).” When they hear that and get that shock, and you tell them ways they can help, I believe that those kids are going to take that and run with it. They’re going to make it better in college because they’re going to come away prepared.
Q: Have you ever experienced sexual assault or rape?
A: No, I haven’t. For me, sometimes I feel like, “Oh, I shouldn’t be the one signing up for this, because I don’t know what it feels like,” but I also think being an advocate along with them is more of what we need. Yes, we need everyone who has suffered from that to stand up. … But if everyone in the state of Utah was signing up and advocating for it, I think we’d go a lot farther.
This piece originally appeared on hjnews.com. Click here to read the original article.