The elephant in the square

Students respond to SPU’s awareness campaign

David Armour, Staff Writer

Filmed and edited by Sydney Lorton

April is sexual assault awareness month, and Seattle Pacific University has been making an effort to raise awareness through a variety of events and projects, most notable among them being a large paper mache elephant statue underneath a tent in the middle of Martin Square. This elephant in the room is intended to act as a point of interest where students can write affirmations and comfort victims of sexual assault, though some students have criticized the efforts.

To students such as third year psychology major Amirra Atchley, the display was simply performative and inconsequential.

“I don’t think that the school’s raising awareness of the issue of sexual assault very well. It feels like they’re doing the bare minimum to get people talking about it, with most of the big displays of care coming from the students,” Atchley said. “If they really cared, they’d do more than putting a single display in one area.”

Despite the lack of student awareness or visibility, a number of students, including second year history major Maseo Embry, find the elephant to be a sign that the university cares about this issue.

“I think the elephant is a nice gesture. I am not totally certain what the school’s efforts to curb sexual harassment, but it’s good that they’re addressing it, though I’d like to know more about the how,” Embry said. “I’m not too well informed about what they do, and it can be hard to be clear about it without it coming across as posturing. Actions speak louder than words, and if SPU keeps its sexual harassment rates down, that’s what matters. This is a difficult topic, and there is no way to comfortably address it.”

An elephant statue was placed in martin square in honor of sexual assault awareness month. Students were able to write messages on the elephant that coincide with supporting those who have been affected. (Josilyn Walker)

Third year psychology major Aidan Heckerman rarely noticed the elephant and could not find the time to examine it.

“I feel like more could be done to raise awareness than the elephant. Professors holding conversations about the issue of sexual assault would do far more to raise awareness than some display in the middle of Martin Square,” Heckerman said. ”Although the elephant does get my attention, I only ever see it when I’m in a rush for something and never get the chance to see what’s on it.”

Other students, such as first year biochemistry major Madeline Crawford consider the university’s display to be a good idea executed poorly and without much clarity.

“I do appreciate the attempt to raise awareness, and they’re putting out a decent public display, but it’s tricky to do it right. I guess you would only see this display in Martin Square, and even then, most students won’t go looking in a tent to figure out what it is,” Crawford said. “Do I think this is a good idea? Yes. However, it could be improved upon by opening the tent and providing more context with a sign or something. Despite this, I believe that it’s a good start and appreciate that they’re even bringing up the subject.”

Students are encouraged to research into sexual assault through a variety of University-hosted events, including a wear denim day, a clothesline display, and a book display in the library, though some students wish the faculty were more involved.

“The staff should try to genuinely connect with the student body, organize an event or get in touch with students that they don’t usually get in touch with and make an effort to raise true awareness of stuff that does happen on campus,” Atchley said. 

The Office of Safety and Security remains a vital resource for students who have experienced sexual assault, and are available by email or phone. The SPU counseling center is also available to talk with survivors and provide support.