Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, IC Strike, and The Sophie Fund on Wednesday launched an education campaign on social media to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Download Poster: April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Each day throughout April, the local organizations are posting infographics on their social media platforms about safety plans, reporting procedures, hotline help, medical and mental health support, and tools to fight sexual assault.

Citing data from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the campaign highlights that sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. RAINN says that one out of every six American women, and one out of every 33 American men, has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

College women are at three times greater risk of assault, according to RAINN; 13 percent of all graduate and undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that sexual violence impacts health in many ways and can lead to short and long-term physical and mental health problems.

The Advocacy Center is the premier community organization providing support services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and child sexual abuse. Besides the social media campaign, the Advocacy Center is organizing a host of activities throughout the month. They include a screening of the film Roll Red Roll, a Wen-Do Women’s Self Defense online workshop, a yoga class fundraiser, a Clothesline Project Display in DeWitt Park, and a “Take Back the Night!” march, rally, speak out, and vigil.

“The Advocacy Center is dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of all forms of sexual violence on survivors and the community, while also highlighting the work being done to promote healthy development and practices that work towards preventing these forms of violence from occurring,” said Advocacy Center Executive Director Heather Campbell.

IC Strike, a student organization at Ithaca College dedicated to education, action, and allyship surrounding sexual assault, is collaborating in the social media campaign because it believes in the power of education and communication.

“Our society struggles to have conversations about sex, trauma, and sexual violence,” said IC Strike Co-President Julia Siegel. “The social gag rule on sexual assault fosters ignorance and perpetuates harmful behavior and values. By equipping students with the facts and the vocabulary to discuss these issues, productive conversations can be had and stigmas can be broken.”

The social media campaign was designed by Lorelei Horrell and Margaret Kent, Ithaca College students and interns at The Sophie Fund.

“I have enjoyed getting to work with other individuals who are passionate about sexual assault awareness,” said Kent. “As a female college student, the issue of sexual assault is a common worry. I hope that our campaign can help raise awareness about this issue and at the same time, make survivors feel seen.”

Horrell agreed on the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“There’s a lot of stigma around discussing sexual assault that makes it more difficult for survivors to find information and resources,” said Horrell. “As a young woman and as a college student, fear of sexual assault is constant. Working on this campaign both validated that fear and transformed it into something more. We can be angry, and we can be afraid, but we can also learn how to protect ourselves, practice being able to support our friends, and educate ourselves on all the resources available if something does happen.”

Click any of the links to check out the campaign’s social media posts and share:

The Sophie Fund’s Sexual Assault page: National, state, and local resources to learn about sexual assault and how to deal with it.

Cornell Circle K: Service, Leadership, and Fellowship

Cornell Circle K is a student organization committed to doing meaningful service through direct community engagement, developing its members to be the successful leaders today, and being an advocate for positive change in order to create a better world for humanity.

Cornell Circle K members

In our latest initiative, Cornell Circle K organized a mental wellness kit fundraiser to support mental health in Ithaca and on the Cornell University campus and to benefit The Sophie Fund. Our members sold hot chocolate kits with peppermint candies, Mind Your Mind stickers, mental health resources, and Sophie Fund buttons and stickers to encourage a healthy start to Cornell’s 2021 spring semester.

We were in contact with other Cornell organizations and club members in order to spread an engaging message of support and to remove the stigma associated with accessing help for mental health improvement. Especially under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, it is easy for students to feel isolated and overwhelmed with stress. Our fundraiser had the goal to relieve this stress for students undergoing these unprecedented times. Altogether, Cornell Circle K sold 65 mental wellness kits and raised a total of $243.00 for The Sophie Fund.

“The stigma attached to mental health can make it a difficult conversation to start on campus. The collaboration with The Sophie Fund and Cornell Circle K provided us with an exciting opportunity to start those conversations, as well as raise awareness about the need for strong support and resources,” said Julia Fan, co-president of Cornell Circle K.

Cornell Circle K’s mental health kit

Brendon Nguyen, also co-president of Cornell Circle K, mentioned: “I am so glad Circle K connected with The Sophie Fund to put together a fundraiser to spread some joy while also sharing mental wellness resources with more of the Cornell community. During my early years at Cornell, I remember feeling so isolated with my anxiety, but I was lucky to have a lot of support to normalize conversations around mental wellness and eventually seeking professional help. After hearing about The Sophie Fund’s mission, it seemed like a no-brainer to support a local nonprofit that actively works towards helping more youth take better care of their mental health. The more we can do to support each other’s mental wellness, the more we can accomplish and the better off we are.”

“We are honored that Cornell Circle K chose us for its mental wellness initiative,” said Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund. “Beyond that, we are so grateful to see Cornell students supporting each other, and working to break down the stigma about seeking help for mental health.”

Preparing the Ithaca Children’s Garden

Founded in 1936, Cornell Circle K is a campus-based, student-led, inclusive service organization. It is a proud and active member of Circle K International, the world’s largest student-led collegiate service organization, and maintains close connections with the International K Family (Kiwanis, Key Club, Builders Club, and Aktion Club). Circle K International boasts a membership of more than 11,000 collegiate service leaders on more than 500 campuses worldwide. This organization is based around three tenets: service, leadership, and fellowship. 

Throughout the year, Cornell Circle K completes various service kits to get involved around the Ithaca community and beyond. During the fall 2020 semester, members wrote letters to residents and healthcare workers at a Hattie Larlham care facility in Ohio to encourage wellbeing and show support for those at risk of Covid-19. Members also crafted baby blankets out of fleece cloth for Arnot Health Hospitals in Elmira. Another service kit with tissue paper carnations and no slip socks was done for seniors at Ithaca area nursing homes. Dog toys were also created as a service kit to support local animal shelters. 

Past fundraisers by Cornell Circle K have supported other local community organizations. During the fall semester of 2020 we completed a sticker fundraiser supporting the Multicultural Center of Ithaca, which has a passion for eliminating barriers in racial justice, cultural development and representation, and equity and inclusion.

We have raised money for Cayuga Dog Rescue, a local rescue shelter, which made it possible for one of their dogs, Snowball, to spend the day at Cornell Vet Hospital’s oncology clinic having some mammary tumors evaluated. Two other rescues, Sammy and Toby, also received winter coats, special treats, brain teaser puzzles, and tug toys.

Cornell Circle K has also been involved with the Cayuga Nature Center helping prepare the garden for winter as well as the Ithaca Children’s Garden pulling weeds and raking leaves. Our service and volunteer projects are wide-ranging but have a focus on communal unity and support. 

—By Max Fante

Max Fante ’24 is the Fundraising Committee Chair for Cornell Circle K. He is a Biological Sciences major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

Commending Cornell’s Mental Health Recommendations

The Sophie Fund, in a presentation to Cornell University on March 1, supported the Cornell Mental Health Review’s recommendations for addressing student mental health and commended Cornell administrators for launching a process to implement them.

Download: Cornell University’s Mental Health Review Final Report

The Mental Health Review, initiated by President Martha E. Pollack in 2018, and carried out by internal and external review teams, made 60 recommendations comprehensively calling for improvements in mental health and medical services, academic life, student well-being, and mental health awareness and proactive support.

The Cornell administration released the review’s 34-page Final Report in October; at the same time, it announced the creation of an Executive Accountability Committee led by senior academic officials as well as senior administrators overseeing Student & Campus Life and Cornell Health to evaluate and implement the recommendations.

“We commend the mental health review teams for recognizing the seriousness of the challenge and, through extensive research and analysis, providing valuable detailed recommendations to comprehensively address it,” Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, co-founders of The Sophie Fund, said in a written presentation to the Executive Accountability Committee. “We wholeheartedly support the Final Report’s recommendations. The Final Report provides the road map for Cornell to establish a gold standard for collegiate mental health.”

MacLeod and Hack, who established the nonprofit advocacy group in 2016 after the suicide death of their daughter Sophie, who was on a health leave of absence from the School of Architecture, Art, and Planning, thanked Pollack and Vice President for Student & Campus Life Ryan Lombardi for “recognizing the need for continuous attention to student mental health.” They also thanked undergraduate and graduate student organizations who sought change for “representing the voices of Cornell students and especially those in need of mental health support.”

The Sophie Fund presentation agreed with the Final Report’s call for “an enhanced version of excellence, which has as its foundation a healthy educational environment” and with recommendations for academic policies and practices, faculty and staff training and resources, campus collaboration, and communication.

The presentation said that “these recommendations recognize that 1) supporting student mental health requires the coordinated involvement and commitment of administrators, faculty, staff, and students across the schools and the campus; 2) it is a false premise to expect Cornell Health/Counseling and Psychological Services alone to shoulder the responsibility for student mental health; 3) schools and departments must support student mental health through practices that foster community, eliminate undue academic stress, discourage unhealthy competition, and support struggling students; and 4) effective student mental health support today requires a culture change with strong institutional leadership and structured cross-campus collaboration.”

The presentation highlighted 13 priority areas for action as the Executive Accountability Committee considers the Final Report’s recommendations, stressing the need to emphasize “providing real tools, ensuring their actual use, setting concrete goals, and measuring the outcomes and impact.”

“An all-faculty email stressing the value of student mental health gatekeeping may check a box, but it would likely have little, if any, tangible effect,” the presentation said. “Similarly, offering mental health gatekeeper training for faculty would be an excellent step, but it would be meaningless if nobody signed up for it.”

The presentation called on Cornell to ensure “strong leadership and direction from the senior administration to marshal the human effort and financial resources needed to implement improvements and ultimately achieve culture change.” MacLeod and Hack commended Cornell for “quickly establishing” the Executive Accountability Committee to drive improvements.

The Sophie Fund suggested creating a student advocacy office “dedicated to helping students navigate specific institutional challenges and obstacles in academic practices and mental health services, including the Health Leave of Absence process and insurance barriers, that may negatively impact or further undermine their mental health, spoil their positive college experience, and threaten their trajectories into fulfilling adult lives.”

The presentation also stressed the need for new zero-tolerance university regulations and new campus education and awareness programs with the publicly stated goal of terminating the “stubborn normalization” of sexual assault and hazing violence among Cornell students.

Other priority areas cited in The Sophie Fund’s presentation: mandatory training for faculty, staff, and students in ways to identify and help students in need of mental health support; academic policies affecting undergraduate and graduate student wellbeing; clinical best practices; referrals to community mental health providers; health leaves of absence; suicide prevention; healthy campus community life; mental health communications and education; student organizations; and the role of parents and families.

The Final Report cited Cornell PULSE/CUE surveys indicating that the proportion of Cornell undergraduates who reported that they were unable to function academically—missing classes, unable to study or complete homework, etc.—for at least a week in the past year due to depression, stress, or anxiety increased from 33 percent in 2015 to 42 percent in 2019. From Fall 2015 to Fall 2018, individual therapy encounters at CAPS increased 19 percent, the report added.

The 13-member internal Mental Health Review Committee, which included five students, was headed by Marla Love, currently interim dean of students, and Miranda Swanson, associate dean for student services in the College of Engineering. The External Review Team consisted of Michael Hogan, a former commissioner of mental health for New York State, Ohio, and Connecticut (chair); Karen Singleton, chief of Mental Health and Counseling Services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Medical; and Henry Chung, senior medical director of care management organization at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

Click here to read or download The Sophie Fund’s “Perspectives on the Mental Health Review Final Report” presented to the Cornell Executive Accountability Committee on March 1, 2021