OVP and Office of Title IX host Sexual Assault Awareness Month Symposium

Consisting of faculty, students and local organizations, Ramapo held its annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Symposium last Wednesday in the Trustees Pavilion. The event, which aims to hold conversations about ending sexual and relationship violence on campus, was hosted by the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and the Office of Title IX.

In addition to OVP and Title IX, the event was also sponsored by the Women’s Center & LGBTQ+ Services, the Student Government Association, YWCA Northern New Jersey healingSPACE, Alternatives to Domestic Violence and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

Each sponsor had a booth set up at the event, as well as a booth from Public Safety emphasizing the importance of blue light boxes and a booth from the Rave Guardian app, which is a “custom-branded personal safety app.” Among the speakers at the event were Ramapo President Cindy Jebb, professor Donnalynn Scillieri, OVP intervention peer Alexis Ruhlen and New Milford Councilmember Matthew Seymour. 

Jebb opened her address by stating that while SAAM takes place throughout April, “it’s [also] for the whole year. We need to take what we learned and make sure that that becomes integral in everything we do.” 

She went on to explain how this year’s SAAM theme is “Building Connected Communities” and how the campaign calls on every person, organization and community to advance change. 

“We gather in spirit and, throughout this month, we elevate the voices… of survivors, of victims and of advocates,” she said.

Jebb went on to share alarming statistics about sexual and relationship violence in the United States, including how rape and other forms of sexual assault occur every six to eight seconds in the country. 

She ended her address by officially proclaiming April as SAAM and calling on “student leaders, clubs, organizations, teams, faculty, administrators, staff and trustees to demonstrate the values of mutual respect, dignity and empathy in order to counter sexual violence.” 

Up next on the podium was Scillieri, who went on to tell her story of being a 14-and-a-half year domestic violence survivor. In her speech, Scillieri emphasized how “everybody talks about the ugliness of [sexual assault], but nobody really tells you how do you get out of it and how to… accept that there are angels that can come across your path and opportunities that can pull you out of it.”  

Scillieri went on to share her survival story which involved her ex-husband and her daughter and explained how just one person reaching out can make a difference. 

“There’s so many people who need help, and it’s the little seed that you can plant and you don’t even realize it,” she said. “I look at this as an academic, as an advocate and as a mom… you just don’t know who you’re gonna be able to help.”

Following Scillieri, Ruhlen went on stage to share her story of surviving an assault from her boyfriend at the time. Her story occurred on the Ramapo campus, and she described in detail how she felt throughout the assault.

“Saving myself was my most difficult accomplishment [and] the one of which I am most proud,” she said. “Since that day, I have worked tirelessly to avoid letting him take anything more from me.” 

Ruhlen’s speech was met with a standing ovation from the audience.  

Finally, Seymour came to the podium to speak about Bergen County and how he got into his line of work. 

“[Bergen] is one of the only counties to have a country-created agency… that is dedicated towards helping survivors,” he said. The program is called the Bergen County Alternatives to Domestic Violence.

Additionally, Seymour shared that just a few months ago, his office passed the Victims Assistance and Survivor Protection Act, replacing the Sexual Assault Survivors Protection Act. This means that if you’re a victim of cyber harassment, or you’re a victim of stalking, and you are not in a relationship with the person who is stalking or cyber harassing you, you can now go through Bergen County’s courts to obtain protective orders. 

The speaking session ended with closing remarks from Title IX Coordinator Kat McGee, who said, “We have changed laws, we have created entirely new curriculums and, because we are a college campus, we can harness and continue to use that energy.” 




Featured photo by William Jackson