People Behind the Policies: Red Zone Initiative
TW: The following story will discuss themes of sexual assault and gender based violence. Please be advised.
Serena Singh remembers the kitchen and living room from her childhood vividly. The kitchen, while small, had enough room for all the women of the family to cook together. She remembers the women, who, in traditional Indian wear and long braids, cooked on the stove in the corner. The room smelled of onions, garlic and mango lassi, the latter which is similar to a milkshake.
The living room had beige walls and couches for the men to sit on as they spoke a mix of English and Hindi. The smell of food and beer was prominent in the air. Kids ran around, playing.
Something about the scene was strange. It was Singh’s first introduction to the different roles men and women occupied within her culture. More importantly, it was her first introduction to sexism. Singh began to wonder more about what she was seeing as she watched the women cook and the men sit around.
After doing some research, she learned the sexism she saw was only part of a larger picture of the harm that women face.
She found that gender-based and sexual violence affect South Asian women at a higher rate.
That wouldn’t do.
Now, as a senior advisor in the UNC Exec Branch of Student Government, she continues the work of past senior advisors by working on the Red Zone Initiative to combat violence.
The Red Zone Initiative is a project that Student Government is doing that has three goals: to teach people about affirmative consent, how to avoid hurting others and how to be an ally. The Red Zone period itself is in between the start of fall semester and Thanksgiving when most campus sexual assaults occur.
To achieve these goals, Student Government created graphics for social media about the definition of affirmative consent, what it means to be an active bystander and how not to perpetrate, showed a viewing of The Hunting Ground documentary, and will host a Town Hall later in October, among much more. Each person working on the Red Zone Initiative has his or her own personal story for why he or she is involved.
Ruth Samuel, the editor-in-chief at The Bridge, a writing platform for women of color on UNC- Chapel Hill and Duke University’s campuses, emailed Singh about wanting to collaborate — something other organizations didn’t usually call on Student Government to do.
Hearing that a group wanted to collaborate with Student Government — and at that, a group full of people she looked up to and appreciated — thrilled Singh.
“I could just die now and that would be it,” she said with a laugh, remembering the moment.
Why this Matters
While Singh primarily focuses on the Red Zone, many people on her team help from their own positions, such as Student Safety and Wellness co-chairs Laci Hill and Brady Creef.
One day last year, Hill went to classes, did homework and hung out with friends. That night, she walked to Murphey Hall, room 203, for a Student Safety and Wellness meeting.
The day was typical, boring, even. The meeting was not.
She remembers how at the meeting, someone asked if sexual assaults actually happened. More than that, what stood out was how the former Student Safety and Wellness co-chair, Melanie Langness, responded.
Langness shared a story about a friend who experienced sexual assault in college and how her friend struggled so much she had to drop out.
One day the survivor’s life was fine, and then it wasn’t.
When Hill heard this story, her heart dropped. She felt broken. She wanted to help other survivors somehow, which she will do soon through the Town Hall with Creef.
Within the Red Zone work Creef does, he has found hope.
He remembers looking around at all of the people working on the Red Zone — including Singh, Hill, and many others — and being overwhelmed by comfort, realizing that many strong, empowering people are working together to end the Red Zone period once and for all.
He remembers being with friends who shared their sexual assault stories, and how that courage inspired his activism in Student Government.
He remembers how he’s not alone. Other members in Student Safety and Wellness have a personal tie to the issue. For Logan Swain, it happened to her cousin. .
It was the week before Halloween. Swain headed to her cousin’s house, thinking she would just eat and talk about her academic struggles.
She didn’t realize that her cousin was about to disclose he had been sexually assaulted a year ago.
When her cousin shared his story, her face grew red and tears ran down her cheeks. She felt a pit in her stomach and didn’t know what to say, knowing “sorry” wouldn’t help.
Swain focuses specifically on the Red Zone Initiative. With what her family dealt with in the aftermath of her cousin’s assault, she realized sexual assault can happen to anyone.
For others in Student Government, their academic passions support survivors.
While his professor lectured another mundane overview in POLI 100, Malin Curry realized the direction he wanted to go in college. After two years of various classes about politics, the weather, fairytales and other topics, he’d finally picked a major: public relations.
He called his mother, Tonya, who half-jokingly said she approved because it meant she wouldn’t waste her money anymore. More than that, the thing she wanted to happen for her son happened: he found his passion.
“You have some really great ideas in mind, and I think you’d be great at it!” she told him.
That day, he had just finished lunch with his friends. He walked to class in room 33 of Carroll Hall.
The room felt clinical with white walls. The seating was cramped, though he managed to find a spot with a chair in between those on the other sides of him, like he always aimed for.
Curry is the secretary for Student Government. Right now, his communication focuses on the Red Zone Initiative. He coordinates meetings with stakeholders and activists. He develops social media content and organization activations.
“It’s all about doing this work correctly. It means involving all the stakeholders who need to be involved,” he said.
In a world with so much conflict, he feels hopeful. He realizes that the work he’s doing matters.
In the midst of midterms and other commitments, the one thing that keeps these students committed to the Red Zone Initiative is passion. It’s about wanting to help others and seeing their efforts come to fruition.
While the Red Zone period will end, their efforts will not — not as long as sexual assault and gender-based violence occur.
Stay tuned for more updates concerning the Red Zone Initiative via all our social platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and website. For more information and additional resources visit safe.unc.edu and check out the graphics below.