Like the thousands of people who protested at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, or Fiji, house on Aug. 31, the members of U for Us want “to end sexual misconduct at the University of Iowa, and hold the University accountable for the safety of its students,” as their Facebook page explains.
U for Us is doing its work by teaching people about topics like consent, Title IX and how the reporting process works every Thursday at the Pentacrest at 5 p.m.
“We’re kinda hoping to build a following by being here at the same time, same day, every week. And just be seeing us again and again, people will feel more comfortable walking up to us and asking questions,” said Aline Sandouk.
Sandouk, a student at UI’s Carver College of Medicine, hopes that U for Us will comfort survivors by raising visibility and destigmatizing sexual assault.
“The biggest thing is just letting people know in the community that we care about them, honestly,” she said. “If they’re walking by, and they just see us here, see that we care about them. I think that’s a pretty big step in the right direction.”
Sriven Kadiyala originally founded the organization in 2018. Following the Fiji protests, Kadiyala restarted it with the help of Sandouk and Rebecca Evans.
After the Abolish FIJI Facebook group shut down, they decided to create an organized and long-term plan to support survivors at UI. All three know people that are survivors of sexual assault.
“I am a survivor myself,” Evans said. “I’ve had family be assaulted. I’ve had friends be assaulted. And I’ve been the support system for them, and I really helped them with it.”
“I want to be that for other people. It just happens so often, and not enough people want to talk about it. And I think it’s not fair that some people don’t get justice.”
Sandouk helped a friend through the reporting process after she was assaulted, an experience that drove home how difficult it can be for survivors to get help from authorities.
“I was shocked by how stereotypical the experience was for her,” she said.
A UI Title IX investigator asked her friend if she was “asking for it,” if she had been drinking or had taken drugs, Sandouk said. Eespite the evidence in her friend’s case, she never got justice, she added.
“If someone told me about a movie with that script, I wouldn’t buy it cause it’s just too typical.”
She hopes that with more awareness and pressure, the university will provide more resources to prevent sexual assault in the community, and help support to the survivors.
“Long, long term is getting the university to be a better support to survivors. Right now there’s a lot of good work that could be done, a lot of ways the process could be improved,” she said. “But there’s just a lot of barriers to reporting, and I don’t know if the university is doing as good a job as it could to address them, to get people more comfortable coming forward.”
U for Us plans to continue meeting at the Pentacrest. Each week they’ll focus on a different topic and provide information to passersby, as well as bring in guest experts to help answer questions people may have. Next week they’re screening a documentary, It Happened Here, in the Iowa Memorial Union.
“We’re out here advocating for survivors, that they are able to continue to get the justice that they need, that they deserve,” said Evans.