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#HoosGotYourBack campaign reaches Corner merchants

Organization hopes off-Grounds efforts will promote overall safety message

New this semester, the Hoos Got Your Back campaign is working to improve bystander intervention for gender-based violence both on and off Grounds — and, with the help of Corner employees, its message is already being heard.

A part of Hoos Got Your Back’s aim to create safe spaces well beyond the University’s academic bounds, the campaign has actively recruited help from local groups and businesses not directly associated with the University. So far, 19 different Corner merchants have taken the pledge to be active bystanders and help create safe spaces off Grounds.

“Because many students live and attend parties off Grounds, getting the support of Corner merchants is key to maximizing the impact that the campaign has on the community,” said third-year College student Kelsey McKeon, an executive board member of sexual assault prevention group One Less. “Ultimately, I think the campaign wants to make everyone a part of the solution to this terrible problem that has affected too many in our community.”

Merchants who participate in the initiative are given a brief presentation explaining the parameters of the campaign. They also receive T-shirts and stickers to display in their shop. Bouncers at Corner bars, especially, are encouraged to wear the T-shirts on weekend nights.

Participating businesses include Boylan Heights, Coupe’s, Trinity, Biltmore Grill, Mellow Mushroom, LittleJohn's, Michael's Bistro, Take It Away, The Virginian, Mincer's and Ragged Mountain Running Shop.

The campaign is run through the University and is a subset of larger initiative Not On Our Grounds, which works to provide students with the tools and information to improve bystander intervention efforts.

“The Hoos Got Your Back campaign is really a media and awareness campaign to let the University community know that there is no place for sexual misconduct,” said third-year College student Sara Surface, external chair of the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition. “We want everyone to feel empowered to be active bystanders.”

Though integrating local merchants is just part of the overall campaign, Surface said it is likely to play a large part in the initiative going forward.

“We have gone and given a few presentations at bars and shops, just to say, ‘Here’s the potential role you have and here are a few tools,’” Surface said. “I think eventually down the line the goal would be to provide a formal training for everyone.”

The campaign was launched right as students returned to school to help prevent sexual violence which occurs during the “Red Zone,” referring to the first three months of school, when rates of sexual misconduct on college campuses are the highest.

“Most [Corner merchants] that are participating have their #HoosGotYourBack stickers on their doors, so that people who walk in know that they are an establishment that is a safe area,” fourth-year College student Erica Robertson said. “They are helping us in … keeping an eye out, stepping in if necessary and providing an area where people can feel safe, and where they know that the staff is willing to help.”