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Association of Student Governments talks sexual assault, mental health

Anita Simha, ASG’s vice president for campus community, spoke about student action within the context of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. She said the association is sponsoring a day of action about sexual assault on April 3 across the UNC system, which she believes will send a powerful message.

In her committee, Simha encouraged sexual assault awareness — which she said has been called a nationwide epidemic — as well as mental health awareness, and she encouraged members to discuss possible solutions on their campuses.

“Chapel Hill, and other schools in the UNC system as well, have been at the forefront of this issue almost in a negative light,” she said.

Me’Lia Covington, a delegate from N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, said she thinks the day of action is good idea, but added that more steps should be taken to prevent sexual assault.

Covington suggested increasing self-defense classes on campus or including presentations on sexual assault prevention in orientation.

“We have done the awareness part, but I think we need to focus more on active prevention,” she said.

In July, the UNC-system Board of Governors released a campus security report which highlighted the correlation between alcohol and sexual assault. According to the report, 90 percent of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses involve alcohol.

The group also discussed mental health, which Zachary Vestal, student government chief of staff at UNC-Greensboro, said is often overlooked. Members brought up the nine student deaths at Appalachian State University this school year — four of which were eventually ruled suicides.

Vestal said there is an issue of labeling mental health, which often carries a stigma — but it can range from small problems at home to serious issues such as suicidal thoughts.

“I think a big issue is that people do not understand that you can look for help,” Vestal said.

Terronne Cuthrell, a delegate from Fayetteville State University, said redefining mental illness could help create better understanding.

Simha said each campus would have differences implementing their programs, similar to the Android operating system slogan: “Be together, not the same.”

“I think that’s very relevant to the UNC system — we have to understand that we are united, but we also do not have the same solutions to every problem,” Simha said.

Fields Pierce, a delegate from UNC-Chapel Hill’s executive branch, said the association also discussed an advocacy trip to Washington D.C., on March 20 for some ASG delegates.

Pierce, who is running for ASG president next year, said he hopes to focus more on advocacy and improving relationships with the UNC Board of Governors if elected.

“Moving over to an advocacy role really gets to the heart of what ASG is and why ASG exists,” he said. “ASG exists to advocate for students — to the Board of Governors, to the General Assembly and the federal government.”

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