“Awareness” activities on campus have reached new heights in terms of sheer volume and visibility. It seems that it’s constantly national-this month, or remember-that day, or put-a-stop-to-something week. No matter where you go on campus, there is a steady barrage of one group or another insisting that you care about and take notice of their cause. But all the time the amount of the publicity has been on the rise, the quality of publicity has been on the decline.The most recent example of this was National Sexual Assault Awareness Week. It was none-too-relaxing to sit in the Coffeehouse, being stared down by melodramatic statements scribbled in magic marker across the fronts of t-shirts: “No means no”; “Stop sexual assault now”; etc. I just want a cup of coffee, and yet I have no way of avoiding the assault of these t-shirts and their uninformative slogans.
It isn’t that the causes being touted by these groups aren’t important—not at all. People should know about sexual assault. It occurs and people should know ways to prevent it. But a clothesline of t-shirts magic-markered with occasionally heart-wrenching, occasionally obnoxious slogans is not the way to teach anyone anything. This is not an effective way to inform educated people—and Lawrence students are still presumably educated.
National Sexual Assault Awareness Week is by no means unique, though it is a particularly high profile example. Causes of this sort are all over campus. Instead of traditional and effective forms of communication, many campus groups have opted for the quick and the annoying. Groups championing causes do not write to the newspaper to explain their viewpoints; they do not take out ads; instead, they make posters with crayons and put them on every conceivable surface on campus.
In the end, this creates more annoyance than awareness. How many times have you actually learned something meaningful from a poster? Did the t-shirts really make you think about sexual assault? We can’t get a cup of coffee, go to the library, or go to the bathroom without a dose of awareness publicity, but is the campus actually more aware of anything?
Of course, Lawrence isn’t alone in this. Does anybody remember “Just say no” or “This is your brain…”? Public awareness campaigns have been reduced to ten catchy words or fewer nationwide, and this is a shame, but it does not have to be the case at Lawrence. Groups can demand more of themselves, and we can demand more of them.