In my nearly seven year career as the director of a sexual assault prevention and response program at a large public university, it was my privilege to listen to the voices of hundreds of survivors who chose to share their stories with me. While each survivor's’ experience is unique, a common thread through their stories is the hope that others will be spared the terrifying loss of power and control at the core of an experience of sexual assault.
It is critical to bring the voices of survivors into every conversation we have about sexual assault because those voices serve as both a compass and as a motivator for our actions to end sexual assault on college campuses. As the Senior Director of Prevention Education at EverFi, the nation’s leading education technology company, my sole mission is to challenge and empower the higher education community so that together we can create safer, healthier campus communities.
At EverFi, we work with over 1,300 campuses and reach millions of college students each year with our sexual assault prevention courses. Through the survey data from each of these participants, we have learned a lot about how college students think, believe, and act. We know, for example, that the overwhelming majority of students on college campuses engage in healthy and respectful sexual interactions with each other. Less positively, we have learned that while most students say they would intervene in a situation of harm involving another student, far fewer believe that other students would do the same. And, heartbreakingly, we know that students are still experiencing violence at alarming rates. Numerous surveys and studies find that between 15 and 25% of college women report experiencing sexual assault during their time on campus. The rate is more than two times higher for those students who identify as LGBT and/ or students of color. And male students are also experiencing violence. Clearly, we have much more work to do.
I posed this question: “What would help you to heal?”
Her answer: “I just don’t want this to happen to someone else.”
Our experience in prevention education has taught us some important lessons in effective practices for college campuses. Our data affirms what public health practitioners have long noted; there are no silver bullet programs, speakers, posters--or even, yes, on-line courses--that will, alone, end sexual assault. The most effective approaches on college campuses require a long-term commitment and many coordinated efforts to have impact. We need to promote positive behaviors in students and support healthy sexuality; we need to teach consent as a critical skill that all persons need to be successful, healthy, respectful global citizens; we need to empower students to care for each other and step in when they see someone engaging in harmful behavior.
The good news is that more and more colleges are adopting this approach and supporting the health, safety, and well-being of their students by investing in rigorous comprehensive prevention efforts. More college and university presidents are speaking out about this issue on their campuses, and more students are identifying that they have a role to play in ending violence on their campus.
But the news is not all rosy--while there is increasing support for prevention at higher education institutions, our data from a diverse subset of campuses across the country reflects that, on average, schools are spending just over $5 per student per year on sexual violence prevention. For smaller schools, the total spend per student goes up to nearly $8, while larger schools are spending an average of less than $1.35 per student on prevention. Think about that for a minute: the largest institutions of higher education spend less on sexual violence prevention per student than the cost of a latte. Schools simply must invest more to help ensure the safe and healthy future of their students.
As a nation, we have made tremendous progress in the last decade in combatting sexual assault on college campuses. But, in order to maintain this progress, there is a lot of work we must continue to do. From my role, I will continue to press each day to help develop and publish effective prevention tools through the Campus Prevention Network, EverFi’s nationwide initiative to bring together institutions that have demonstrated commitment to adopting the highest standards for prevention related to health and safety issues on their campuses.
I hope you will join me in this work. Here are some actions you can take:
Contact your congressional representatives and other elected officials and let them know that you care about ending sexual violence on college campuses, and that you wish them to continue the progress of the past decade.
Inquire with your alma mater about their sexual assault prevention efforts. Do they provide education to all students beyond the first year? How do they measure the effectiveness of their programs?
Engage in conversations with college students in your life about the importance of verbal, enthusiastic consent for all sexual activity. Not sure what to say? Try asking these questions to get started: how do you let your sexual partner know what you do and don’t want to do? How do you know if you have received consent for sexual activity? What is your plan if you’ve both been drinking and are considering having sex?
To harness the powerful words of former Vice President Joe Biden, it truly is on all of us to work together to continue the momentum of the past decade and keep working to end sexual assault on college campuses.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.