Through award-winning video, Rowan students, prof get word out about sexual assault on college campuses

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Working with psychology professor Lois Strauss and two graduate students, Rowan film students produced "It's Not OK: Speak Out Against Sexual Assault," an award-winning, seven-minute video designed to educate college students about sexual assault.

Nobody really wants to speak out or even think about sexual assault, which, Rowan University psychology professor Lois Strauss says, is a significant part of the problem.

"One in five college women is sexually assaulted," says Strauss, "and in 90 percent of sexual assaults, alcohol is involved.

"All aspects of sexual assault are still underreported and rarely, if ever, revealed or reported by the victim."

Strauss is looking to change that. And she has enlisted the help of a group of Rowan film students--she calls them the "Dream Team"--in her efforts.

Working from information Strauss and two Rowan graduate students provided, the film students produced "It's Not OK: Speak Out Against Sexual Assault," a seven-minute video designed to educate college students about sexual assault.

Produced last fall for Radio/Television/Film (RTF) professor Diana Nicolae's "TV Production II" course and funded through a $12,000 grant from Strauss' Project MATCH program, the film will be distributed to all 56 colleges and universities in New Jersey.

"It's Not OK"--which includes personal stories from two women who have been sexually assaulted, interviews with professionals who assist victims, and some stark statistics-- is already receiving acclaim in film circles.

The film won first-place in the "Best TV Feature" category in the Region I Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. The film, which competed against colleges from New England, New York, Pennsylvania and Maine, is now competing in the national SPJ competition. Winners will be announced later this month.

Additionally, the film won third place in the documentary division of the third annual Greater Philadelphia Student Film Festival. All members of the film crew are senior RTF majors at Rowan.

"We wanted a project that would have some meaning...a film that, when people saw it, they would get something out of it," says Harry Fleckenstein,  of Deptford, who was the camera operator on the film.

"Sexual assault is a huge problem...more than people realize. We wanted to make something that really mattered," adds Susan Mariduena of Rahway, the film's director.

The crew received input from Strauss and graduate students Courtney Caram (counseling in educational settings) of Freehold and Laura Miller (school psychology) of Wilmington, Del. Caram and Miller have been working with Strauss on Project MATCH for almost two years.

"We told them what we'd like to see," says Caram, who earned her undergraduate degree from Rowan's College of Education in 2006. "We put our ideas out there. I'm so proud of them. In the film, they really preserved the victims' pride. And they're out-of-the-box thinkers."

Interviewing the victims about a subject so private was difficult, notes Cindy Lewandowski, of Sewell, who served as producer. Tom Finer of Annandale served as editor and also designed the DVD cover.

"We had to talk to them about very difficult subjects," Lewandowski says. "There's never a good time to ask those questions.

"We had hours and hours of footage--15 half-hour tapes--and we had to put the film together so that it was effective, but also aesthetically pleasing."

Nicolae, the students' film professor, says the students are now seeing how their creative work can have real-world impact.

"In the classroom, we focus on more than just television techniques. It's the integration of techniques with creative thought and dedicated effort that makes television production so exciting," says Nicolae.

"This experience was particularly great for our students because they had a chance to see the impact that well-done work can have outside of the classroom. They worked well together to go beyond the information that Professor Strauss provided, struggling to find their own interviewees who could tell a compelling story."

 "It's Not OK" is targeted to be shown at freshman orientation sessions and in residence halls throughout the state, according to Strauss.

"Most often, if you are sexually assaulted, you tell a friend. If a friend--that first responder--is educated, they'll encourage the victim to report it," says Strauss.

"Freshmen, especially, need to be broad-sided with this because they trust everyone," adds Caram. "There needs to be a change in culture about sexual assault."

Students, says Miller, receive a lot of information about drug and alcohol abuse, "but there's still a stigma about sexual assault. They need to be aware of the dangers and risks."

With regard to sexual assault, "bystanders remain the silent majority...reluctant to intercede even in the face of circumstances that signal someone is in danger," says Strauss. "It's one of the last frontiers in our society."

Project MATCH is an outreach initiative of "The Hollybush Project: Advancing Mediation and Conflict Resolution," organized by Strauss. Now in its eighth year, The Hollybush Project works to advance knowledge and provide training and services in mediation and conflict resolution. Project MATCH was initially funded through a $12,000 grant from Rowan's Center for Addiction Studies and a $500 grant from Somerset Valley Bank.

"With additional funding, we hope to broaden our outreach efforts," says Strauss.

To view "It's Not OK: Speak Out Against Sexual Assault," visit http://gpsff.com/watch/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=60.

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