It’s a common thing to catch a glimpse of when walking across Michigan State’s campus — a flash of something tiny and teal on the backpack of a student walking to class.
The bright ribbons stand out on bags and coats, placed there by students to show solidarity with sexual assault survivors. Teal — the color representative of sexual assault awareness — took on further meaning at MSU in 2018 as the university dealt with the fallout from the Larry Nassar crisis.
Kelly Schweda, director of MSU’s Prevention, Outreach and Education network, or POE, said they’ve been one of several programs to distribute the ribbons over the months.
They’re not limited to just teal ribbons, either. POE also distributes pins and teal ribbons intercut with purple, symbolic of domestic violence awareness in addition to sexual assault awareness. Schweda said she sees them on students’ backpacks all the time.
“I’ve been seeing it almost constantly,” Shweda said. “And I think that everyone has different reasons for doing that.”
Schweda said it’s not just POE that’s been giving out the ribbons. Other programs, like MSU’s Sexual Assault Program, or SAP, have been holding ribbon campaigns for a “number of years.” Schweda, who previously worked in MSU’s Student Life office, said the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention program has been handing them out since 2008.
But it’s “never been like the amount that we’ve given and the reception we’ve had with support now,” Schweda said.
Human biology sophomore Anna Bowling has a teal ribbon pinned to the top of her backpack. She’s had it there since last year, when she picked it up as a freshman.
“I got it from the front service desk at my residence hall,” Bowling said. “They had baskets of them out for people to grab, and you could grab as many as you wanted and give them to friends.”
She said she’s kept hers there for so long because she wants to show solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
“It’s just such a relevant topic on our campus right now and I wanted a way to show survivors and people who have been impacted by what happened that I’m with them, I hear them and I want to help with the healing process in any way that I can,” Bowling said.
While the Nassar scandal was ongoing, Bowling said she was heartbroken. She grew up close to East Lansing and said she’s been part of the MSU community all her life.
“Having that whole tragedy be kind of branded with MSU now, it breaks my heart,” Bowling said.
Bowling pointed out how, over the past several months, the student body has made efforts to push for institutional change at the university.
“It’s also been really cool to see how the student body and the surrounding community has come together to support survivors and push to make the university a better place and the best it can be,” Bowling said.
Nursing freshman Claire McCormick found her teal ribbon in MSU’s Main Library. She also found a button while she was at work at Sparty’s in Snyder Hall.
McCormick said she didn’t know all of the details of the Nassar scandal because this is her first year at MSU. That didn’t stop her from putting the teal button and ribbon on her backpack to show support for the Nassar survivors.
“I just thought it would be nice to show support to the victims that were affected by ... Nassar,” McCormick said.
The Associated Students of MSU, SAP, POE, the Residence Halls Association and others have all played a role in distributing these ribbons, Schweda said.
“A lot of people are using it as a way to show solidarity and support ... as kind of a tribute to all survivors and survivors that are people that they know,” she said.
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That’s indicative of people trying to raise awareness for an issue campuses face across the nation, Schweda said.
“I really feel like people are using it as we move forward as a campus,” she said. “They act as a reminder not to forget.”
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