It's a rather jarring statistic. One in five women, and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted at college, and the first six weeks of college is when freshmen have the highest likelihood of being raped. These are just two of the insights that helped create a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of this issue on campuses and put more responsibility on the institutions of higher learning themselves.
"Unacceptable Acceptance Letters" takes the age-old source of stress and joy—opening those college envelopes containing acceptance or rejection—and puts a dark twist on an otherwise happy moment. The campaign, by agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), was inspired by the involvement of GS&P’s executive creative director and partner Margaret Johnson, and production company PRETTYBIRD's cofounder and president Kerstin Emhoff, with The Hunting Ground, a doc chronicling the rape epidemic on American college campuses, and featuring Johnson’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Every year students upload these ‘acceptance letter reaction’ videos," says Johnson. "The idea came when we thought about this moment of pure happiness contrasted with the horrible reality that faces so many students. Would they be this happy if they really knew what they were accepting?"
Agency creative Laura Petruccelli says one of the goals was to get beyond the stats. "Working with real survivors and hearing their stories was as challenging as it was inspirational," says Petruccelli. "We’ve all read a lot of stats around this issue—it quickly hit us that those numbers represent incredible people with powerful stories."
The campaign launched over the weekend in the Harvard Crimson during Accepted Students Weekend, and will also include a letter in USA Today from Wagatwe Wanjuki, one of the many sexual-assault survivors who stood beside Lady Gaga as she sang The Hunting Ground theme song at the 2016 Oscars. The letters encourage students to demand accountability from their colleges by asking them to sign a petition. In partnership with equal rights advocacy group Ultraviolet on social media, the goal is to gain more signatures supporting survivors and to hold hundreds of colleges accountable for behavior that is unacceptable.
"We’re proud to be part of this movement for change alongside Pretty Bird and Ultra Violet," says Johnson. "We wanted to arm students with more than facts. We wanted to give them the tools to demand protection from their schools. Every signature will be sent to colleges across America demanding accountability."