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Photo Courtesy of Penn Athletics

With 33 varsity teams on board with a crucial message, Penn Athletics made history by becoming the first Ivy League school to promote an "It's On Us" campaign against sexual assault.

Perhaps the most significant achievement Penn claims is being the first university in America. While that is no small feat, Penn Athletics is reaching another milestone this week.

On Monday, Penn Athletics became the first Ivy League athletic program to take the “It’s On Us” pledge against sexual violence, an awareness campaign launched in September 2014 by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to help end sexual assault on American college campuses.

The NCAA and 11 major athletic conferences have all taken the “It’s On Us” pledge; however, the Ivy League is not among them. Until Penn, not a single Ancient Eight athletic program had spoken out against sexual assault in such a public manner.

The University of Pennsylvania signed the pledge and launched its own “It’s On Us” campaign in partnership with Penn Violence Prevention in September 2015, a move that coincided with the release of findings from the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.

According to the survey, 27 percent of Penn undergraduate women reported nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching since entering college. Additionally, just 12.6 percent of Penn’s student body knew where to report a sexual assault.

Although the AAU survey did not give specific statistics for how sexual violence affects the athletic community, recent incidents involving Harvard men’s soccer, Princeton men’s swimming and Columbia wrestling prove its prevalence in Ivy League sports. After seeing team after team face consequences for detrimental behavior, Ashley Marcus, a junior on the women’s fencing team and member of Penn Anti-Violence Educations (PAVE), was motivated to act.

“I’m someone who has been personally affected by sexual violence and have done a lot of work, in Florida specifically, with sexual violence legislation,” she explained. “That intersection between my passion for sexual violence prevention education and my identity as a student athlete just really made sense in terms of bringing these things together.”

According to the junior, it was important that Penn take a stand against sexual violence given the dynamics inherent in sports.

“Athletics can be an environment that historically has bred a very heteronormative hypermasculine environment. Doing so, issues of sexual violence have largely been swept under the rug,” she said. “And that’s not okay.”

Marcus’s first goal was to get Penn Athletics to sign the “It’s On Us” pledge.

“I decided that Penn should be a leader and step up and stand against sexual violence as something that is unacceptable,” she said. “Here at Penn Athletics we as student-athletes recognize that we have the power to make a change here.”

To make her goal a reality, Marcus approached Rachel Hiller, the Director of Compliance and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee coordinator, and Lauren Caminiti, the Student Development Coordinator, about the pledge. The duo quickly approved the idea and encouraged Marcus to consider making a video to enter in the “It’s On Us” video contest.

Over the course of the winter, Marcus wrote a script and helped produce a video with Kevin Clark, the assistant director of video content for Penn Sports Network, that features athletes from 17 of Penn’s 33 varsity programs.

“I’m hoping that it will spark conversation around other Ivy League campuses to get involved,” Marcus said.

The video Marcus helped to produce launched on Monday, April 3, to kick off a “Week of Awareness” that coincides with the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In addition to promoting the video on social media, Penn Athletics will sponsor a booth on Locust Walk over the course of the week and at the women’s lacrosse game against Dartmouth on Saturday, April 8, where passersby can get information about campus resources and take the “It’s On Us” pledge.

“This isn’t something where we’re just going to be putting the video out there, and then it’s done,” Marcus said.

Penn Athletics already requires all teams to attend annual sexual violence prevention training sessions hosted by PAVE, many of which Marcus administered to her student-athlete peers in the fall. In the coming 2017-18 academic year, Marcus is hoping to expand those discussions and facilitate even more conversation within the athletic community as a whole and on each team about sexual violence prevention.

“We’re not exempt, we’re not above other universities,” Marcus said.

“So let’s have this conversation, let’s do something, let’s get out there and better our community.”