A student-led, grass-roots movement caught fire at the University of Texas in Austin last spring, illuminating sexual assault issues on many college campuses.
University administration, Austin officials, and local media quickly noticed the Not On My Campus campaign, then the real sign the movement was a success – students across the country launched NOMC chapters at their own universities.
The people behind NOMC weren’t activists. They were simply students who were passionate about solving a problem they knew too well.
But it takes more than passion to pull off a campaign like this one. So we sat down with Ellen Cocanougher*, a UT senior and one of NOMC’s key leaders, for her take on why it was so successful – plus her tips for anyone who wants to inspire a movement.
1. Start simple
When it comes to asking people to support your movement, it’s best to know exactly what you want them to do.
“We started with social media because we know that’s an easy way for ideas to spread,” Cocanougher explained.”
Then NOMC determined the three key things they wanted supporters to do: Take a pledge, snap a picture with ‘Not On My Campus’ written on their hand, and then post it on all their social media accounts.
2. Have the bigger picture in mind
The three steps were simple, but strategic. NOMC made sure they were asking supporters to do things that mattered the most.
“First we created the NOMC pledge,” Cocanougher said, “and we put a lot of time and effort into it because that’s really the core of the movement.”
For the image, NOMC wanted a common theme that was powerful and instantly recognizable. Finally, the group knew using social media would give NOMC the best chance to spread quickly.
3. Share plans with other groups in your community
NOMC went to big organizations around campus and shared their plans to launch the movement the following week. The strategy got their message in front of many students in a short amount of time, and led to a big boost in volunteers.
“We immediately had over 100 volunteers,” Cocanougher said. “They wanted to be part of creating [NOMC] and making it really work. They wanted to be a part of seeing it really spread -so that was highly motivating.”
Look for groups and organizations in your community that may help you reach out to potential volunteers, or might want to help with your movement.
4. Show off the members of your movement
It didn’t take long for NOMC to gain attention from the University, media, and local officials. Cocanougher attributes the group’s fast success to its members – a group of college students who felt very strongly about the culture surrounding sexual assault.
“I think people really caught on to it because it was a student-led movement. It wasn’t coming from the top down,” Cocanougher said. “They saw students really caring about an issue.”
When working for your cause, always look for opportunities to show off the people who’ve dedicated time and energy to help. Their stories are often the ones that will resonate with others.
5. Tell an inspirational story
Sexual assault is a tough subject to discuss – one of the main reasons NOMC wanted to bring it to the forefront.
“It is such a prevalent issue on college campuses,” Cocanougher said “They have either been indirectly affected family members or friends They’ve seen the affects that can have on a person.”
But prevalence doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to take a stand on a controversial issue. To encourage more people to join, the university group kept the spotlight on students who were committing to support survivors by signing the NOMC pledge. This strategy not only made sure supporters were educated about the issue, but also gave other students an immediate opportunity to get involved.
“It’s all about approaching it from their point of view. Finding a way to explain to people why this issue is important, and why it should matter to them,” Cocanougher said.
When deciding exactly how to communicate your cause, Cocanougher says the most important thing is to approach it with positivity and hope.
“Especially when you’re dealing with a cause that can be so hard to talk about and so negative all the time, it’s important approach it with positivity and with hope,” she said. “If you are offering hope to people they can see how a movement can really improve their lives and other people’s lives.”
Not On My Campus is a student-led movement to end the silence surrounding sexual assault and create a safe environment for all students at Texas.
*This author is related to the subject, Ellen Cocanougher
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