Students at the University of New Mexico received free haircuts and signed a pledge to end sexual assault on campus Friday as part of a sexual assault awareness campaign in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The Associated Students of UNM hosted seven barbers and hair stylists at Shear Empowerment, an event held in the Student Union Building, which was the first of its kind at UNM.
According to a press release by ASUNM, bringing hair stylists was meant to reflect the increasing recognition that sexual assault and domestic violence survivors often confide in their hair stylist or barber.
“Salons in general and barber shops in general are pretty frequent reporting sites for sexual assault and domestic violence. You sit in a chair for a while, you end up talking to someone, and sometimes you end up telling them things you don’t always tell other people,” said Alice Vernon, deputy chief of staff for ASUNM and one of the organizers of the event.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the event was held as part of a larger ASUNM initiative to combat sexual assault on the UNM campus.
Noah Michelsohn, ASUNM director of communication, said the pledge students signed on Friday was part of the national It’s On Us campaign started by former Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is our biggest event of the year for that campaign,” Michelsohn said. “Over the year we’ve had over 2,000 students sign this pledge, and today students who sign it are able to get free lunch from a food truck outside and a free haircut on campus.”
Michelsohn said the issue of sexual assault is important to him as an older brother to a little sister who just began her freshman year of college.
“I just want to make sure people who have little siblings on this campus and people who have children on this campus feel safe knowing that their student is going to school every day,” Michelsohn said.
According to a study from the Association of American Universities, 23 percent of female undergraduate students reported an incident involving attempted or completed sexual assault. Vernon said she feels a personal connection to the issue of sexual assault because of this statistic.
“I know people who have been affected by this, and I think everyone deserves to be taken seriously when we talk about it, and it’s important to keep up this dialogue following ‘Times Up’ and ‘Me Too’ movements,” Vernon said.
Siobhaen Zgela, a hairstylist at Square Root Salon who participated in the event, said she wanted to donate her time and skills to the cause of sexual assault awareness.
She said that while she has interacted with numerous clients who have experienced some form of sexual assault or domestic violence, her goal is to help people regain self-esteem.
“I just like to bring confidence to people — and happiness,” Zgela said. “And all the time life is stressful, so it’s nice to have time where you can just sit, relax and feel good about yourself, and so that’s what I like to give to people.”
Tom Hanlon is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.