A Back-to-School Message From Celebs: Without Consent, Sex Is Rape

Actors Zoe Saldana and John Cho bring their star power to the White House's latest 'It's on Us' PSA.
Sep 1, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

There are no “Blurred Lines”—and no Justin Bieber–style “What Do You Mean?” confusion—when it comes to the White House’s commitment to stopping rape on the nation’s college campuses.

On Tuesday, the “It’s on Us” campaign, launched a year ago by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to raise awareness and educate students about preventing sexual violence, released its third celeb-filled PSA. Actors Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Josh Hutcherson and members of the band Haim send viewers one clear message: “Without consent, sex isn't sex. It's rape.”

The PSA, titled “The One Thing,” is designed to “reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as his or her responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it,” according to a statement from the White House.

The timing of the PSA comes as college students are entering the “red zone,” the time of year when they are most vulnerable to sexual assault. “Students arrive and you have a new environment, new social circle and the fear that goes with new expectations,” Robert S. Flowers, vice president for student affairs at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, told The New York Times last summer. “That can lead to experimentation, including excessive drinking and attendant problems.”

A poll released in June by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one in five college women is a victim of sexual assault. Rape culture can sometimes manifest itself at the nation’s higher education institutions in ways that can seem harmless. In late August, Sigma Nu fraternity members at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, ignited a firestorm of controversy by welcoming first-year women to campus with enormous banners that read “Rowdy and fun: Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop-off,” and “Go ahead and drop off Mom too.”

The school’s administration had the signs taken down and reaffirmed its commitment to ending sexual assault, and the national fraternity suspended the chapter. But some people blamed the “PC police” for the crackdown and wondered what else people would expect from a fraternity.

RELATED: College Cracks Down on Fraternity’s ‘Freshman Daughter Drop Off’ Banners

Meanwhile, according to the White House, 300 schools have brought the “It’s on Us” campaign to campus, and almost 220,000 people have taken its pledge to end sexual assault at colleges and universities.