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MSU Students spark a movement - Go Teal campaign supports survivors and seeks to transform campus culture

On the first floor of the Communication Arts and Sciences building at Michigan State University, a poster hangs on the wall lined with 156 teal ribbons. Behind each one lies the name of a sexual abuse survivor who came forward to testify in the Nassar hearing. A group of forward-thinking students put it there.

It’s no secret the Spartan community has been shaken. Determined to pick up the pieces, many students have taken to the streets in protest, while others appeared at administration meetings or adorned the campus—and themselves—with teal in a display of solidarity.

For a group of advertising students, that color became the inspiration for a new movement, one that would applaud survivors for their courage, invite interaction from the community and demand the transformation of an entire culture. One that began with a poster covered in ribbons. 

Seniors Amanda McCafferty, Larraine Fu, Carlie Wirebaugh, Tianyi Xie and alumna Yi Rong called the campaign Go Teal, and it’s spreading like wildfire.

Going Teal

Standing in front of the poster, one can’t help but reach for a teal ribbon. As you pull it away from the wall, a survivor’s name is unveiled. 

“You’re revealing and acknowledging their strength,” says McCafferty. “You pull off Lindsey Lemke’s ribbon and then you’re wearing it and you’re repping her, saying, ‘I’m acknowledging your strength and your voice and I stand with you.’”

Speak Up posters

As the movement gains momentum, the Go Teal team continues to be surprised by the extent of its impact. 

“It’s starting to go into this whole other realm that we didn’t expect,” says McCafferty. “The survivors are seeing the movement and are being inspired by it when really, we’re the ones inspired by them.” 

Lemke, who spoke out at the Nassar hearing, has publicly supported Go Teal on social media. After getting a direct message from a student who picked her ribbon off the poster, she tweeted about the ribbon poster and its message. 

The movement has garnered attention and support on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The campaign expanded to include video, posters and an interactive display in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences

Sparking a Movement

Go Teal began as a concept for one of Advertising and Public Relations Professor of Practice Ross Chowles’ Friday Idea-a-Thons. Fu, Xie and Rong proposed a video of a flower wilting that could then be played in reverse—a metaphor meant to embody the survivors’ evolution into voices of power. Chowles recognized the capacity for this campaign and urged the students to execute it.

“I believe the only way we can move forward from this crisis is if the students get involved and get active,” says Chowles. “I think their ideas are powerful and sincere.” 

Thanks to her copywriting skills, McCafferty was invited to join the team, and Wirebaugh soon followed after proposing a campaign idea involving teal lipstick and a call to speak out. The five women began collaborating not only to execute their visions, but also to promote their message emphasizing the importance of sexual assault awareness, prevention and response. 

“It’s not just a one-off campaign, and that’s what we’re trying to express,” says McCafferty. “This isn’t an advertising campaign; we’re not trying to sell product. It’s a movement.” 

Shining a Light

The team is also looking at more ways to present their message to people daily. The notion of a teal lightbulb was originally discussed as an idea for another poster, but evolved into a plan to distribute the light bulbs to houses off campus.

“How cool would it be to be walking home alone one night and you see an entire street lit up?” says McCafferty. “Having the teal light symbolizes that the entire street is against sexual assault and they have joined in on this movement. You automatically know what kind of people they are.”

Woman with teal lipstick
Carlie Wirebaugh puts teal lipstick on Camile Molina.

So far, the team has changed their neighbors’ lightbulbs and hopes to offer them to more houses in the future. Chowles donated $40 of his own funds toward the purchase of the first bulbs after the idea was proposed to him. Once again, the inspiration stemmed from the survivors themselves. 

“It only takes one to spark a movement, and that’s exactly what happened,” says McCafferty. “One survivor spoke out and then we saw hundreds follow. That’s what it’s all about. We want that to continue. We want sexual assault to be eliminated.” 

The group is hoping to create a culture in which victims are confident that they can speak out without fear and know that their community is going to stand with them. 

Creating Change

Go Teal was born because five students wanted to amplify awareness on Michigan State’s campus. They wanted to create a network of students who support, acknowledge and advocate for survivors. They wanted to become a movement for change.

MSU Students with teal ribbons
From left: Larraine Fu, Amanda McCafferty, Tlayani Xie, Carlie Wirebaugh, Yi Rong.

“I hope that all people—not only Spartans, but all those who see our campaign—realize the importance of sexual assault awareness, prevention and response,” says Rong. “I hope all the survivors can feel supported.”

For Wirebaugh, being part of this movement means standing up for those who have been ignored for far too long. 

“I do this for those who have gone through an unbelievable amount of suffering in hope that this conversation will no longer be turned a blind eye to,” says Wirebaugh. “It should be discussed, protected and assaulters should be reprimanded. We need to create a world where sexual assault is not tolerated. This is only the beginning. This conversation will no longer be silenced.” 

Teal ribbons are available on campus at the Wilson Road entrance of the Communication Arts and Sciences Building, with more locations planned in coming weeks.

For updates on the Go Teal campaign and for ways to get involved, follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Story by Kaitlin Dudlets, Communication Arts and Sciences student

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