'Set the Expectation' encourages men to end sexual violence

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.-- As part of the Gold Standard Program at Notre Dame, guest speakers from all walks of life are brought to campus to talk with the Irish football team.

Past speakers have included NFL players, Notre Dame graduates who are successful in the business world and financial gurus.

This summer, the program went in a very different direction by bringing in a sexual assault survivor to share her story.

“The next morning, I found my clothes. I went to the hospital and got a rape kit. I went to the police and reported it. I did everything I was supposed to do,” said Brenda Tracy, in her speech to the team.

In 1998, Tracy went to a party near the campus of Oregon State University.

That night, Tracy was brutally sexually assaulted by four football players over the course of six hours.

“I need you to understand that this is a vicious crime that affects a survivor for the rest of their lives. Yeah, I’m very graphic about what I say and my hope is that I humanize myself and humanize other survivors by doing that,” Tracy said. “It’s really horrible. Really horrible.”

Twenty-one years after her sexual assault, Tracy spoke to the Notre Dame Football Team.

“She came in and her story just floored everybody. There were guys in tears here, listening to her story and how vividly she told it, every detail and her experience, how it affects her life after, far after, and it’s been years since her experience. I think that perspective shifted how guys thought about it a lot,” said Notre Dame offensive lineman Hunter Bivin.

Tracy’s goal, though, is not to place blame on men, but to call them to action, to be the difference.

“I say to them, ‘I’m not here because I think you’re the problem. I’m here because I know that you’re the solution.’ And you can literally see them sort of exhale, their shoulders drop and they lean in, and they listen,” Tracy said.

“Most of the time when you talk about sexual assault and sexual violence prevention and awareness, it is a finger pointing at the guy. ‘It’s your fault, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” Bivin said. “The way Brenda put it was, ‘if women had a solution to this, we would have already done it. It wouldn’t be an issue.’ So it’s really up to our guys to be the solution.”

Tracy has created a nonprofit organization called “Set The Expectation,” which she hopes will empower men to end sexual violence.

“When we’re out, we should be the leaders of this campus and be able to lead the way for a lot of people, so when we go out and people see us, people should feel safe and that’s the way it should be. That’s what really hits home,” said Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book. “She was a great speaker and our whole team truly loved it.”

“I definitely felt moved. It almost didn’t seem real. She definitely opened our eyes to just the power we have to make an impact on this campus. We can’t just let our power and our voice go to waste,” said Notre Dame defensive end Khalid Kareem.

Tracy thinks her message really made an impact on the football team.

“I think I got like a hundred hugs that day,” Tracy said. “They lined up and they wanted to hug me and take pictures with me and thank me. They told me their own stories and they talked about their own families and maybe some of the tragedies they’ve experienced themselves,” Tracy said.

Tracy uses the night of her sexual assault to create change, all while sharing a message of hope.

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