Editor’s Note: Sydney Brun-Ozuna is a former employee for The Daily Nebraskan.
Reliving an experience with sexual assault to help educate others takes an exceptionally brave person, according to Bailey Bond, community engagement coordinator for the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. One of those brave individuals, she said, is Sydney Brun-Ozuna.
Brun-Ozuna, a junior journalism and German double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, helped form Dear UNL, a recognized student organization made up of survivors of sexual misconduct and their supporters. This month, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center recognized Brun-Ozuna as Nebraska’s 2020 Visionary Voice Award winner for her work with Dear UNL.
The Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence nominated Brun-Ozuna for the award, which is issued to one nominee in the state who shows oustanding work in an effort to end sexual violence, according to the resource center’s website.
“That work is very emotionally draining to relive your own trauma for the hope that a system will respond,” Bond said. “That’s incredibly brave.”
According to Brun-Ozuna, Dear UNL was created to express discontent with the current way UNL handles sexual misconduct cases through Title IX. Sexual violence and harrassment of any kind is a violation of Title IX, however, Brun-Ozuna said that the policy does not represent the best interests of victims.
“I have come to understand through my many interactions with the UNL administration about sexual misconduct and about Title IX that it doesn’t seem that they have the intention to actually fix things,” she said.
Bond said Dear UNL has been on the coalition's radar since its formation, and its staff is always looking for ways to support the group. She first met Brun-Ozuna at a panel the coalition hosted that featured Dear UNL members. She said she was impressed and moved by Brun-Ozuna’s story.
“When this nomination came around, we knew that the thing that had really inspired us the most within this past year was Dear UNL, and that brought us to Sydney,” Bond said.
While Brun-Ozuna said she is honored by the award, she still sees a long way to go in the fight against the mishandling of sexual harassment and misconduct cases at UNL. She said she hopes this national recognition will put pressure on UNL to take Dear UNL more seriously and change how it handles Title IX cases.
“It hopefully means that UNL knows it’s not just us watching them,” Brun-Ozuna said. “More and more people are seeing what they’re doing, and hopefully they will realize that they can’t keep moving us in circles because people are seeing it.”
Michelle Miller, the coalition’s sexual violence program coordinator, said that in her time with the coalition, this was the first time it has nominated someone who did not work for one of its programs.
“We’ve been honored to work with Sydney and work with Dear UNL in general,” Miller said. “It’s super inspiring to see someone so confidently advocate for what they feel like they need and deserve.”
Both Miller and Bond said they hoped this recognition would let Dear UNL members know they are not alone in their fight for justice.
“I hope that this validates her experience, and that Dear UNL can see that they’re not in this alone,” Bond said. “There are other organizations out there that hear them, other people that hear them, and they want to center the work they are doing.”
According to Brun-Ozuna, Dear UNL has plans to further advocate for systemic change within the university to ensure better representation for victims of sexual violence and misconduct.
“We have a few ideas for different ways to put pressure on the university, as well as to get our voices heard on the Title IX collaborative committee,” she said. “I don’t think the committee is a lost cause, I just think that people on the committee need to know this is happening.”