J-School student wins Webby Award with consent campaign


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In its earliest days, Project Consent was only a single Instagram page with an enormous goal: end sexual assault. Sara Li, a junior in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said her goal in creating the project was to convey very clearly what consent is — and isn’t.

Three years later, the ideas that sprouted from an Instagram account in Li’s bedroom came to life in an ad campaign created in a partnership with Toronto ad firm Juniper Park. The campaign was marketed to college students and became a movement by crafting an online community for sexual assault survivors while educating Project Consent followers on how simple consent can and should be.

The campaign went viral, and it won a 2017 Webby Award for Best Video Campaign in the Webby for Good category. It was an apt award for Project Consent, as its online reach was crucial in winning the award.

“Every day people took a look at our campaign and decided that it was the best because of the message we were sending and the way that we executed that message,” said Li, who is studying strategic communication at the J-School.

The videos Juniper Park and Project Consent created revolved around animated body parts — including male and female genitalia — portrayed as men and women in realistic real-world scenes.

“If it’s not yes, it’s no,” one of the video ads for the campaign stated, aiming to simplify the message without alienating any of its potential audience. It also used the #ConsentIsSimple hashtag, another theme that was weaved throughout the campaign.

“I loved the reactions to it,” Li said. “It was a range from ‘I love this!’ to ‘Oh my god WTF’ and it was incredible. Mostly it got people talking about why we — as a whole — are so afraid to talk about sex and consent and sexual assault. And it made people aware that they're uncomfortable talking about it.” 

The campaign beat out others from massive corporations such as Amazon and Dr. Pepper, both far larger than Project Consent, which is still considered a grass-roots nonprofit organization. The impact from social media combined with the Webby’s fan-voting system helped Project Consent overcome that gap.

“People did vote for us,” Li said. “And I think that [meant] more than just winning by a panel of judges… People genuinely resonated with it.”

The campaign was featured on BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Complex and a number of other websites and blogs. At the ceremony for the award in New York in May, Li met executives from HBO, partners from YouTube, and editors from some of the largest American publications, all of whom were invested in using the internet to better the world, just like she and her team at Project Consent have aimed to do.

After winning the award, Li was named to Ink Magazine’s “30 Under 30” recognition, where she was elected by peers and chosen by Ink to represent the brightest minds in the Kansas City metropolitan area under the age of 30. She was the second-youngest member of the “30 Under 30” selections, and she was selected not just for Project Consent but for all of her work.

“I refuse to be labeled as simply an activist or writer — my career is extremely broad, and I have a multitude of projects going on at all times,” Li told Ink. “I don’t necessarily have a dream job, but as long as I’m making a difference and making people laugh, that’s all that matters.”

Li is also in the process of starting a podcast titled “OMFG Sara,” aiming to bring commentary and humor to the things that happen in her life.

— Christian Hardy is a senior from Derby, Kansas, studying news and information.