After Kayla Warner, senior in public relations, was nominated for Miss Homecoming, she began tossing around ideas for what her platform would be if she was chosen for Top Five. But none of the comfortable platforms felt right.
That’s when she began to sit down with her close friends and began praying about it. In the end, she picked a platform that she knew would be hard, but it was the right one. She decided her platform would be advocating for survivors of sexual assault — survivors like herself.
“I’ve kind of grappled with whether I should do this, should I put myself out there. Nothing else was sticking,” Warner said. “As a survivor of sexual assault, I firmly believe that what happened to me could have been stopped if everybody knew what these things were.”
On the concourse this week, Warner said she will raise awareness around affirmative consent and what that means, which is a topic she said is often ignored in sexual education courses in Alabama. As part of her platform, she is seeking signatures on a petition that will be delivered to the state Legislature, asking them to review the state’s sexual education and sexual assault policies.
“So many of these things could be stopped if we had proper sexual education and we knew what consent is,” Warner said. “We can actually have legitimate, comprehensive sexual education in Alabama and teach people what consent is rather than saying don’t have sex because no one will love you because that’s insane.”
The portion of Alabama law that deals with sexual education directs schools to emphasize abstinence as the “only completely effective protection against” unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Focusing on affirmative consent and safe sex would be a better method, Warner said.
“We want to be able to say that your students, your young people want you to do something about this,” Warner said. “Own up to it, and do something about it because this doesn’t need to happen to anybody else’s child. That’s what this opportunity means to me.”
Warner said she didn’t even realize she had been sexually assaulted until nearly six months after the fact, when she went to a “Take Back the Night” event and heard other young women sharing their stories. She had not even told either of her parents until Christmas break last year.
“I was sitting there and I was listening, and I realized that is what happened to me. This is it. I just started crying,” Warner said. In that room, surrounded by supporters and allies, Warner said she felt loved and comforted.
Warner said she hopes she can make freshmen and other students on campus aware of the resources, like Title IX officers, Safe Harbor and WE.auburn, available to them in the hopes that she can make other’s lives better than hers.
“As a freshman or anyone on this campus, hearing someone who is a figure, hearing this as someone’s platform would make me feel less alone,” Warner said. “If one person feels a little less alone or that there are people around them that can help or knows what resources they have, my job is done.”
Warner, who also plans to reach out to students at Alabama to get a similar petition started there, said she isn’t worried about the title or the crown that she’d be given if she becomes Miss Homecoming, but is instead focused on spreading her platform in the hopes of making Auburn and the state of Alabama a little bit better for those who will follow.
“It would be great to have my name called Saturday, but if it isn't, it’s not going to stop me,” Warner said.