Student leaders: Online sexual violence prevention training isn’t enough

Media Credit: Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Laura Zillman, vice president of Students Against Sexual Assault, said student sexual violence prevention trainings should be completed in person, rather than through online modules.

Student leaders are upping their push for GW to create a mandatory, in-person sexual violence prevention workshop after officials committed to rolling out the program in an online module — a format the students say will be ineffective.

The Class of 2019 will be required to complete an online course centered on sexual violence awareness education, though a groundswell of student support has called for in-person training to occur at Colonial Inauguration. Student leaders say mandating the online trainings will be difficult to enforce and GW could miss a chance to improve the campus climate.

They say holding the trainings online will not give students an opportunity to put a face to the administrators to whom they could one day report abuses. Sexual abuse cases are among some of the most underreported crimes in the country, and student leaders say having face-to-face conversations before an incident occurs could help increase the rate of reporting.

Ninety-two percent of students who voted in last month’s Student Association election voted in favor of having a mandatory sexual violence education session at CI.

Student Association President Nick Gumas and Executive Vice President Avra Bossov said they will continue to push administrators for a mandatory session at CI.

“We are certainly not confident that the things being proposed address the issues that the referendum sought to resolve, particularly the issue of the red zone and making sure that all students have the same basic level of education,” Gumas said. The red zone is a term used to describe the first six weeks of college — a time when freshmen are most likely to experience sexual assault.

Gumas said he would support holding part of the training online if it would be accompanied by an in-person portion.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said the online course will supplement programs covering sexual assault resources offered during existing sessions at CI. The program will give students information about sexual assault and tools to help prevent incidents, while outlining campus resources.

In recent years, new students have already been required to complete MyStudentBody, an online course with lessons about alcohol, drugs and sexual violence. Konwerski declined to comment on how a new module would differ from MyStudentBody. The University also offers bystander intervention training, which covers similar areas, for those interested.

Konwerski also declined to comment on which groups within the University are working to create the trainings, how administrators plan to make the module mandatory or how much the program costs. Officials have not yet determined which company will run the module.

“Comprehensive and multifaceted training and education programs focusing on sexual assault prevention have and will continue to be offered at the upcoming Colonial Inauguration orientation program and in the upcoming academic year,” Konwerski said in a University release last month. Konwerski declined through a spokeswoman to sit for an interview or respond to further questions in an email.

In February, Gumas asked the Board of Trustees to support creating a mandatory training session at CI. Gumas said then that at last year’s CI, only one student attended an optional session about safety and security, which included sexual assault prevention education.

Media Credit: File Photo by Elizabeth Lane | Hatchet Photographer
Student Association President Nick Gumas urged student leaders at last month’s SA meeting to continue to push University administrators to create mandatory in-person sexual violence prevention trainings during Colonial Inauguration.

The SA has worked with GW Students Against Sexual Assault and student life administrators to compare other universities’ training programs to find the one that would be the best fit for GW, SASA members said.

Several SASA leaders found that about 70 universities across the country have implemented stand-alone sexual violence prevention training sessions at their freshman orientation programs, including GW’s peer schools American and Georgetown universities — a fact that they recently presented to Konwerski.

SASA’s vice president, Laura Zillman, said in the best programs, students complete in-person trainings either before or after completing online modules.

“The unifying factor at other schools was that there was always some kind of touchpoint at orientation that everything else kind of built off of, and GW would be kind of lacking that,” Zillman said.

Zillman said SASA leaders began “throwing their weight” behind implementing stand-alone training after the University released the results of a campus climate survey in February.

About 20 percent of female freshmen surveyed said they felt unsafe on campus at night and 80 percent of students said they did not know how to contact the Title IX office, which deals with student and faculty concerns about sexual harassment. SASA members saw the results as an opportunity to push for more education.

“We were able to say, ‘Look at these numbers. This is a problem,’” Zillman said. “This deserves prioritization from the administration. We need a clear message moving forward that this is something that GW takes very seriously.”

SASA Co-President Ariella Neckritz said in-person sessions are effective in centralizing how students learn about sexual violence, instead of spreading training throughout CI and including it at residence hall floor meetings or Greek life meetings.

“Freshman orientation programs are to provide students with common understanding, shared language and greater information about resources available,” Neckritz said.

SA and SASA members also worked with Greek life leaders to lead the charge for sexual assault education within their own chapters and national organizations, Panhellenic Council president Mollie Bowman said.

Bowman said she hopes the training is presented to small groups of students during CI and that she and other campus leaders continue trainings once students come back to campus in the fall.

“I want to do something where we can do a reflection on it in chapters or with new members – some kind of something that keep the conversation going,” Bowman said.

Kristina Houck, the wellness education and prevention program coordinator at the University of Portland, said bystander intervention and prevention education for incoming freshmen are most effective when they are first presented to current students and faculty.

“Some of what we say is that this is part of our culture, and we didn’t want to say this is a part of our culture at freshman orientation without upperclassmen agreeing with that,” Houck said.

University of Wisconsin-Madison requires students to complete online video education and prevention training before classes begin, and students will have holds put on their accounts if they do not, violence prevention specialist Samantha Johnson said. Johnson manages the first-year sexual assault education program at University of Wisconsin.

“Our program outlines all of the resources if they experience victimization, so before you even get here you get the lay of the land for what resources there are,” Johnson said.

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