Last week in a crowded classroom full of my fellow Ultimate Frisbee teammates, I learned how to prevent sexual assault. This prevention and bystander intervention training, hosted by Students Against Sexual Assault, was a voluntary but important part of our bonding and education process.
When GW announced last fall that it would be taking part in the “It’s On Us” campaign, I was skeptical that the announcement represented anything more than an eagerness for good press. I was also unsure about how effective student-led efforts like SASA’s trainings would be. I wasn’t convinced there was much we could do to change the culture that results in sexual assault, since it feels so much bigger than us.
But over the past year, students and officials have worked hard to further the dialogue on sexual assault. Many student groups on campus, including my team, have joined the conversation. Over time, I’ve realized that sexual assault prevention trainings represent a crucial aspect of GW’s battle against sexual assault – and everyone should be taking part. But once you leave the training, it’s important to keep fighting back against the culture that results in sexual assault on college campuses.
In recent months, SASA has seen a surge in interest for its sexual assault prevention workshops, along with some financial support from students last spring. Although many think that the training is focused solely on preventing sexual assaults just before or as they occur, the presentation I saw last week demonstrated that the impact of the trainings can extend far beyond preventing sexual assault in the moment.
The training began with an activity that educated the attendees on the statistics specific to GW. After covering everything from sexual harassment numbers to campus resources, SASA expanded the discussion to more cultural aspects of campus life regarding consent. The broad scope of the training emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to stopping sexual violence.
Kristen Houser, the chief public affairs officer for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told me that bystander intervention is about more than just stopping sexual assaults.
“It’s really about teaching people the skills and practicing the skills to intervene when they see other things going on that are not necessarily illegal, but that can contribute to a climate that people who commit sexual assaults might use to justify or minimize or sanitize their actions,” Houser said.
It’s vital that the groups showing interest in the training on campus – notably fraternities and sororities – understand the main message regarding prevention and bystander intervention. But they also need to be committed to addressing the seemingly insignificant actions that create a culture that excuses sexual assault.
The SASA presentation mentioned that a culture supportive of sexual violence can be perpetuated by other forms of non-physical violence that negatively affect the environment on campus.
“It’s not illegal to make cat-calls or rape jokes, or it may not even be illegal to sexually harass someone. Those things all happen,” Houser said. “And if nobody speaks out against them, there is an implied consensus that there’s not a problem with it.”
It’s important to go to these trainings. Teaching us to protect our friends in situations where sexual assault could occur is just part of the education gap that SASA is trying to fill. But the more complex and arduous aspect of the training is in many ways more important.
Every student group on campus could simply attend these trainings, and nothing would change. Sexual assault could still happen on our campus because sitting in a crowded classroom for an hour isn’t enough. Shifting the underlying culture on campus will take extreme commitment and a willingness to overcome the propensity for students to brush aside seemingly minute jokes or comments.
We have to fight back against the culture of silence on our campus. We need to call each other out, stand up for one another and look out for anything that makes an environment feel hostile.
Several weeks ago, I was skeptical of a student-run training’s ability to shift the discussion regarding sexual assault on campus. Now, I know that I was right. Students’ willingness to address these concerns cannot be cultivated in any hour-long training – so instead, the commitment must come genuinely from the students themselves.
As individuals, we must be willing to work actively in order to create that atmosphere of acceptance. So I urge you: Go to SASA and complete the training. It will help you become an anti-sexual assault advocate on campus, but you can’t stop there. Help GW move from training, to a more complete cultural shift.
Kendrick Baker, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.