The Title IX office is trying to educate more graduate students on sexual assault prevention by offering them a specialized online course.
This fall was the first time that graduate students were included in online trainings, officials confirmed this week. Experts in sexual assault prevention said that graduate students have different experiences with sexual violence than undergraduate students and require unique trainings.
Carrie Ross, the assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response, said in an email that graduate students often live and work away from GW and may have different family and relationship structures than undergraduates.
“Graduate students are a unique part of our campus community in that a majority of their lives tend to happen off campus,” Ross said. “It is important to understand that their daily lives vary from a traditional undergraduate student living on campus in a residence hall.”
Graduate students outnumbered undergraduates by about 4,000 students in 2015, but many take online courses and almost half live off campus, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
Graduate students can elect to take a version of “Think About it” offered through CampusClarity, Ross said. Undergraduate students are required to take a similar online course.
The program is recommended for all graduate students but is not mandatory, she said.
“We have been pleased with the level of participation to date, and the training remains open through the end of the semester,” Ross said.
The online program is only one part of the institution’s overall focus on sexual assault prevention, which includes working with the Division of Student Affairs and the Center for Student Engagement to deliver educational sessions during during Welcome Week and throughout the year, Ross said.
Gavin Coble, the director of policy and outreach for Students Against Sexual Assault, said the organization has recently begun discussing ways they can work more with graduate students. He said that even though many graduate students live off campus and can feel disconnected from the campus community, the University should still educate them on the University’s resources.
“We want to make sure they don’t feel separated from the system,” Coble said. “You could be 28 years old but if something happens to you, there is an office for you, an outlet for you, there is somewhere for you to go.”
The results of the University’s second unwanted sexual behavior were released late last month, but officials did not differentiate responses from graduate and undergraduate students. Of the 715 students who completed this year’s survey, about 55 percent were graduate students.
In the 2014 survey — the first of its kind at GW — most responses were broken down by graduate and undergraduate answers. Officials are now reevaluating their approach to the survey and are considering conducting it every two years, instead of annually.
Coble noted that the majority of respondents to the campus climate survey were graduate students, who have a “whole different layout” of how the University works. The survey did not indicate how many graduate students completed their undergraduate degrees at GW.
“You have to be careful how you give out these surveys because you don’t want your numbers to not be a factual representation of what is actually happening,” Coble said. “I would like to expand on that especially in terms of the survey results.”
The results from the first campus climate survey fueled student leaders’ efforts to call for mandatory in-person sexual assault prevention trainings at freshman orientation, which were expanded this year to include individualized in-person workshops.
Tracey Vitchers, a member of the advisory board of Culture of Respect, said some graduate students may be married or living with partners and could need more information on interpersonal and domestic violence.
She added that officials need data on these specific communities to properly address issues and develop effective programming.
“It’s really important to understand and have that specific data because without that specific data, it is going to be really difficult to create community needs serving prevention programming,” Vitchers said.
The universities of Iowa, California, Connecticut and Florida, as well as Rice and Clark universities, all require sexual assault education for incoming graduate students.
Becca Don, a behavioral health consultant at the University of Iowa who coordinates the mandatory sexual assault prevention programming for graduate students, said that undergraduate and graduate students are required to complete separate online sexual assault education programs at her university before they begin classes.
“No one likes to be talked down to,” Don said. “So if graduate students think they are competing the same program as undergraduate students who don’t yet have a concept of ‘the college experience,’ I believe they would be less likely to really take in the information that is presented.”