Friday, April 28, 2017

Trinity Needs a More Proactive Approach to Title IX

By CAMPBELL NORTH  ’17 

EDITOR IN CHIEF

From Jan. 2016 to present, students at Trinity College experienced four incidents of sexual assault deemed forcible rape, one incident of sexual assault deemed fondling, two incidents of uncategorized sexual violence, three incidents of dating violence, one incident of partner violence, four instances of sexual harassment and one instance of stalking.

Over the course of their college careers, between 20 and 25 percent of college women and 4 percent of college men report incidents of sexual assault.  While Trinity’s report is not as severe as some larger schools, a record of 25 sexual violence incidents on a campus of 2,300 students is still disheartening.

However it is important to note that these numbers have not been reduced for lack of trying. In the past year, the College has made genuine efforts to reduce incidents, including appointing a Title IX coordinator, two deputy Title IX coordinators, holding training for relevant faculty and staff and requiring students to complete bystander training.

Despite these efforts, a culture of sexual assault still persists on campus. One of the main reasons that institutions of higher education struggle to reduce incidents of sexual assault is because students arrive for their freshman year already conditioned by certain cultural norms of sexism entrenched in American society.

This means that from the first moment students arrive on campus, myths of sexual assault are already ingrained into their minds. Such myths include victim blaming, assumptions that most sexual assault allegations are falsely reported, assumptions that drug and alcohol consumption hampers a legitimate claim of a sexual assault incident and that sexual assault that occurs between friends or acquaintances does not count.

This is not to say that students intend to be ignorant or sexist. These myths are so established and inherent in American society that, regardless of an institution’s genuine efforts, incidents of sexual assault still occur and often go underreported. Some researchers claim that only 5 percent of sexual assault incidents ever get reported.

Institutions must work to falsify these well-established myths and break down cultural norms that perpetuate sexual assault. Students who survive sexual assault may struggle to excel academically and flourish socially. Research on the academic impact of sexual assault finds that survivors of sexual assault rarely perform at prior academic levels, drop or frequently miss classes, socially withdraw and often are subject to increased risk of depression, self-harm, substance abuse and other mental health afflictions.

This is a direct violation of Title IX, which requires schools to provide a safe educational environment, free from hostility, to all students so they can flourish both academically and socially. Therefore, institutions must fight the myths that perpetuate sexual assault and create hostile environments for students.

The most effective way to dismantle this web of well-established myths is to educate and inform. Educational programs combating sexual assault have experienced success in a variety of circumstances, but certain strategies have proven more successful than others.

Interactive education is extremely fruitful. Institutions including the University of Kentucky, the University of Dayton in Ohio and the University of Virginia have hired the nonprofit Green Dot Violence Prevention Strategy to implement educational programming.  Green Dot educational programs are interactive, requiring students to actively role-play situations where sexual assault could occur and brainstorm strategies to intervene. A study evaluating the effectiveness of this interactive method found that, when Green Dot was implemented in Kentucky high schools, incidents of sexual violence dropped 50 percent over five years.  Other institutions, such as Rutgers and University of Indiana, have employed similar methods by requiring students to put on theater performances in which they address sexual assault situations.

The effectiveness of such programs is bolstered by continual reinforcement. A study of sexual assault education programs found that longer interventions held over time were more effective in altering student attitudes towards rape and rape-related incidents.  It follows that if the myths and cultural norms perpetuating sexual assault are reinforced in society on a continual basis, so should the education efforts aimed at combating them. Institutions should aim to implement thorough and continual educational programs.

Implementing a long-term educational program also provides opportunities for more focused trainings. The study cited above find that educational programs focused on certain aspects of sexual assault are more successful than those that are more general. More focused sessions would allow room for students to learn not only what sexual assault or an unhealthy relationship looks like, but also learn what a healthy relationship and the absences of sexual assault looks like.

Researchers from this study also suggested that an aspect of fine-tuning education programs should be more focused to include gendered educational programs.  While men and women are both perpetrators and victims of sexual assault, women are more likely to receive risk-reduction intervention. Other studies cited in the article found that single-gender programs are more likely to be effective for men.  The organization SAFER also noted on it’s website that “it may be a struggle to incorporate men into your anti-rape work without perpetuating patriarchy via male-centered organizing.”  Therefore, some have suggested that introducing more opportunities for male students, like working with the organization Men Can Stop Rape, may help educational programs be more effective overall.

Given this evaluation, Trinity should consider adopting an interactive and focused educational policy that is implemented on a long-term basis for students. Trinity may also consider holding educational trainings for specific subgroups and genders that may experience sexual assault differently or may benefit from a single-gender program.

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