26 Apr 17
By: Jenny Steiner, M.A.
Prevention is the key to ending the pattern of sexual violence on our campus. Many would agree with this statement, and yet, we struggle year after year to find the best “best practice” for our campuses. As I’m sure you are aware, the rates of sexual violence have not changed in over 20 years (Cantor et al.; DiJuli, Norton, Craighill, Clement, & Brodie in Morse, Sponsler, & Fulton, 2015). And although we’ve called greater attention to this horrific crime on our campuses, we still seem to struggle to find the best way to resolve the issue. I too am trying to figure out what the best approach is with prevention efforts at our nation’s universities. Although I don’t have the exact answer, there are some things that come to mind in which all campuses should consider in improving sexual violence prevention efforts on campus.
Prevention programming needs to happen. Period. It needs to happen with our incoming students, with our student athletes, with our staff, and with our faculty. But how often should it happen? Should it be one afternoon of a new student’s orientation program and then we’ve done our duty as an institution? Yes, it is true that at times we can only capture the entire first year class in orientation. But, it is also true that one time interventions do not create long term effects. In a recent overview of sexual violence prevention programs, it was found that the ones that were most effective were long term and comprehensive (DeGue, Valle, Holt, Massetti, Matjasko & Tharp, 2014). This again is great to know, but how do we make it so our students are hearing this message over the course of their first semester rather than their first week (or even the week before) school begins? There are a couple of responses to this. First, one approach is to consider a community based model as opposed to the focus of individualized bystander interventions. It is important to think of ways in which the entire community is made aware of rape culture and how to do their part to shift the narrative. Second, it’s also committing to the prevention work as part of their learning. Perhaps your university considers ways to infuse this information into a first year seminar course or provides mandatory workshops for residence hall students several times throughout their first semester. This solution allows students to engage with the material a lot longer than on one day where there is sure to be information overload.
Prevention staff keep the campus moving forward with this work. They are essential. A recent study found that nationally, people running prevention programming are often understaffed, misunderstood, and lacked clarity from campus leadership (Klein, Dunlap, & Rizzo, 2016). As we focus on our compliance work on campus, one’s mind goes to the reactionary piece of the process. In a 2015 essay on this work, University of California President Janet Napolitano argues that our focus on compliance is often times on the reporting, investigating, and hearing pieces of the process, with less emphasis on education and prevention work. Yes, we need to have these processes in order and they are important. But, if we are not giving the clarity, person-power, and respect to our prevention experts, we will find we are constantly reacting to this issue.
Think of ways your department engages with your prevention teams and create a plan as to how you may support prevention efforts on your campus. Are there opportunities for your staff to be volunteers around this work? Is it possible to not have just one person be the designated sexual violence prevention liaison? Could your department host a campus-wide conversation around dismantling rape culture? How can you urge your campus leadership to strive to go beyond compliance?
DeGue, S., Valle, L.A., Holt, M.K., Massetti, G.M, Matjasko, J.L, & Tharp, A.T. (2014). A systematic review of primary prevention strategies for sexual violence perpetration. Aggression and Violence Behavior, 19, 346-362.
Klein, L.B., Dunlap, J., & Rizzo, A. (2016). The role of campus-based advocacy and prevention professionals in campus culture change. In Wooten & Mitchell, Preventing Sexual Violence on Campus: Challenging Traditional Approaches Through Program Innovation. New York, NY: Routledge, 119-138.
Morse, A., Sponsler, B.A., Fulton, M. (2015). State legislative developments on campus sexual violence: Issues in the context of safety. NASPA Research Policy and Institute & Education Commission of the United States.
Napolitano J. (2015). “Only yes means yes”: An essay on university policies regarding sexual violence and sexual assault. Yale Law & Policy Review, 33, 387-402.
Jenny Steiner is a 2nd year PhD Student in Organizational Leadership & Policy Development, Higher Education at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Her research interests include sexual violence on college campuses, higher education leadership, and gender equity. When not in school, Jenny enjoys running along the Mississippi River, listening to podcasts, and exploring all the food options the Twin Cities has to offer.