According to a study from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 1-in-5 women experience sexual assault in their lifetime.
In that same study, the center found that 19 percent of undergraduate women experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.
In response to these startling numbers, SUNY has become the first collegiate school system in the country to support a bi-partisan Senate bill, spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, that would force colleges to better address sexual assault on their campuses.
The proposed law would create an annual nationwide survey asking college students their experience with sexual assault, as well as penalize schools that don’t give support to victims attempting to report sexual assault.
“Starting today, we are lifting the burden off the shoulders of survivors and placing it firmly on the shoulders of our colleges and universities,” Gillibrand said in August after SUNY announced its support of the bill.
BRINGING IT HOME
Recently, Plattsburgh State students were given the chance to complete a survey anonymously addressing their experiences with sexual assault.
PSUC Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman said although the school had just begun to analyze the data, it is clear that there is room for improvement in terms of how the campus community responds to acts of sexual violence and assault.
“It is clear that this is a cultural problem that is going to require a long-term solution,” Hartman said.
In order to accomplish this, PSUC has partnered with EverFi, a media literacy platform that aims to help students address critical life skills such as sexual violence prevention. More than 500,000 college students complete courses that instill these lessons each year across the United States.
Hartman said PSUC was approached by EverFi to participate in their online sexual violence education program.
“Sure, we’re jumping on the bandwagon, I won’t hide that fact,” Hartman said. “But why should we not, in cases like this?”
PSUC was offered a free trial of the EverFi two-part online course, Haven, that will educate students on healthy relationships, the importance of consent and being a good communicator, and the ways each student can contribute to a safe, positive campus environment.
“We have always done things to spread sexual assault awareness, but it is not enough anymore. We need everyone to become more involved in this conversation,” Hartman said.
Rhema Lewis, a health educator and outreach coordinator in the PSUC Center for Student Involvement, has worked closely with Hartman on implementing this course, as well as other campus programs, such as the Step UP! bystander program. Lewis could not be reached for comment.
Haven will be open to students Monday. The first part will be due Oct. 17, while the second part will be due Dec. 5. Those who finish the first part by Oct. 5 will be entered into a drawing to win a Microsoft Surface 2 tablet. Students who complete the first part between Oct. 6 and Oct. 12 will be entered to win one of two $50 Cardinal Cash prizes.
Hartman said Haven will take less than one hour to finish, and it may include surveys to help personalize each student’s experience. The survey responses are confidential and the college will only receive information about the entirety of the student body, not any answers from individual students.
After the first Haven course is completed, PSUC will evaluate whether they will continue to use the EverFi course or if it will pursue another online course of the same nature.
Should the course be a success, Hartman said that beginning in fall 2015, all new students will be mandated to complete it once during their tenure.
In addition to the Haven course, Hartman said there are others ways in which everyone can work to improve the campus climate.
The topic of sexual assault has become a frequent discussion within residence halls, athletics and Greek life, Hartman said.
During each summer orientation session, Lewis spoke for over two hours about sexual assault awareness and prevention, as well as other topics such as alcohol and drug use.
“There are so many underlying issues that contribute to our horrendous culture — the way women are treated, the presence of violence, and alcohol and drug use are definitely big parts of that culture,” Hartman said.
PSUC Alcohol and Other Drug Coordinator Patrick Monette has put together an AOD Task Force that will be compiling a comprehensive plan for the next three years in terms of handling and preventing further student alcohol and drug abuse.
After evaluating the success of the Haven course, Hartman said it may be possible to incorporate a drug and alcohol use awareness course in the future as well.
“We need people to see this as an area of concern and begin to engage in conversations,” Hartman said.
Hartman said he praised such on-campus groups as the Center for Womyn’s Concerns and the gender and women’s studies department for progressing the conversation and keeping these issues on the forefront of their groups’ agendas.
However, he said, these issues cannot be limited to only a few groups.
Not only will the campus be focusing on sexual assault prevention, but Hartman said it is important to remember those students who have become victims.
“We’re battling a cultural war,” Hartman said. “This needs to be an on-going effort for years to come and become part of the fabric of our mission here at Plattsburgh.”
Email Maggie McVey at firstname.lastname@example.org.