Education as a tool to stop sexual assault on campus

Dear Editor,

UVM needs to increase efforts towards sexual assault education and awareness.

This is a complicated issue which has red tape lining every door. But, there is room for a conversation about ideas to progress that should be highlighted when talking about these issues.

For those who voiced in the article that they felt UVM was handling these issues effectively and that these situations are “to some extent inevitable,” I would say this is a sign of two things.

It is a sign of believing in the dominant discourse that sexual assault around the college experience and what comes along with it. A quote from an individual who was interviewed in the article states “with constant exposure to drugs, alcohol, and the closeness of residing alongside peers, sexual misconduct is, to some extent inevitable.”

I take this as meaning that if you decide to come to college you are putting yourself at risk of getting sexually assaulted; if drugs and alcohol are in the picture, you better be ready to defend yourself against a possible sexual assault.

Yet it’s possible to drink, smoke, live near someone and NOT sexually assault them. People choose to commit these acts of assault for reasons such as thinking that what they are doing is ok, or they have a lack of knowledge.

Thinking that these situations are “inevitable” is like believing that these ways of thinking are never going to change and they are a part of what people in college are like. This is only the case if we let it be the case.

Students are at this University to learn and create an experience that serves themselves and their community for the better. If that’s not what is happening on this campus, then the University has to take measures to make amends. This includes education around changing conversations and language to support the message of “don’t rape” rather than “don’t get raped”.

It sounds like people think this is too big of an issue and if it is going to happen anyway, then what the University is doing is good enough. If so, does it matter that this happens to 10 people vs. 62 or 100 people? If your answer is yes, then I suggest you talk to one person who is a survivor and see if you still believe that nothing more could be done.

Someone interviewed said, “Keeping the assailant on probation of some sort and ensuring the population is the way to go.” My question is, ensuring the population of what exactly? The University can’t ensure us all about those people who, unfortunately, are the ones most likely to commit a sexual assault, not just the one person who is being dealt with.

Education is what is needed for the University to make amends and help ensure safety on campus. “There should be more prevention strategies, rather than just dealing with the aftermath.” Yes, we have CatAlerts that give us information but, as was stated in the article, this type of education is “telling people how not to get raped instead of telling people not to rape other people.”

The online modules first years have to take also have biased language that does not always give a clear message. On top of that, these modules are easy to click through without even fully reading, absorbing, or understanding anything that has been said. I remember peers laughing at the videos and making fun of the modules when we had to take them. They would mute the videos, go on Facebook, and answer the questions as fast as they could. This is not assuring, its terrifying.

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We require D1’s and D2’ to help educate, respect, and create a healthier and safer campus when it comes to issues around race and diversity. Why would we not provide a class to ensure education, respect, and safety to prevent sexual assault?

If the University is open to acknowledging this problem, they should want to be the solution. Universities, such as UVM, have a student body made up of individuals who come from various cultures. Knowledge, understanding, and even laws surrounding consent, assault, and relationships differ from community to community.

If the University has a stance on sexual assault and takes punitive action against those who perpetrate its policies, it seem odd that they are punishing their students for committing a crime for which they may not be aware of and are not educated about.

Common discourse in our world is exacerbated by media, music, laws and even our politicians, giving mixed messages about acceptable sexual behavior. It would be naïve, for the University to expect every person who comes into the University to have the same understanding about sexual assault. The school should provide more than just an online module to help educate, protect and respect the student body.

Providing mandatory classes for all first year students on sexual assault and what is expected of them at this University would be beneficial on multiple fronts. The main goal would be to eliminate sexual assault all together, dismantling the common discourse around sexual behaviors and college life.

Taking this class may be the first time an individual has been offered help or feels able to come forth about sexual assault. Classes would have to be taught in a trauma informed manner, knowing that 1 in 4 women, on top of individuals of other genders in the room, are likely to have experienced these issues.

Of course, support should be available for those who do not feel able to attend the classes due to the material being too triggering. Yes, this type of program would mean lots of money and resources being spent through the University. However, if the University is serious about student safety, this should be a priority. They may think that through climate surveys there isn’t enough “risk” to be allocating funds in this direction, or that what they are doing is sufficient.

Luckily for the University, they can be assured that their money would be well spent for this issue touches most people on their campus. Climate surveys are always going to show an under reported amount of assaults.

A subsequent article in the same issue of this paper cited Judy Rickstad, the Victims Advocate on campus, in saying that 61 cases of sexual assault have been reported to the Women’s Center in the past year and that this is “only a fraction of the sexual assaults that occur at UVM.”

I ask you, UVM, is that enough people’s lives that have been negatively effected on campus to be worthy of more attention and resources? When will it ever be enough?


Erica Raff

UVM Graduate Student