In 2017, 42% of students reported that they had been sexually harassed by a peer while at UT-Austin, and 30% of UT students admitted to binge drinking. While these statistics are now about three years old, there is no doubt that substance abuse and sexual assault are still serious issues at UT.
The best way to prevent these issues from growing, or from happening in the first place, is to raise awareness. While UT does have a baseline for this education — AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates — these efforts are simply not enough.
All freshman and incoming transfer students must complete the online AlcoholEdu and SAPU modules as they begin their journey at UT. These modules have great information about resources available to students struggling with substance use or survivors of sexual assault. However, nothing requires students to take the material seriously once these modules are completed.
UT must integrate these modules into a mandatory semester-long, graded course about substance abuse and sexual assault prevention for all incoming students in order to fully educate on these topics.
Due to the self-paced, online format of AlcoholEdu and SAPU, it’s easy for students to drift their attention away from the material.
“I for sure found myself wandering during the videos” said journalism freshman Anabella Cooper. “I would just kind of play them in the background and then do something else.”
Although resources and notes are provided, nothing pushes students to utilize them.
“I remember after every module it was like, ‘Do you want to keep any of these notes?’ and you could click it, and it would take you to your own personal notebook. I just skipped all that,” said computer science freshman Sadie Duran.
When the requirement is solely completion, students won’t prioritize engaging with this information over courses that earn credit and influence GPA.
“Because it was just a little simple thing you had to complete, and you don’t get graded for it, I did not pay attention as much as I could have,” Cooper said.
No matter how much information is on these modules, if students have no incentive to pay attention, they’re not going to absorb it.
The purpose of these modules is so that if students were to encounter these issues, they would know what to do. If the modules fail to educate students, they won’t be prepared to handle dangerous situations.
Health promotion coordinator Mandy Colbert agreed that these modules should be made into a course but acknowledged that it is not up to her or the University Health Services office.
“In an ideal world, I would love for there to be a mandatory health and wellness class that all incoming students have to take for course credit … that’s like my goal … but there’s a lot of steps that go into creating classes,” Colbert said. “It is easier said than done.”
J.B. Bird, director of media relations and newsroom for University Communications, acknowledged that it would be “an interesting idea” to incorporate this material into the required curriculum for all students.
“This would, however, be challenging, since curriculum changes follow an established, deliberate process that involves faculty and campus leadership,” Bird said in an email.
UT currently requires an extensive core curriculum for all students. While education about math, English and natural sciences is important, the health and well-being of students is just as crucial, if not more. The core curriculum should be updated to include educational material about sexual assault and substance abuse.
While the addition of a new curriculum would be difficult, it is definitely not impossible. And for something as serious as substance abuse and sexual assault education, it is more than necessary.
Hosek is a psychology freshman from Austin, Texas.