Allow students to complete alternative sexual assault prevention training

Megan Tran

Content warning: This column contains discussion of sexual assault and trauma.

 For most incoming UT students, the Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates program is just another item to complete on the long list of tasks assigned by the University. However, the course’s content can trigger memories of prior trauma or even flashbacks in survivors of sexual violence.

 To protect survivors of sexual trauma, UT must allow students to opt out of the Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates program and take an alternate training option.

 Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates is an interactive course designed to help students understand consent, recognize relationship violence and learn how to assist friends who have experienced sexual trauma. This material is conveyed through a variety of methods, including readings and videos.

 Although the course is intended to prevent sexual violence, its content can trigger harmful flashbacks and memories of past trauma in survivors of sexual assault. By forcing survivors to engage with potentially triggering material, the University is harming the very students they’re trying to protect. 

 An anonymous student and survivor of sexual violence explained their experience with the program module.

 “It took me several hours to complete (the program),” the student said. “It’s been years, but my trauma doesn’t just disappear. The videos probably wouldn’t bother most people, but to me, it was a reminder of what happened. Imagine seeing the worst moment (of your life) played back to you. That’s how it felt, and how am I supposed to learn anything from that?”

 This student is not alone in their experiences. One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Unfortunately, over 30% of rape victims will eventually develop PTSD, a psychiatric disorder that affects up to 17% of college students and prevents survivors of traumatic events from coping with their experiences.

 With such an alarmingly high rate of sexual assault and post-traumatic stress disorder among university students, it would be foolish to think only few would be affected by the content in the Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates modules.

Other universities, such as University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, allow survivors of sexual assault to seek alternate training. While some students may be wary of privacy concerns, colleges with this system in place often do not force students to disclose details about their personal history with sexual violence, and UT should attempt to do the same.  

Brittany O’Malley, the assistant director for prevention at UT’s Longhorn Wellness Center, explained how the University accommodates students whose personal experiences make it difficult to complete the program.

 “In the past, when students (or advisors) have raised concerns … we’ve been able to tell them, ‘Don’t worry about (completing the Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates program),’” O’Malley said. “We provide (survivors) with resources that support them and meet (Campus Sexual Violence Act) requirements.”

 As explained by O’Malley, the University has been able to help students on an individual basis by providing alternate resources. Although she was unable to confirm whether this could be implemented on a broader scale, UT has already shown that they can meet federal requirements without forcing students to engage with potentially triggering content.

If UT has the infrastructure in place to provide alternate material, offering this option to students, rather than making them seek it out on their own, makes sexual assault training more accessible to survivors and allows them to preemptively avoid potentially triggering content.  

Ultimately, implementing an alternate sexual assault training program allows the University to fulfill federal requirements while still protecting survivors of sexual violence. 

Tran is a Plan II and English freshman from Houston, Texas.