Reform sexual assault prevention education

Content warning: This editorial contains discussion of sexual and interpersonal violence.

Time and time again, we’ve heard the same harrowing statistics: 26.4% of undergraduate women and 6.8% of undergraduate men nationwide have reported experiencing rape or sexual assault. Interpersonal violence and rape culture aren’t easy issues to grapple with, and there’s no clear solution. To address this, colleges have implemented a variety of trainings and policies for students and faculty. 

Currently, UT requires incoming freshmen and transfer students to complete the Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates program, a series of interactive online modules designed to empower students “to prevent sexual assault and interpersonal violence.” For many students, this will be the only time they engage in conversations around interpersonal violence prevention during college. It shouldn’t be. 

The SAPU program falls short in several important regards. As the Texan’s editorial board has discussed before, it fails to engage students with the nuances of consent. Consent is more than a “yes” or a “no.” It’s complex in its deceptively simple nature, but an informed understanding of consent is crucial to preventing sexual violence. 

Furthermore, there’s no such thing as a standard experience with interpersonal violence. Every situation is unique, and anyone can be affected. Educational materials, such as SAPU, should reflect that. One way to address this issue is to create inclusive content that represents the intersectional and diverse nature of the UT community. Students must understand what interpersonal violence looks like outside of heteronormative relationships and learn how different communities are impacted by similar issues.

Brittany O’Malley, assistant director for prevention at the Longhorn Wellness Center, explained that SAPU was developed by EverFi and that the company often implements feedback from UT in the program’s content. These reforms could be incorporated within SAPU, if only UT advocated for them. 

It’s also important to remember that discussions of interpersonal violence can be triggering for survivors of such trauma. While it’s necessary to have these conversations, accommodations should be made for students who are sensitive to such content.

Currently, students who reach out with concerns about difficulty completing SAPU are provided alternative resources that satisfy state and federal requirements. However, this option is not openly shared with students at UT. Other colleges publicly offer alternate training materials for students and ask that they reach out to acquire them, encouraging interpersonal violence education while proactively protecting vulnerable students. We urge UT to do the same.

Educating students about sexual and relationship violence is a vital preventative measure, and it shouldn’t start and end with the SAPU program. EverFi is aware that no singular program can serve as an entire solution and asks school administrators to “consider follow-up activities using a variety of formats … to reinforce the messaging.” 

Such activities are available, but not everyone participates or engages with them. We don’t want to downplay the essential work that students and University entities have done to reduce on-campus stigma around sexual assault and make prevention education more accessible. Not On My Campus’ Peer Education Program educates participating student organizations by training peer educators. The Title IX Office and Voices Against Violence offer various activities and workshops for interested students and staff. Unfortunately, while helpful, these programs are only provided when sought out.

“Even if (SAPU) was comprehensive, even if it was the best module in the world that had all the information in it, there’s no way to make sure that people were actually paying attention and taking in the information and utilizing (it), said Vanessa Sayroo, Not On My Campus president and nursing senior. “You need to make it make sense to people that have never even seen (or) thought about sexual assault because there are people that don’t think about this.”

There are a variety of options that UT could consider in making prevention education more comprehensive, digestible and engaging. First-year signature courses could incorporate a seminar-style class on consent and communication. Students could be required to attend an in-person training on how to establish and respect boundaries as well as intervene as a bystander. Finally, UT orientation used to include a program called Protecting the Herd that contained both presentation and discussion components. While it wasn’t included in the summer 2022 orientation schedule, bringing it back or introducing a similar program could be beneficial for students.

We suggest incorporating a variety of approaches as well as ensuring that prevention education and engagement continue throughout a student’s time at UT. Ultimately, there’s no singular or all-encompassing way to prevent interpersonal and relationship violence.

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Mia Abbe, Lucero Ponce, Alyssa Ramos, Michael Zhang and editor-in-chief Megan Tran.