On a college campus, students are the ones who know better than anyone else what’s going on in their world. Whether that means having heard the buzz about the latest hit TV show or holding a deep understanding of the everyday challenges young people face, students can often relate to other students better than most staff and faculty ever will.
So, when it comes to preventing sexual misconduct, it’s essential to listen to what those students have to say.
At Butler University, campus leaders are inviting students to join conversations about this issue at monthly meetings of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Taskforce. The group has been around for years, including a few student members who were directly invited based on previous involvement in prevention programming. But when leaders opened student membership up to a general application process last spring, the group gained a brand new life and momentum. The taskforce received 62 applications from students across the University, accepting about 10 student members plus representatives from key organizations such as the Student Government Association (SGA) and PAVE (Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment). Now, applications are open for the 2020–2021 academic year.
“The meetings this semester have had so many students present,” says Jules Arthur-Grable, Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Specialist. “I think that really indicates how important these issues are to them, how much they care, and how much they want to make a difference.”
Co-chaired by Arthur-Grable and Title IX Coordinator Maria Kanger, the taskforce works to unite prevention efforts already happening across the University, as well as to develop and promote new education programs that meet the needs of Butler students. Welcoming more student members who represent a broader range of the campus community has helped Arthur-Grable and Kanger learn more about what those needs are, which kinds of events might resonate best with students, and how to effectively spread the word about those events and other programming.
“Our students really care about this, even if they aren’t directly involved in student organizations or other groups that are focused on this all the time,” Kanger says. “They really do want to make a difference, and they feel like they can.”
This academic year, that student voice has led to the creation of a lot more programming based on pop culture and the things students see every day across all kinds of media. During welcome week, peer-facilitated workshops under the name “Sexy, Can I?” covered the basics of consent. In October, the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SARP) Office recognized National Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a discussion about the role social media can play in promoting unhealthy relationship behaviors. Another program analyzed the Netflix show You to talk about how students can recognize stalking, and a “bad date dinner” right before Valentine’s Day invited guests to think through specific situations and how they would respond.
“I’ve seen students on the taskforce take ownership of these programs and really get excited about them,” Kanger says. “They feel connected to this. The work of prevention is the work of the entire campus community.”
One recent TV-inspired event used episodes of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, pointing out examples of the contestants’ unhealthy behaviors—things like gaslighting, manipulation, isolation, or sabotage.
“We talked about the role this popular show has in how people perceive relationships in real life, and how it normalizes unhealthy behavior,” Arthur-Grable explains. “Afterward, some of the attendees asked for a list of healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors to take with them, so they could use it to continue the conversation while watching the show with their friends.”
As a student member of the taskforce, junior Ben Traverso feels like his input has been truly valued during program planning over the last few semesters. He says student involvement on the taskforce helps other students feel more comfortable asking for the help they need.
“We are there to say, ‘this is how students feel, this is why, and here’s what we can do to try to change that,’” says the Political Science and History major. “We are there to help build a bridge between the SARP Office, the Title IX Coordinator, and the student body.”
Junior Health Science major Lauren Lippert agrees, saying the taskforce is meant to be a central place for the Butler community to gather together, share ideas, and stay informed about the resources available on campus.
“I think it’s really important for students to be a part of that,” she says, “especially for the other students who feel more comfortable seeking help from someone their age—someone who could maybe relate a little more on their level.”
Kanger says that, while changing culture in ways that prevent sexual misconduct is a years-long project, providing a safe space where people can seek help is a vital first step.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “the goal for all our prevention efforts is to create a culture where consent is sought and received for every sexual activity, healthy relationships are the norm, and where everyone steps up and says something if they see something isn’t right.”
If you are a Butler student interested in joining the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Taskforce, you can apply here by April 13. Contact Jules Arthur-Grable (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Maria Kanger (email@example.com) with any questions.
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