Editorial Raises Concerns About Marquette’s New Prevention Program

My name is Darci Jenkins and I am a second year master’s student at the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) at the University of Chicago. My concentration is social administration and I am interested in research, policy, and advocacy work on anti-violence issues, particularly sexual violence. I am also in the Violence Prevention program of study at SSA, which is the only graduate-level Program of Study in the nation. My alma mater is the University of New Hampshire where I received a dual bachelor’s in Psychology and Justice Studies. I volunteered at the rape crisis center at UNH for three years. I also interned and worked for a year and a half at the local rape crisis center serving the seacoast in NH. I am extremely passionate about eliminating sexual violence in our communities. I intend to work hard at providing preventative tools to communities in order to prevent sexual violence from plaguing society.

Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, traditionally holds its Sexual Assault Awareness Week during the third week of September. University health educator Becky Michelson told WISN news that, “the reason is because first-year students are at the greatest risk for being sexually assaulted typically within their first six weeks on campus.” This year, the Week, which kicked off on September 18, 2011, fell at a particularly important time. The University was investigating an alleged sexual assault that occurred during Sexual Assault Awareness Week in Schroeder Hall. Furthermore, last year, there was a high-profile investigation of student athletes who were allegedly perpetrators of sexual assault; however, no charges were filed. The University received great criticism because they neglected to inform the police of these allegations. The District Attorney then claimed that too much time had elapsed to conduct a proper investigation. You can read more on these issues in a previous post by Megan.

Given the recent spotlight on the University’s sexual violence policies, the University has developed training videos in an effort to continue to make the campus safe. According to an editorial written by Maria Tsikalas in the Marquette Tribune, the videos are narrated by two “pseudo-college students.” The narrators participate in a conversation that relays information on sexual assault. These conversations are intermingled with testimony from students who have experienced sexual assault.

Although the videos were developed to provide sufficient information addressing sexual assault, as well as ways to recognize and prevent it, Tsikalas notes that “the valuable parts are juxtaposed with off-putting moments and absurd ideas.”

For example, the role of the “typical male college student” was fulfilled by an actor who comes across as offensive and absolutely ignorant of the issues surrounding sexual violence and why they are important to a college community. I agree with Tsikalas that this is indeed an off-putting moment. Portraying males in such a way portrays a generalization that all males are rapists. Male college students who watch these videos are not going to be empowered or inspired to take action against sexual violence. Instead, they may buy into the stigma of sexual assault. It is important to remind students on college campuses that not only can perpetrators be acquaintances, but they are not always male. Also, all males are not rapists.

Despite this crude depiction of college males, the University has showed efforts to incorporate males into the fight against sexual violence. During Sexual Assault Awareness Week, male students at O’Donnell Hall were participating in a teeter-totter marathon, in which they teetered and tottered for three days straight. The students raised money for the Aurora Sexual Assault Treatment Center. They also raised awareness of the issue of sexual violence on their campus. The residential hall director, Deandre Taylor told WISN news that, “sexual assault is not a woman’s issue. It’s not a man’s issue. It’s a human being’s issue.” I think Taylor’s response is important and should be echoed in the training videos and educational programs that the University is developing.

Additionally, the educational videos suggest tricks, for lack of a better word, to prevent a potential rape. Students are advised to claim they are HIV positive and to either urinate, defecate, or regurgitate to prevent being raped. Not only are these suggestions most likely going to be laughable among a student body, but they tend to send the message that ‘sexual assault is going to happen at Marquette, so here are some tips to avoid it.’

Although these suggestions in the video may not be taken seriously, it is important to keep in mind that although the “-ate” suggestions may be laughable among a student body, they are techniques that are often suggested as part of emergency intervention when students find themselves in vulnerable situations. However, Marquette should continue to take preventative measures to continue to decrease sexual assaults and one day eliminate them altogether.  Finally, I must note that it is troublesome that the University is advising students to claim they are HIV positive because doing so only perpetuates stigma against a marginalized population in our community – it is not an appropriate emergency intervention in situations involving sexual assault.

Marquette has certainly taken strides against sexual violence in the aftermath of negative spotlight following several sexual assault incidents on campus. As Megan previously wrote, they have developed a bystander intervention program that will be taught by peer educators, in hopes that crimes will be prevented as well as reported immediately. The online videos and further educational programs are positive efforts to provide a safe campus and educate students on the issues of sexual violence. Although we applaud their efforts and positive response following a streak of negative attention, we must not forget that sexual violence is still a pervasive issue that requires continued attention, education, and prevention strategies on our college campuses and beyond.

    One thought on “Editorial Raises Concerns About Marquette’s New Prevention Program

    1. Due to technical difficulties, the creators of the program that Darci critiques above have been unable to post their comment to SAFER’s blog. In an effort to remedy this problem, SAFER has copied and pasted the Content Director’s response to Darci’s article below:

      Dear Ms. Jenkins,

      We are writing in response to your blog post “Editorial Raises Concerns About Marquette’s New Prevention Program”.

      The videos that you reference were not developed by Marquette University; they are part of a program called Unless There’s Consent …, an online campus sexual assault prevention program from StudentSuccess.org. We hope that your critique of the programming emerges from direct personal experience with the program.

      Ms. Tsikalas, the writer of the editorial which you reference, took issue with a male character in our program, who she felt portrayed the “typical male college student.” She found the character “offensive and absolutely ignorant of the issues surrounding sexual violence”. You agreed with her that this is “off-putting” and that “portraying males in such a way portrays a generalization that all males are rapists”. You went on to say that “male college students who watch these videos are not going to be empowered or inspired to take action against sexual violence”.

      Unfortunately, Ms. Tsikalas may have misunderstood this character’s design. This intentionally uninformed male character does not represent a typical male college student; he was intentionally written to portray an ignorant stance on rape. His character, however, is juxtaposed with three others, one of whom is an uninformed female. The other two, a male and a female, serve well-informed roles and teach the uninformed characters, as well as the viewers, about the sexual assault issue.

      To state that “portraying males in such a way portrays a generalization that all males are rapists” unfortunately misinterprets the program, which neither suggests that all males are rapists nor that all rapists are male.

      You also agree with Ms. Tsikalas’ critique of the “ates,” and your concern is that they send the message that “sexual assault is going to happen at Marquette so here are some tips to avoid it”. While we are re-evaluating the use of the “ates” in our program, it seems unlikely, albeit unfortunately so, that any college will ever see the complete eradication of attempted sexual assault. As such, offering all students reasonable tools for increasing their safety seems responsible.

      We also take seriously our responsibility to empower male and female college students to take action. Although you suggest that “male college students who watch these videos are not going to be empowered or inspired to take action against sexual violence,” our numbers speak to a deeper truth. In a 2010 sampling of over ten-thousand students from five different colleges and universities, 75% of respondents would recommend our program to other students, and over 87% found the program to help them understand factors that contribute to sexual assault. Six-to-nine months later, in a 500+ student follow up study, almost seven-in-ten men and over eight-in-ten women who found themselves in applicable situations used information from Unless There’s Consent… to make themselves or someone else safer. This evidence indicates that Unless There’s Consent… is having a vital impact on sexual assault prevention.

      We applaud your efforts to reduce the incidents of sexual assaults on college campuses, and to increase awareness about sexual assault, and see you and Ms. Tsikalas as allies in this issue. While we may disagree with your critiques of our program, we wish more people would adopt the same passion for the problem of sexual assault as you display in your blog.

      Steven J. Pearlman, Ph.D.
      Content Director, Student Success