September 26, 2016

Webster launches required course aiming to end sexual assault

Starting this semester, Webster University is requiring all undergraduate students to complete a two-part online sexual assault prevention class entitled Lasting Choices: Protecting Our Campus From Sexual Assault. 

The university sent out emails Aug. 26 indicating the first part of the course must be completed by the end of the fourth week of classes. The second part will be available on Webster’s World Classroom starting at the beginning of Fall II term.  The class will address what qualifies as consent, the role of alcohol in sexual activities and bystander intervention strategies students can use to keep themselves and their friends safe.

Students on campuses around the country will see something similar this year due to the government requiring universities to have first-year students complete some form of sexual assault training under Title IX.  Webster is going beyond that requirement and mandating the training of all undergraduate students, not just freshman.

The training came from last fall’s Delegates’ Agenda, and  as a result the administration set up a presidential task force on the issue. Dean of Students Ted Hoef, who is the Title IX Deputy Coordinator at Webster, was a part of this task force. 

“One of the results of that presidential task force work was that university leadership determined that we would offer (sexual assault prevention training) this year and make it a requirement of all students,” Hoef said. 

Hoef said Webster would promote the course and its requirements, and the university is making efforts to make more students aware of the class by talking about it at orientation, addressing it in the Webster 101  orientation class and having Residential Advisors hold floor meetings where students take the class in groups. 

“What’s really big in a lot of this stuff is bystander intervention.  How do we as a community help keep people safe? The majority of the cases we see involve alcohol, and it starts typically at a party, big or small. Perhaps someone gets too drunk to be able to consent,” Hoef said.

Colleen Coble, the CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence, said Webster’s requirement for all undergraduate students is a model that other colleges could follow.  “Research based evidence shows what’s successful is changing a community’s culture when it comes to prevention of sexual violence and dating violence, that it is not solely the individual’s response but a collective change of opinions,” Coble said.

Coble, who has worked in sexual assault prevention since 1983, said bystander intervention is important when it comes to college campuses and parties.

“If you gain information to look at something differently, all of a sudden you notice something’s not right, what is going on that caught my attention?” Coble said.

Coble recounted her time at the University of Missouri when her residential advisor instructed the female students that the best way to prevent sexual assault was to put their keys in their fists like brass knuckles when walking across campus.  She said there is more work to do, but sexual assault awareness on campuses has come a long way.

Natalie Martin, a student at Webster, was not aware of the course but said she understands the benefits of the class. 

“I don’t think it’s as big of a problem here as it is at other universities, but I like that the university cares about it,” Martin said.

Martin said  the consent part of the class is helpful because men need to know that no means no. 

“I know girls have struggled with having to say no more than once, and sometimes guys don’t understand that can cross the line,” Martin said.

Webster student Taylor Nanney said she feels an in-person meeting may be more effective than relying on an internet course. 

“I think it’s important, but I feel like a lot of people will see it as a hassle to go online so they won’t feel compelled to complete it,” Nanney said. 

Webster student Angela Karas said  it is hard to tell how beneficial the course will be, but still thinks it is important.

“I think on college campuses, those situations are coming to light more and more; people are speaking up more than they ever have in the past. It encourages students to think of Webster as a safe environment and that the university is going to take this stuff seriously,” Karas said.

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