Although access to reproductive resources, sexual responsibility education and emotional support is essential for student well-being, these services sometimes go overlooked at Webster University. The Title IX Office seeks to change that.
Webster offers numerous resources for students’ sexual and emotional health, including services provided by the Title IX Office and a new sexual abuse survivors’ support group at the Student Counseling and Life Development office.
Title IX Tuesdays – a term coined by Title IX Coordinator and Office Director Kimberley Bynum-Smith and Deputy Title IX and Human Resources Coordinator Lori J. Watson – began in 2019. Since then, these events have provided educational and preventative resources to the Webster community, including free STI and HIV testing and an educational talk from Planned Parenthood on Sept. 13, 2022 at the University Center.
Watson said free STI and HIV screenings take the burden of finding resources and dealing with insurance policies off students. The purpose of Title IX Tuesday is to empower students by engaging in discussions about sexual health, safety and violence prevention.
“Title IX Tuesdays are geared toward prevention and awareness of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination,” Watson said. “The Sept. 13 Free STI Testing and Sexual Responsibility Talk event was created to start the conversation about taking care of your body and viewing sexual health as part of life. Our intention with Title IX Tuesdays is to bring people together and not only educate, but discuss difficult but important topics like bystander intervention, domestic violence, sexual health and responsibility.”
Title IX wants students to be able to ask for help when they need it. Especially with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, they want students to know their reproductive options and understand the importance of sexual responsibility. Bynum-Smith notes the importance of having these difficult conversations.
“Talking about mental health has become normalized. There’s still a stigma about sexual health, though. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject. Just like putting tampons in the bathrooms on campus,” Bynum-Smith said. “People need to become comfortable with the facts of life. People have sex. It’s happening, so we should be able to talk about it without there being shame associated with it.”
Title IX’s services do not end at Title IX Tuesdays. They also offer sexual harrassment prevention training to students and staff, educational events and information about community resources that provide contraceptives, pregnancy support and services for other reproductive needs.
The University also offers programs like the Sexual Abuse Survivors Group, led by Assistant Director of Counseling and Life Development Samantha Sipple. The group came about after students presented the need to support those who have experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime.
The group will meet weekly in-person at the Counseling and Student Health Services office for one-hour sessions, starting Sept. 15 from 4-5 p.m. Sipple said the sessions are less focused on trauma processing and rather lean toward trauma support. The goal of the group is to learn skills to help manage reaction and responses to other students’ experiences.
“This is, sadly, a very common experience that happens to a lot of people,” Sipple said. “It is important to talk about it, to learn coping skills and gain some support because it does happen, and there is oftentimes a lot of shame about it. “I can help students begin to think about themselves and the situation differently. That’s going to lead to better outcomes long term.”
Sipple emphasized the importance of healthy coping mechanisms and emotion management. The group offers psychological education about trauma and abuse, as well as techniques for identifying triggers and relaxing. By getting support from people who have had similar experiences, the group creates a safe environment where individuals can begin to heal and feel better.
“I hope students will walk away with a reduction in the intensity of their guilt, that they feel like their experience is normalized, that they can walk away with healthier cognitions,” Sipple said. “And I hope that students walk away feeling empowered and courageous that they did the brave thing by talking about something that is very painful and dealing with it head on.”
Sipple shared a helpful metaphor for the group and how it works: trauma is like a splinter. Although wanting to avoid the pain of digging it out is valid, if we ignore the splinter, it festers and becomes infected. The only solution is to remove the splinter. We often feel immense relief when the splinter is out, and our finger begins to heal.
Though the registration deadline was on Sept. 9, those who wish to participate can still register by emailing Samantha Sipple at email@example.com before Sept. 15.