MSU Empowers Students with Information to Help Prevent Sexual Violence (Oct. 2017)

From an inaugural bystander training program to expanded and revamped education materials, MSU is further strengthening its efforts to prevent sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking on campus.

“We know a one-time, one-size-fits-all approach to education and awareness is not enough,” said Jessica Norris, director of Title IX Compliance and Education Programs at MSU. “We make sure every new student learns the basics, including institutional values, behavioral expectations and reporting and resource options. Then we build on that knowledge with additional programs aimed at turning awareness into action and fostering a community of caring, respect and safety.”

This “multi-dose” approach to raising awareness and changing behavior includes:

  • All freshmen and new transfer students are required to participate in a mandatory two-hour, interactive Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence (SARV) Prevention workshop during fall or spring semester in their first year, a program that started in 2009. In recent years, SARV workshops have been added to meet the specific needs and concerns of LGBTQ and international students. And spring semester workshops, titled “Greeks Take the Lead” have been introduced for all sorority and fraternity members.
  • All incoming freshmen and transfer students are required to complete an online awareness program. The program was first introduced in 2011 and became a condition of accessing course information and grades in 2015.
  • New online programs will be offered to returning students beginning this year. The advanced online courses build on the first-year online program, exploring different topics at a deeper level each academic year.
  • Upper-class students also will be offered an advanced bystander intervention workshop beginning this year. The workshop will give them information and tools to respond appropriately when they witness sexual misconduct.
  • A Student Leadership Institute, first offered last year, will again focus on leveraging student leaders from the Greek community, LGBTQ community, Athletics, student government and other segments of campus as allies in the effort to stop sexual violence.
  • Each fall and spring, MSU holds a “week of action” as part of the university’s “It’s On Us” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness that preventing sexual misconduct depends on the commitment of everyone on campus. First spearheaded by ASMSU, the campaign has now been adopted institutionally.

In addition to these campus-wide efforts, individual units throughout the university are also working to empower students through education, including awareness events sponsored by the Interfraternity Council.

Meanwhile, MSU continues to refine and strengthen its centerpiece SARV Prevention Program workshops.

An estimated 36,000 MSU students have completed the workshops since their inception. This fall some 70 peer educators conducted about 250 additional workshops for more than 7,000 new freshman and transfer students.

MSU was among the first campuses in the country to offer such programming, earning campus leaders a 2010 invitation to Washington, DC, by then-Vice President Joe Biden. At the time Biden was leading development of the White House Campaign to End Sexual Assault on Campus.

“We were ahead of the curve nationally when we launched this, and we continue to improve it,” said Kelly Schweda, coordinator of the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program at MSU. Schweda first introduced the SARV workshops at MSU and continues to oversee the effort.

MSU continually refreshes workshop scripts to make sure the scenarios resonate with students and the information presented remains current and relevant. In addition, MSU systematically assesses the workshops’ success.

Students complete an online pre-test before they take a workshop to determine their baseline knowledge about such things as the prevalence of sexual assault and what constitutes informed consent. They take a post-test right afterward to evaluate what they learned, and a third test in the spring to measure both what they retained and whether they used the knowledge they gained.

For Quin Wetzel, now a senior and president of the Interfraternity Council at MSU, the workshop made a powerful impact.

As a freshman from a small town in northern Wyoming, Wetzel was particularly struck by one exercise in which male and female students were asked separately what precautions they took on a day-to-day basis to avoid being victims of sexual violence.

The men had little to say. The women, in contrast, rattled off dozens of routine precautions, from never going out alone at night to carrying pepper spray.

“I had no idea that the women were living with those kinds of limits,” Wetzel said. “When we understand each other’s experiences better, it becomes clear that we all have to be part of the solution.”

Campus leaders believe such positive student feedback, together with a steady rise in reports of sexual misconduct at MSU, demonstrate that the university is on the right track.

“We are creating a culture where people recognize what is acceptable and what is not, and feel safe reporting sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking when it occurs,” Schweda said.

Schweda and her colleagues understand that student education and awareness represent just one arrow in the quiver of strategies needed to end sexual and relationship violence on college campuses. But it’s an important one.

“Many students come to college from high school with very little knowledge about this issue,” Schweda said. “It’s vital that they know how to protect themselves and their classmates, and where to seek help if they need it.”