By: Emily Myint
Published: May 1, 2019
- Eleven percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, according to the Report on the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.
- San Diego State University is the first university with a program targeted at fraternity men to educate them on sexual health topics like consent, sexual assault prevention, rape culture, bystander intervention, and how to build healthy relationships.
- According to the 2017 SDSU Climate Campus Survey, the results revealed that SDSU students are very informed about sexual violence resources.
SAN DIEGO – One out of every five female college students will be sexually assaulted before graduation, according to the Campus Climate Survey Validation Study Final Technical Report (PDF) by the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Specific groups in college populations are at very high risk of experiencing sexual violence in a variety of forms,” says Stephanie Galia, director of Well-Being & Health Promotion at SDSU. “If people are high risk, then we need to be there preventing things.”
San Diego State University is one of the first schools in the nation to implement on-campus programs geared towards educating students on topics such as sexual violence prevention, consent, bystander intervention and how to build healthy relationships.
Galia oversees all the projects and programs that SDSU has pertaining to public health, health promotion and health education.
“I think we’ve done a really great job building a supportive culture that people understand, that there are resources, and that we will believe survivors when they come forward and that we’re here to help them,” said Galia. “And make the campus safe for everybody.”
According to the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct in 2015 (PDF), “11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).”
What the data shows
The results revealed from the SDSU Campus Climate Survey (PDF) revealed that SDSU students are very informed about sexual violence resources, are well-versed in affirmative consent policy, and feel ready to intervene to prevent sexual violence from occurring on campus.
Sexual violence remains an issue on many college campuses, but there are some colleges that are taking a stand.
How universities are taking action
Several universities throughout the country are beginning to take steps to prevent sexual violence incidents on their campuses. Schools are working to ensure the safety of their students and faculty by initiating sexual health programs and educating students.
At San Diego State University, before students attend their first day of classes as freshmen, they are required to attend freshman orientation. At this orientation, students watch a presentation about sexual assault, and learn more about the issue before they can even move into their dorm.
According to SDSU alumnus, Harsh Varshney, SDSU does a good job at educating the freshmen about sexual violence prevention but says they can improve in certain areas.
“Every incoming freshman is required to undergo a series of videos that educate them about sexual violence,” says Varshney. “There can be more opportunities for students to engage in conversations about sexual violence though.”
SDSU has taken baby steps to create more opportunities, and in doing so, has produced several programs on campus that are available for students.
Galia says that within the last decade that she has been employed at SDSU, she has seen a shift in the culture and says that students can come to speak out about any problems regarding sexual assault.
“I think we’ve done a really great job, slowly but surely, building a supportive culture that people understand,” says Galia. “That there are resources, and that we will believe survivors when they come forward, and that we’re here to help them, and make the campus safer for everybody.”
SDSU also has a community for students to openly talk about health promotion and prevention.
One of those programs is called FratMANers, which stands for Fraternity Men Against Negative Environments and Rape Situations. This is a peer health education program which trains fraternity men on sexual violence awareness, prevention, intervention and survivor support.
“As a member of the FratMANers program, here at SDSU, I am constantly taught about how to intervene and how to educate others,” says Varshney. “I work with a team to implement outreach programs across the campus so other students learn about what sexual violence is, how to prevent it, how to use safe language, what consent is, and by doing so, I’m helping educate others the same way I have been educated.”
A similar program to that but aimed towards women is SISSTER, Sorority Women Invested in Survivor Support, Training, and Ending Rape Culture.
Throughout the school year, FratMANers and SISSTER host several events to bring attention to sexual violence and to educate other SDSU students. In the past, this has included the Green Dot Campaign, To All the People I’ve Asked For Consent Kissing Booth, and Spike Balls, Not Drinks.
“Having events like these are really beneficial to the students at SDSU,” says Varshney. “It creates an atmosphere that is safe, yet at the same time, shows everyone that conversations about these sensitive topics don’t always have to be portrayed in a negative way.”
Students can also apply to become Peer Health Educators. SDSU Peer Health Educators (PHEs) work to promote health and wellness across campus. They assist the Department of Well Being & Health Promotion with outreach events based on health issues relevant to SDSU, while also presenting various workshops on many topics including alcohol and drugs, nutrition, dating violence and sexual health.
There is also a student organization on campus called The Womyn’s Outreach Association, founded in 1977.
“They started because there was a member of the SDSU community here who was murdered due to a domestic violence incident,” says Galia. “So that spurred on this organization that has been in effect for many many years.”
In 1995, SDSU Women’s Studies student and Women’s Resource Center leader, Andrea O’ Donnell, was tragically murdered by her boyfriend. After this incident, they renamed the association in her honor in hopes to raise awareness and advocate for any victims and survivors of domestic violence.
The Andrea O’ Donnell Womyn’s Outreach Association works to empower and liberate the women in the SDSU community. They focus on sexual violence prevention and host the yearly Take Back the Night, an event that hosts an open mic for survivors and leads students in a march on campus to take a stand against sexual violence.
Why raising awareness for this issue is helpful for the college community
For college students, education and awareness on sexual assault and sexual violence is crucial. By raising awareness of this issue, students get a better understanding of the problem and can work together to create a solution.
“Sexual violence is a major public health issue,” says Varshney. “College students are more affected by sexual violence than any other population of individuals.”
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), college women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than robbed with two sexual assaults for every one robbery.
“It is up to us students to do what we can to raise awareness about the issue, and prevent it from happening,” says Varshney.
When students are not educated about this issue, they are not aware of the problem, thus not being able to do anything about it. By having specific programs like the ones at SDSU, more students are aware of the rising numbers of sexual assaults and can stand up and educate their peers within the community.
Nickolas Wohlman, FratMANers president and Associated Students executive vice president, says that college campuses are exactly where people should be educated about sexual violence prevention due to statistics and the age demographic.
“If we were able to have these conversations now, hopefully that transcends and translates into the professional world, and we don’t have to have this issue 20 years from now,” says Wohlman.
SDSU events that are driving the conversation
During the month of April, SDSU takes part in a week-long event called, Take Back the Week, for sexual assault awareness month. This year, it took place during the week of April 8 and was a collaborative effort to spread awareness about issues surrounding sexual violence and rape.
A specific event during that week was called “#NotSilentBecause.” This event is an open and honest dialogue held in the Student Union Theater where the SDSU community can learn about and speak up against sexual violence. Nickolas Wohlman is in charge of this event and helps execute its success.
This event began at Boise State University and talked about why college-aged students shouldn’t be silent about the issue of sexual violence.
“So it’s really important for us, as college students, to be able to have that voice and have that platform, to open those dialogues up, and really just have the conversation,” says Wohlman.
Other events that happen during the week-long event include a play about sexual violence, intersectional approaches to addressing sexual violence, an open support group and Take Back the Night.
The SDSU Women’s Resource Center collaborates with the Well-Being & Health Promotion Department. One of those programs includes The Brave Project. The Brave Project is training that is offered to faculty, staff and students.
“It’s a lengthy training,” says Galia. “They get to go in and hear about all the different topics that kind of surround, or intersect with sexual violence, and getting a little bit of a certification too, having gone through that training.”
This training covers several topics relevant to preventing sexual violence, including strategies for implementing affirmative consent, criminal investigation of sexual assault cases and intervening when necessary to prevent sexual violence from taking place.
The implementation of raising awareness of sexual assault prevention has proven to be a chain reaction at this university. As more and more students join these programs, word-of-mouth gets around, and soon enough, there are more students wanting to be educated and getting involved.
“It’s helping decrease the number of sexual violence and sexual assault cases,” says Varshney. “Without this program on this campus, the overall Greek student body would be less educated.”