Think back to when you had to complete AlcoholEdu, or similarly, online traffic school. Having rules lectured at you is adequate for something as cut-and-dry as blood alcohol content and driving rules.
Sexual violence, on the other hand, is far more subjective, sensitive and personal. The newly required sexual education module for incoming freshmen is a commendable step toward breaking the silence surrounding sexual violence. It provides vital information and raises awareness of important issues, but the online program is not enough.
Learning about sexual violence is certainly necessary to wrapping one’s mind around concepts of what consent is and isn’t, and what makes a relationship healthy or not. However, discussion is just as vital. If sexual violence can’t be openly discussed, it remains riddled with misconceptions and viewed as something to be aware of but not spoken about.
Small group discussions of sexual violence, similar to those required for the Penn Reading Project, would be ideal for entering freshmen. However, there are many sensitive issues that freshmen should arguably be required to discuss during their transition to life at Penn. With limited time, it’s difficult to say which topics should be prioritized for discussion.
Fraternities and sororities have confronted this challenge by offering a variety of programs during their new-member education — with topics ranging from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity training to drugs and alcohol — for new member classes to attend. The workshop-style program provides the interactive component missing from the sexual-education module for freshmen.
“In past years, Panhellenic brought in one speaker for all new members to attend,” wrote Stacy Kraus, associate director for Programming Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. “[The Interfraternity Council] adopted the menu option approach last year. [Panhel] thought it might be best to also make the switch, providing chapters with the opportunity to personalize their new members experience.”
The IFC has a violence prevention program given by One-in-Four, an all-male sexual assault peer education group. This year, the Panhel is offering violence prevention awareness training for the first time. Like the new module for incoming freshmen, this new anti-sexual violence programming is a “good start,” as Penn Women’s Center Violence Prevention Educator Jessica Mertz said.
“I’m a strong believer in doing things co-ed,” said Mertz. “But a positive side [of single-gender discussion] is that it’s a more intimate setting and more comfortable.” It makes sense that people would feel more at ease talking about sexual violence with only other women or men. However, the dialogue needed between the sexes is still lacking.
Personally, I had only discussed sexual violence with other women before the repeated reports of sexual assault on campus last semester. After the third reported case, I attended the Sexual Violence Speak Out hosted by the Penn Consortium for Undergraduate Women and On- in-Four. I found it far more enlightening than any other discussion I’d had about the topic, and I think that was largely due to the presence of both men and women in the room. I was able to hear several men’s perspectives, and that really helped me examine my own thoughts.
A workshop co-hosted by PCUW and One in Four for mixed groups of fraternity and sorority members could be helpful in the same way, and the Greek community is an especially important group to have such open discussion with.
Mertz said “there’s no talk of joint programming” for frats and sororities yet, but the recent sexual violence awareness programs for both freshmen and the Greek community is extremely encouraging. More education can help to prevent future incidents. Moving forward, hopefully we can make awareness more discussion based and bring more of the campus into the dialogue. Katherine Rea is a College junior from Saratoga, Calif. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Rea-lity Check appears on Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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