Since 2001, April has been observed nationally as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which aims to raise public awareness and bring education to communities about sexual assault and sexual violence. The Offices of the Dean of Student Life (ODSL) at Texas A&M University is not only looking to bring awareness about these issues during the month of April, but is striving to continue this education with the campus community beyond the annual campaign. For continuous education and support, the ODSL has formed the Consensual Language, Education, Awareness and Relationships (CLEAR) office to address this very issue on the A&M campus.
CLEAR is dedicated to the prevention of power-based interpersonal violence on campus, by providing education and training to benefit the students of Texas A&M. Throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month CLEAR has hosted numerous events, such as a series of workshops developed by Dr. David Lisak, on campus sexual assault and violence. Dr. Lisak is a clinical psychologist and a pioneer in research on sexual assault and interpersonal violence. Dr. Lisak’s groundbreaking 2002 paper, Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending among Undetected Rapists shed light on the previously unknown world of acquaintance rape and challenged many of society’s preconceived notions about sexual assault. CLEAR also provided a sexual harassment and rape prevention (SHARP) self-defense class as well as Our Masculinity Matters summit, which aimed at bringing men together from the student, faculty and staff populations to create dialogue on better understanding men’s role in ending violence.
CLEAR will conclude Sexual Assault Awareness Month with Denim Day on April 27, 2016. As an international campaign, CLEAR is using Denim Day as a call to action for everyone in Aggieland to wear denim as a sign of protest against the destructive stereotypes and attitudes that perpetuate sexual violence in and throughout the community. With the development of numerous campus programs, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is just one point on the path for the continuous education and training ODSL and CLEAR hope to bring to the campus community. Kristen Harrell, Associate Director for the Offices of the Dean of Student Life, explains the importance of the various programs that have been established, “There is a difference between an awareness campaign like Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the evidence based programs we have developed, which engage individuals in dialogue that promotes critically thinking through issues before being in specific situations. These evidence based practices are aimed at creating cultural change by taking steps beyond bringing awareness.”
One such evidence-based practice is the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program. This program trains students, staff and faculty to develop the right words, choices and actions to help appropriately intervene, prevent, or end personal violence. Green Dot aims to proactively provide the tools needed for people to create a safer community while also creating a resource within community members themselves. April-Autumn Jenkins, Program Coordinator for CLEAR, further explains, “Having bystander intervention programs is important, not only because it provides culturally competent training and language tools, but because it provides a peer to peer resource. Students are more likely to listen or go to other students for support, and those peers should be prepared with the right tools before situations happen.”
One additional way ODSL and CLEAR are using this peer-to-peer resource is by providing Step In. Stand Up. Summer Peer Educator training. In conjunction with the University’s Step In. Stand Up. campaign, Peer Educators will be trained on students’ rights and available resources for the prevention of and response to sexual violence and stalking. The Step In. Stand Up. campaign was created to bring awareness of these issues, and to also show support for victims by standing with them and encouraging others to do the same. These Peer Educators will then co-present at freshman new student and transfer new student conferences over the summer as a preventative effort in creating a safe and welcoming campus community. Sexual violence across college campuses is a serious issue that everyone should be committed to preventing. Through the resources, programs, training, and awareness campaigns ODSL, CLEAR, the Division of Student Affairs and Texas A&M University is striving to take positive action on campus and foster a community of healthy relationships and consensual language.
Written by: Courtney Rhodes