EDITORIALS

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November 15, 2018

Looking for a Better Way to Prevent Sexual Assault

UChicago’s current sexual assault prevention course is unspecific and unhelpful.


Zita Ouyang / The Chicago Maroon

By now, you should have completed the University’s sexual assault prevention course. The web seminar was long and wide-ranging, covering everything from the broader issue of consent to stalking, abuse, and harassment.

While it is important to train students to recognize red flags and navigate difficult interpersonal situations, an online course is not the most effective way to have these discussions. Real-life scenarios are inevitably more complex than three-minute video clips, and one’s ability to click the correct response will only go so far in a more nuanced situation. The online training course cannot adequately educate students about maintaining healthy, supportive relationships with one another. An in-person training would be far more effective in helping students understand the gray areas surrounding sexual abuse and harassment.

Instead of an online course focusing on social skills, the University should use this mandatory training to better advertise and explain its Title IX resources. This year’s program provided very little concrete information about dealing with the fallout of a sexual assault. Who specifically would you contact at this University if you wished to report an assault? What if you wanted to talk to someone, but did not want to invoke a disciplinary hearing? How long do hearings usually take, and what possible consequences are there for perpetrators?

The final section of the module, titled “Reporting Options and Responding to a Survivor,” seems like it should be able to address these concerns. However, this course has been written to apply to schools across the country, so very little University-specific information is present. The slides are rife with empty phrases like: “When a report is made to our school, we must provide the person who experienced the offense with information on a number of things.” The course does not explain to whom a student should report, nor how the process would unfold after the initial meeting with that representative.

Some slides in the module attempt to bridge this gap by linking to external pages on our Title IX website. This is doubly ineffective. First, we must acknowledge that most students are not engaging deeply with the training program. The video and dialogue slides require participation, but slides with links to the Title IX website can be skipped over. Second, even if a student clicks on the link, the resulting page is often not directly related to the topic at hand. The slide entitled “Reporting Contact Information,” for instance, leads to a generalized landing page with no names, contact numbers, or information about how one would begin an official complaint process.

One could click through the University’s entire Title IX website and figure things out, more or less. The problem is not that the information doesn’t exist, but that it is not well known. A sexual assault prevention module that does not fully explain the Title IX reporting process is incomplete and ineffective.

The University makes available list of resources is located in the appendix of the University Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct. Title IX coordinators are listed with their contact information and a list of reasons why one might contact them. The UMatter website similarly aims to simplify the process. In terms of offering resources and practical solutions, this appendix and UMatter render the training module useless. 

Having discussions about consent and healthy relationships is essential on a college campus, but these conversations would be more meaningful in person, so that students could ask questions and engage with one another. The online training should be used instead to provide information about University services for sexual assault and abuse survivors. Rather than provide occasional, optional links to the Title IX site, the module should focus on making these University-specific processes clear and easy to navigate.

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