A table of students in the Student Union was discussing the University of Tulsa’s program on sexual violence, which was held on Feb. 17. A male athlete at the table, after being playfully pushed by a female friend, responded: “That’s sexual assault. Yeah that’s what I got out of Tuesday’s meeting.”
The program, consisting of a presentation from TU staff counselor Dr. Michael McClendon, was geared toward teaching male students how they can help prevent sexual assault on campus. All athletes and at least a majority of fraternities were required to attend.
“Yeah, he said that just by being an American male we were ‘this close’ to being a rapist,” the student continued. The students then went back to their lunches.
Tuesday’s program was announced on Feb. 13 in a campus wide e-mail from President Upham in response to recent reports of sexual assault at TU. “Recent reports of sexual violence at TU call us to redouble our commitment to a secure and respectful campus environment. It falls to us to affect this shift in culture,” the e-mail read.
In this academic year so far, five sexual assaults have been reported, up from four reports in 2013.
TU is also currently being sued by a former student for mishandling a sexual assault investigation involving a student athlete.
Colleges and universities across the country, from Harvard to OSU, are coming under fire for mishandling sexual assault investigations, required under Title IX of Education Amendments of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The White House has responded by creating a task force aimed at reducing sexual assault, which issued a report on how to best prevent sexual assault in April 2014. These recommendations include promoting bystander intervention training, conducting campus surveys and the identifying and promoting trained victim advocates.
Some three hundred students, mostly men, wrote what organization they were affiliated with as they waited in line for pizza before they took their seats in front of a large-screen projecting a PowerPoint. McClendon’s presentation was critical of cultural expectations of masculinity and used pop references such as advertisements, commercials and songs to demonstrate how U.S. culture promotes violence against women.
The powerpoint included statistics about the number of people that would be sexually assaulted, the likelihood of being sexually assaulted in college and the statistically calculated number of women that would be raped during their time at TU.
He did not define what sexual assault was, describe how bystanders can intervene or provide the students with information about the resources available on campus.
Student responses: a mixed bag
Keevan Lucas, a junior football starter, said that prior to Tuesday’s program he “didn’t pay much attention to sexual assault violence on this campus, or any campus for that matter,” and that “this program was meant to challenge men to step up and make a stand for what is right.”
However, he did say some of his teammates “were slightly offended by some of the information.”
Kappa Alpha fraternity president Noah Roberts said that “it can be extremely valuable to gear sexual assault programming towards men” and that he would like to see more bystander intervention programming.
Other students were more critical. Abby Meaders, a student involved with Student Alliance for Violence Education (SAVE), was concerned that the program did not define sexual assault or provide any ways in which men could be proactive in prevention. She said men might perceive the information as being targeted and accusatory.
Gracie Weiderhaft, an education graduate student and the president of the Society of Gender Equality (SGE) agreed. “A lot of men are resistant to sexual assault (programs) geared towards them because they often feel like they’re being accused of being part of the problem,” she said. “I think there’s a mindset of a lot of men who think ‘I’m not a rapist’ and ‘I think rape is wrong’ so I don’t need to be here.”
“It needs to be clear that the goal of the program isn’t to point fingers, but to create a campus culture where bystanders know how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and aren’t afraid to intervene,” Weiderhaft concluded.
A different plan
According to Laura Allen, the chair of the Advocacy Alliance, several TU administrators approached her for assistance in putting together the program about ten days prior to the event.
The Advocacy Alliance is TU’s sexual violence prevention and educational programming committee and works in partnership with the Tulsa Institute of Trauma Adversity and iNjustice (TITAN).
While Allen and other Advocacy Alliance members arranged the program, it was not part of their planned programming.
Furthermore, the Advocacy Alliance logo did not accompany the flyers or other media promoting the event.
Allen said that the Advocacy Alliance has been working on programming aimed to combat sexual violence on campus for over two years, following guidelines put forth by a White House task force.
The Advocacy Alliance’s programming is quite different from the program offered on Tuesday. The organization plans to provide an in-depth training workshop for a number of faculty, staff and graduate students put on by We End Violence, an organization developed by leading researchers of sexual violence that trains colleges and universities. The workshop will include sessions about how to teach bystander intervention and how to involve men in sexual assault prevention.
In March the Advocacy Alliance will begin offering bystander intervention training to small groups and leaders of larger student organizations. On March 26, We End Violence will offer a campus-wide program addressing sexual violence, consent and changing culture.
Jim Scholl, Advocacy Alliance member and the PhD student who was in charge of coordinating the partnership with We End Violence, said that it is incredibly important to use empirically tested best practices when addressing sexual violence.
“The bystander intervention program and various other passive and active programs were intentionally designed to aid in the development of basic skills and knowledge,” Scholl said. “The intention has been to gradually begin building on these foundational pieces with programs such as We End Violence, which will examine the cultural ideologies, attitudes and behaviors that allow sexual violence to flourish.”