The university is taking a step toward fighting sexual assault by implementing a pilot program this fall for educating students about sexual assault prevention that, if successful, could then become a requirement for all future incoming freshmen.
The program, called Violence Intervention and Prevention, is meant to reach 300 to 600 of this fall’s incoming undergraduate students, according to Fatima Burns, coordinator of the University Health Center’s CARE to Stop Violence office, formerly called the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program.
Lauren Redding, who designed the pilot program earlier this year and graduated in May, said educating and empowering students is key to changing a culture that causes women who are assaulted to feel afraid to report their assaults.
“It’s such a widespread problem on all college campuses, and our campus is no different — and I know that from personal experience,” she said. “I am a survivor. I was raped my sophomore year at UMD.”
Redding, former president of UMD Feminists and former Diamondback editor in chief, proposed a bill in January requiring all incoming freshmen to take the course. The University Senate is still weighing the bill and plans to vote on it this fall,
but officials agreed in May to explore a pilot program that would serve as the basis for a larger program.
Ryan Heisinger, who served as the Student Government Association’s academic affairs vice president during the 2012-13 academic year, worked with Redding on the pilot program before graduating in May.
“The issue currently is that men have certain biases and certain presumptions that they come to college with that we need to educate them about,” he said. “There are some misconceptions about what sex should look like in college in general. Especially when drinking is involved, there needs to be some clarification.”
Sexual assault isn’t only a women’s issue, Heisinger said, and part of the goal with a program like this is to teach men their role in stopping sexual assault and violence against women. In addition, 10 percent of all victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape crimes are male, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
“The issues of rape and sexual assault and domestic violence are, in large part, men’s issues,” he said.
According to Burns, students in the pilot will be randomly enrolled in one of four programs: a control group in which students fill out a questionnaire, an in-person presentation or one of two different online modules. The pilot is expected to start in late September or early October and will last until the end of the semester, according to Stephanie Rivero, assistant coordinator of the CARE office.
Students who wish to participate but haven’t been assigned can opt into the pilot program through an online forum, and professors teaching UNIV 100 courses or officials in the university’s living-learning communities can decide to include their students, said SGA President Samantha Zwerling. The deadline for students to opt in has not yet been decided, according to Rivero.
“SGA is working to promote it and to make sure students are aware of it, to make sure people are signing up for it, as well as helping CARE with any logistical things they might need,” Zwerling said. “We’re working in conjunction with them to make sure it runs smoothly.”
“Some don’t know that what they say or what they do that makes a person uncomfortable [can be] sexual assault,” said Joan Tsai, a sophomore enrolled in letters and sciences. “I feel like they need to understand that.”
After tabling the bill mandating the program for all incoming students in the spring, the University Senate is set to vote on it in October.
“We need to do a lot better with issues with regard to sexual violence and domestic violence,” Heisinger said. “This is the first of many important steps that we need to take in the coming years.”