April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, making it an ideal time to take a moment to reflect on the steps that have been taken on college campuses to address sexual gender-based misconduct and what each of us can do to continue to raise awareness about this important issue.
Over the past several years, a great deal has been done on college campuses across the country with regard to addressing sexual gender-based misconduct, thanks to increased levels of support from the government. Both the state and the federal government are challenging colleges and universities to think critically about sexual gender-based misconduct and encouraging schools to provide adequate support for every student in need.
This support includes resources such as training, interventions, support systems and more. Government officials are also working together with school administrators to conduct trainings on how to institute structure and formulate policies around sexual assault awareness.
A wonderful example of the resources Post is providing to encourage sexual assault awareness is the Jane Doe No More event we hosted on campus last week. During this powerful event, our students had the opportunity to listen to survivors share their stories of sexual assault and partake in an open dialogue about this issue.
We try to provide opportunities like this for students throughout the year, both inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to these voluntary outlets, there is also a mandatory session on sexual gender-based misconduct conducted at Orientation that all first-year students attend.
Promoting a dialogue around this issue—so that students who have questions or who have been involved in an incident feel comfortable coming forward—is so important, and these events help to do that. We can’t just stop there though; the second part to this dialogue is making outlets available for students to utilize and feel comfortable disclosing this type of information. The main outlets for this conversation at Post are our Counseling Center and Health Services Office. We also have board members trained in sexual misconduct support who can provide insight to students, and two Title IX Coordinators that work with students that are survivors of sexual misconduct.
Lately, the conversation on our campus, and campuses around the country, has been focused on the responsibility and importance of bystander awareness. Bystander awareness is about being able to recognize that there could be a situation going on and knowing how you should intervene, as long as you’re not putting yourself in a dangerous situation. If a student sees something going on that they may view as a danger, it’s important that they’re comfortable enough to address it, stick up for each other and support each other through that.
With this type of leadership, where everyone is looking out for one another, we can change the outcome of many different things. This includes not only sexual gender-based misconduct, but fights, drunk driving and other harmful activities. Bystander intervention can have a positive effect on so many different levels. We’re taught when we’re younger to do these things, but it almost falls by the wayside over the years. However, college students and young adults need it in their lives just as much, or more, than when they were children.
National Sexual Assault Awareness month is a great time to become informed and raise awareness around this important issue, and the best way to do that is by getting involved. Whether it be connecting with an organization like Jane Doe No More, volunteering at an event or even raising awareness among peers by sharing ideas, students can further the conversation. One of the best resources for students to visit for ideas on this issue is NotAlone.gov. This is an amazing site that emphasizes ways to change the culture on a college campus.
I’m excited about what is going on around sexual gender-based misconduct awareness, at Post, in Connecticut and across the nation. However, there’s always more that we can be doing, as a university, as a state and as a country, and most importantly as individuals. I truly feel that this is only the beginning.
Erica Peryga is the Dean of Students at Post University. Peryga has been in the Student Affairs field for 16 years. Throughout her career she has worked as a Residence Director, Area Coordinator, Director of Residence Life, Assistant Dean of Students and Dean of Students. Peryga earned her Master of Education in Counselor Education with a concentration in Higher Education Administration from Clemson University.