Online Course Aims to Raise Awareness
STORY BY COURTNEY FISHMAN AND AUSTIN CANNON
One in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to the U.S. Justice Department. With that number, the average college student will know someone who’s been sexually assaulted while at school. The issue has taken center stage on the local and national news media, and Drake is working to prevent future instances through proactive measures.
On Oct. 30, Drake students, faculty and staff received a timely warning regarding a rape that occurred on campus Oct. 24. This is the second occurrence of sexual violence on or near campus this school year.
The first sexual assault was reported on Sept. 8.
Starting next semester, all Drake students will be requested to complete an online training program about sexual assault and dating violence. In the coming weeks, administrators will discuss making the program a requirement. One option under consideration is blocking registration for those who do not complete the course.
Haven, an accredited program from technology education company EverFi, outlines campus policies and offers key definitions and statistics regarding sexual violence.
Alysa Mozak, Drake’s coordinator for sexual violence response, said the program would be personalized to fit Drake.
“It’s customizable so we can make it very Drake-specific about our policies, and I have a video that I uploaded about me, and who I am and what I do, so students can put a face to the name of the program,” Mozak said.
Mozak heads an anti-violence council made up of faculty from each school on campus. After evaluation over the summer, Mozak and her council decided that Haven was the best option.
“I’ve heard talk about this for a while since I’ve been at Drake,” said Samantha Brenner, president of Student Activists for Gender Equality (SAGE). “This is a model other schools have, just kind of like an alcohol course you would take before you sign up for classes.”
Mozak hopes the increased knowledge will build students’ courage to intervene.
“Everyone knows right from wrong, it’s just we turn a blind eye for certain types of situations because they make us uncomfortable,” Mozak said. “It’s called pluralistic ignorance, so you assume somebody else is going to take responsibility because it either makes you personally uncomfortable or you don’t have the skill set to know what to do.”
“If we can change that lens, then you’re going to see people interact in any kind of bystander situation more effectively and more often,” Mozak said.
According to One in Four, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing rape, a nearby bystander reduces the likelihood of completed rape by 44 percent.
Brenner said students have become more aware of sexual assault, which leads them to the “next step” of knowing when to intervene.
“It’s saying, ‘What can I do, as an individual student, to impact this campus?’” Brenner said. “And I think it’s a way to empower students, and make them realize they can be part of a solution.”
Brenner also volunteers for the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) as a peer advocate, and anyone can call the VIP hotline, including friends of survivors.
“If they want advice on policy, maybe they’re checking for a friend, they want to know what the policy is here, they want to know their options, their resources or maybe they want to know how Iowa’s laws work, those are all things that people could call for,” Brenner said.
Drake’s handling of sexual assault cases is under scrutiny by federal investigators. On Oct. 16, Drake President David Maxwell informed students and faculty that the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating Drake’s handling of a sexual assault case. The investigation was prompted by a complaint from a student.
SAGE’s Brenner has examined Drake’s policies using a checklist provided by Mozak. She found that most of the disciplinary power in assault cases comes from Sentwali Bakari, Drake’s dean of students.
“Drake doesn’t have very many checks and balances when it comes to their policy,” Brenner said. “The dean of students is almost solely in charge of decisions when it comes to punishments, and, obviously, that’s not best practice.”
When a student is implicated in a sexual assault case, Bakari conducts the investigation based on the Code of Student Conduct, per the Drake student handbook.
The Code of Student Conduct defines sexual assault and outlines the investigation process and potential punishments for those found responsible for the assault.
“Right now, everything’s very general, vague,” Brenner said. “Like I said, it’s up to the dean of students.”
“I consult with colleagues before decisions are made,” Bakari said. “I don’t make decisions in isolation.”
Brenner also criticized Drake for a lack of openness and availability of its policy and processes in handling sexual assaults.
“I’d say that our other biggest thing is transparency between the administration and students,” Brenner said. “I know they’ve definitely tried to work on this. But, especially on the website, if you try getting to sexual assault policy and processes, it’s very difficult.”
Bakari said that the information is accessible on the Drake website.
“It’s not when you come to the Drake page the first thing you see is all on this topic, but once you start exploring the dean of student’s website, Alysa’s website, then they (students) start finding them,” Bakari said.
Brenner said Drake’s site should have a one-click link to sexual assault info on its home page, as other universities do.
Bakari says he is satisfied with the placement of sexual assault info on the site.
“I think there’s a balance of where you will be able to find those things (sexual assault information), but like most websites and most institutions, more general information is there and you go from there to specific departments to find this information,” he said.
Brenner expressed the need to educate students on sexual assault, before it’s too late.
“People need to be educated on rape culture and that it’s a real thing that does exist,” Brenner said. “And that there’s evidence of it running rampant on college campuses and that we need to do something about it, fast, before every single school is on this list of OCR complaints.”
Students appreciate the information and education Drake is providing, said Bakari.
“I think people are appreciating that we now have bystander education and training to students. There’s just been more awareness … and more people nationally are talking about this,” Bakari said.
As the discussion of sexual assault becomes more common, Bakari hopes to handle discussion of sexual assault with sensitivity.
“I think maybe students find it to be a very difficult, and very sensitive and emotional topic,” he said. “But I think people are also appreciating that there’s more discussion and more efforts are being made to bring more awareness and education.”