Feature Article

Addressing Sexual Violence on Campus

Educating Students and Giving Them a Voice

By Karin Raye, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies, Attorney and Longtime Domestic Violence Advocate

No college is immune to sexual and domestic violence on its campus, including Lasell. National statistics indicate that in 2015 more than 20% of college women (one in five) were victims of sexual assault or misconduct in college, while 5 percent of undergraduate men said they were victims of non-consensual sexual contact according to the Association of American Universities Climate Study of 27 Colleges. That same year, the issue exploded into a national conversation when survivors of sexual and domestic violence across the nation openly shared how their colleges responded, or more accurately, failed to respond to their reports of rape and intimate partner violence on their campuses. Consequently, The White House reacted by clarifying federal mandates and requiring colleges to comply with Title IX, a federal statute exacted in 1972 to create gender equity on college campuses.

Like many colleges, Lasell embraced the need to improve responses to and increase education about sexual and domestic violence on campus and promptly took action to comply with these federal mandates. We hired a Title IX Coordinator, attorney Jennifer OKeeffe, who joined our team after prosecuting domestic and sexual violence crimes with the Suffolk District Attorney's office in Boston. Lasell now requires all freshman to take an online training that focuses on sexual violence and consent and we conduct Title IX trainings throughout the year for students, Resident Advisors, faculty and staff. Our campus police force receives training and Lasell has a specially trained sexual assault/domestic violence investigator.

But unlike other colleges, Lasell's approach to prevention combines its novel sexual and domestic violence curriculum with its connected learning philosophy to reach our students on an academic level - that informs their activities outside the classroom. The approach has produced an overwhelming response from the student body - where our Domestic Violence Advocacy and Sexual Violence Advocacy classes within our Criminal Justice major regularly produce a waiting list. It has also informed student-led and student-driven domestic violence prevention campaigns on campus, which now make up an enormous percentage our activities in this area.

My colleague and Title IX Coordinator Jennifer OKeeffe believes that the student leadership begun in the classroom has major implications in helping the college meet its Title IX prevention and education mandates.

"Other Title IX Coordinators from nearby colleges lament the low attendance and interest in Title IX events on their campuses. Lasell's student-led events engage hundreds of students, faculty and staff, often with standing room only attendance, " Okeeffe says. "The events span the campus and reach all genders, sexual orientations, ages, races and ethnicities. The energy, enthusiasm and knowledge the students bring to their events is contagious and unique."

Although Lasell is a relatively small quiet campus, the activism and energy that has been cultivated here is anything but quiet. In its stated mission, Lasell College embodies social responsibility, respect and commitment. But what most differentiates Lasell from other colleges is its collaborative, holistic, student-centered approach to social justice and social change. To effectuate true, deeply impactful change around sexual and domestic violence, Lasell emphasizes the importance of student involvement and leadership.

That change begins with the courses I teach on Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Advocacy where our students learn by doing. The courses focus exclusively on teaching students about the dynamics and impacts of intimate violence as well as how to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence. By embedding sexual and domestic violence advocacy education into its academic curriculum, Lasell sends a strong message about the importance and value of this work. The classes provide our students with a unique educational framework and the support necessary to create social justice campaigns that mobilize the campus.

I developed the curriculum in partnership with The Second Step, a domestic violence service organization, and Boston Area Rape Crisis Center to ensure that the techniques and content reflected the most current industry standards. These partnerships legitimize the training and also facilitate the inclusion of community experts in the classroom as trainers, guides and consultants for the students as they design projects and programming for their community. The close contact with our community partners benefits everyone and translates into internships, training partnerships in the community and post-graduate jobs.

Our students develop projects in these classes that explode into the community, creating social action movements that gain momentum and traction in all corners of our campus. The leadership of our students influences their peers in a powerful way, and the passion becomes contagious. We know that students are most likely to seek support and advice from their friends about their experiences with sexual and domestic violence. By empowering students to conceptualize, design and execute sexual and domestic violence prevention programs, they adeptly target problem areas while relating to students as peers. Other students then begin to see their friends and classmates as leaders and resources. Student-led campaigns transform our campus in a more profound and powerful way than if Lasell were to simply mandate attendance at Title IX programs.

Recent examples of these campaigns include a student-launched White Ribbon Campaign designed to engage men against sexual and domestic violence Where they wrote, planned and helped produce the It's On US campaign, which was later acknowledged by the White House - which initiated the It's On Us campaign as a way to mobilize college campuses around sexual and domestic violence. Students annually host the Clothesline Project, an awareness tool made up entirely of survivors' t-shirts designed by Lasell students, faculty and staff. Hundreds of members of our community walk through, observe and honor the installation each year.

Last fall, the students designed a powerful poster campaign incorporating the faces of Lasell community members and highlighting facts and myths relating to sexual and domestic violence. They also facilitated a day of silence culminating in a "Take Back the Night" event featuring four Lasell student survivors, which was attended by more than 125 students, faculty, staff, police officers and parents. Through their projects, the student activists begin to see themselves not just as students but as vitally important citizens who belong to a larger community and feel an obligation to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Luis Branco '16, one of those student leaders, has expanded his on-campus experience to include an internship at The Second Step in Newton.

"Every class, event, guest speaker that I've ever been a part of has left me feeling confident, proud, and determined to become the best possible advocate that I can be," he says.

True change, however, requires engagement from the whole community. And, in true collaborative spirit, Lasell's commitment to sexual and domestic violence education also extends across the campus into many academic departments, the Athletic department, administrative offices, Lasell Village, Counseling and Spiritual Life, resulting in creative and groundbreaking collaborations both within the campus and beyond with our community-based domestic and sexual violence partners. To this point, recently more than 20 students, faculty and staff received training from the One Love Foundation to facilitate the screening of Escalation, a film portraying lethal domestic violence on a college campus. Each year the Peer Health Educators - a group of students educate our community about issues impacting college students, present The Vagina Monologues each year to raise awareness about women and trauma. Across campus, students and their professors design and create art projects, research projects, event planning, plays and trainings all designed to educate our community about sexual and domestic violence.

The impact of this work does not end in the classroom or on campus, it also deeply resonates with students as they think about their future as professionals.

They witness the power of their work and want to extend their reach beyond Lasell College. Many translate their intense level of engagement and investment into trauma-related internships and ultimately, post- graduation jobs.

These students then go on to continue the work professionally and advocate for those who have been victimized. It's something Lasell should be proud of, and an approach that we are confident will make a profound difference not only on college campuses, but also in communities across the country.

Past Issues