ASU prepares next phase of sexual assault education after Consent and Respect launch

(Photo illustration by Ben Moffat/The State Press) (Photo illustration by Ben Moffat/The State Press)

Late last semester, tens of thousands of students received an email requiring them to take an online workshop about sexual assault. Nearly half of the students required to take this workshop have done so, while ASU and related campus clubs prepare the next stage of sexual assault education.

“Consent is essential,” a robotic voice says in the first segment of the course.

While most won’t disagree with this simple declaration, advocates do disagree on the delivery of the material in the module.

Building the course

Consent and Respect, as the online workshop is called, is not new nor exclusive to the University. It was created several years ago by 3rd Millennium Classrooms, an outside company that develops online health and wellness courses for universities across the country. ASU Wellness contributed to the content developed in Consent and Respect, and the workshop has been available for student use for about a year.

However, the move to require the module for all ASU students, except online-only students, is part of the University’s recent efforts regarding sexual assault, which also include the implementation of a sexual violence task force, the appointment of Title IX coordinator and a recent faculty vote to ban most student-professor relationships.

Michele Grab, executive director of strategic initiatives, said the course is not yet mandatory for online students because of the campus-specific nature of the curriculum.

Although there is not yet an official penalty for those who don’t take Consent and Respect, she said she hopes students will appreciate the gravity of the issue and take responsibility.

“Our goal is that students will take this module because they're part of our broader community and they understand the value that this has in regards to our community ethics,” she said. “If they fail to participate, then they'll drive us to a decision that there are course enrollment implications.”

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Since the emails requiring students to take the class began, about 30,500 of the 71,000 students required to complete the module have done so. Before the University began requiring it, only 1,500 students had completed it.

Jennifer Hightower, deputy vice president of student services, said Consent and Respect is the first step toward changing a broken culture found on many college campuses and around the country.

“This is an ongoing effort at ASU and we really are committed to ensuring we are creating a community of care, and that there is a sense of responsibility for ourselves as well as for others in this community,” she said. “We believe this work is really important in terms of engendering that kind of understanding and that kind of ethic within our students, our faculty and our staff.”

Every time a student returns to the homepage of the course, a highlighted disclaimer reads, “The content of this lesson may trigger uncomfortable memories and feelings.”

Hightower said even with the potential for harm that the course presents, its potential for good is much greater.

“There are more risks to not doing it,” she said. “There are more risks in the face that there are community members who don’t know how to report incidents; who may not know the policies, processes and procedure available to them; community members who don't know how to get support.”

Advocates weigh in

Conrad Brown, a clinical manager of trauma healing services at La Frontera Arizona EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center in Tempe, deals with sexual assault education and treatment as part of his job.

Consent and Respect is a perfect example of how this tough subject should be taught, Brown said.

“The module is excellent without qualification,” he said. “It parallels what we teach and train, and I think it's long overdue at the university level.”

Brown took the course in order to provide feedback and said he even learned something new about the University’s policies.

“I went through the course and didn’t score 100 percent the first time through,” he said. “It was straightforward. It was impartial. It did not try to be politically correct, and it’s honestly hard to imagine a better course.”

Student advocate Afsoon Shirazi, who is the community outreach officer for Devils in the Bedroom, said the course provides a great supplement for many students, especially those from Arizona, who never received adequate sex education.

“Students that came from some school districts in Arizona didn't get any education about consent, so having a mandatory course will ensure that on a basic level, Sun Devils can understand why consent is important and equal violence prevention is important in the community,” she said.

Shirazi attended schools in Tucson where she said she received annual sex education from fourth grade through high school. The true test of the workshop is to revisit rape statistics after Consent and Respect has been fully implemented and taken by all students, she said.

“The goal of the course is then to reflect after time and see if having a required class like this will actually reduce the prevalence of sexual violence and rape on all four of our campuses,” Shirazi said. “We’ll be able to evaluate better and see if there’s a better means or a more captivating way for students to learn and even ask questions in regards to sexual violence.”

Allie Bones, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said Consent and Respect has good intentions but clearly neglects an entire section of sexual assault education.

“The overall tone of it is about what victims should do to prevent becoming victims of sexual violence,” she said. “I feel like there should be a slide in there like, ‘Don’t put things in people’s drinks! Don’t have sex with someone if they are intoxicated or force yourself on someone if they haven’t consented!’ Those are glaring omissions for those who are perpetrating sexual violence.”

Bones said courses like these often forget that tips like the ‘buddy system’ can also apply to offenders, because an individual’s friends should make sure they don’t assault someone because they’ve impaired their judgement via alcohol.

“If this is going to all students, why isn’t that part of the equation?” she asked. “We never talk about that. We don’t ever have those conversations about people having a responsibility to be respectful of other people. ... And that’s just as important to tell college kids as everything else that’s in here.”

Kat Hofland, president of ASU’s I ALWAYS Get Consent! movement, said the course is a positive measure, but it isn’t enough to change the negative culture.

“It’s amazing that ASU has put something like this together on such a large scale,” she said. “It’s not the only method of education students should get, but it’s a step forward for ASU.”

The next step, then, must be student-based, Hofland said.

“There are a lot of components to this issue which need to be addressed,” she said. “A lot of this needs to come from students at this point. This is a great thing for ASU to put out there, but now students need to really take responsibility for their education about it.”

Two new measures, one goal

The next step in ASU’s anti-sexual assault efforts is a training program called the Sun Devil Support Network, which is a 16- to 20-hour weekend training program for students taught by ASU counseling and wellness staff as well as third parties, such as the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Grab said the curriculum educates students about on-campus resources as well as discussions about society’s values.

“The Sun Devil Support Network ... talks a lot about the culture that we live in and how we might in this community change some of that culture on our own campus in order to improve our campus and how to make it safe for everybody,” she said. “So we talk a lot about everything from the kind of music lyrics to advertisements to things that are pervasive in our culture, and how that affects the climate everywhere, and our campus is not exempt from that.”

The first class to receive this training should complete its curriculum by the end of the spring semester, even though the Sun Devil Support Network is not expected to be officially announced until fall. These students were invited to participate because of their involvement in the campus community in roles such as community assistants and club leaders, Grab said.

Digital culture junior Justin Maenner (left) and psychology senior Lindsay Kelley pose for a portrait on Wednesday, Feb. 4, on the Tempe campus. Maenner and Kelley are officers in Man Up and WOW Factor, respectively, two on-campus clubs that seek to promote respect and understanding between the sexes. (Ben Moffat/The State Press) Digital culture junior Justin Maenner (left) and psychology senior Lindsay Kelley pose for a portrait on Wednesday, Feb. 4, on the Tempe campus. Maenner and Kelley are officers in Man Up and WOW Factor, respectively, two on-campus clubs that seek to promote respect and understanding between the sexes. (Ben Moffat/The State Press)

Two of these club leaders are Justin Maenner, president of Man Up ASU, and Lindsay Kelley, an officer for WOW Factor! ASU, which is also known as Women of Worth. Maenner and Kelley are both on the sexual violence task force because of their involvement with the Respect Movement, and met with the task force in the summer to help plan ASU’s education strategy for sexual assault. The two are also going through training as part of the prototype stage of the Sun Devil Support Network.

Kelley said the Support Network is the necessary action that needs to be taken following Consent and Respect.

“The whole point of the training is to not only educate us but to have us work together as a network of students to come together and brainstorm to think about how we can spread this,” she said. “Something the Respect Movement has seen in the two years of working together is creating change in a culture that’s set in its ways takes a lot of time and hard work.”

Maenner and Kelley are also part of a new campus movement called Sun Devil Movement for Violence Prevention, or Sun Devil MVP. The idea came from students, like them as well as Hofland, who were involved in the task force over the summer and decided to combine their efforts once the school year began.

Sun Devil MVP is an umbrella organization, still in its beginning stages, that would allow any student, regardless of whether they were in a Respect Movement club, to be able to participate in events and dialogues pertaining to sexual assault education. The movement plans to advertise more heavily soon, once its initial plans for organization are set.

Grab, one of the advisors for Sun Devil MVP, said the movement wants to be inclusive as possible to attract a large and diverse group of students.

“For some people, it may be getting involved with some of these organizations that are involved with the great work being done already, but for some students, it might just be attending an event,” she said. “So it’s not a new student organization, it’s a group of students already doing great work saying, ‘We’re better when we’re together.’ So we’re hesitant to use the word 'organization.' They want it to be more than that.”

Grab said the movement plans to advertise more heavily soon, once its initial plans for organization are set.

Maenner said he’s excited for Sun Devil MVP to take off and start making strides to make change at ASU.

“The (Consent and Respect) module is great for awareness, but the next step is for Sun Devil MVP to be released,” he said. “Everyone on the board knows that just that module isn't going to be enough. It comes through everyone working together and the small steps to change the culture.”

Reach the reporter at elmahone@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @mahoneysthename.

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