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Advocates stress training to address rape culture

SAPE implements new curriculum around power, privilege, UCS institutionalizes training

By
Senior Reporter
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Molly Sandstrom ’17, a masculinity peer educator, and Marc Peters, interim deputy Title IX coordinator, lead a training with the football team.

This article is part of the series The Undercurrent

Many attempting to address rape culture on campus try to place attention on more than just those who commit sexual assault. As people on college campuses continue to try to identify and understand the environments that foster rape culture on campus, many sexual assault prevention advocates at Brown are using improved education methods to work toward uprooting and preventing  harmful, but common social patterns. Advocates have sought avenues to address rape culture in communities where they feel they can make the most impact, such as Greek houses, athletic groups or incoming first-year classes.

“There’s no blueprint for this” kind of sexual assault prevention education that focuses on rape culture, said Ricardo Jaramillo ’18.5, a previous Masculinity 101 coordinator. Many schools rely on older models of sexual assault prevention education and lack resources for prevention or masculinity workshops like those at Brown. Student efforts to design and implement comprehensive curricula have resulted in much of the programming used on campus to recognize and dismantle rape culture.

Along with rape culture, the broader  “culture of entitlement” fostered at Brown creates a social atmosphere that may contribute to gender-based harassment, said Molly Sandstrom ’17, a peer educator with Masculinity Peer Education and a previous coordinator for the Sexual Assault Peer Education program. Though this culture of entitlement coexists with and influences rape culture, acts of entitlement are not just sexual and can manifest in everyone’s daily behavior.

Health Services has worked with existing communities — clubs, teams and Greek houses — through different peer education programs such as SAPE to educate students on how privilege and oppression contribute to this culture of entitlement and to cultivate a “day-to-day” culture of consent in its place, said Elliot Ruggles, a sexual harrasment and assault resources and education advocate.

Combating a culture of entitlement

SAPE, a student organization under Health Promotions, has led the charge in dismantling a culture of entitlement. SAPE leads workshops for various student groups on power, privilege, oppression and entitlement and how these social forces can foster an environment amenable to sexual assault.

The program overhauled its curriculum last semester, departing from the previous bystander intervention model and opting for a system that teaches students to recognize rape culture and draw from their community values to prevent sexual assault, said Sandstrom. As a key part of the programming, members of a specific community build an action plan grounded in shared standards.

The previous model reinforced survivor- and bystander-blaming and treated assaults as isolated events uninfluenced by other forces at play, Sandstrom said.

“Bystander intervention focuses primarily on the actions of the bystanders and those in need of intervention. It becomes all too easy to blame the actions or failure to act on bystanders,”  Sandstrom wrote in follow-up email to The Herald. “Even if someone does intervene and does everything ‘right,’ it doesn’t adequately address the aggressor’s behavior.”

“When small actions or behaviors go unnoticed or unchecked, they are increasingly normalized,” said Sandstrom. Catcalling, using jokes and crude language to objectify others, sexist attitudes and non-consensual touching constitute a larger culture of entitlement, which can then escalate to sexual assault.

“The threshold becomes lower for violence to occur,” Sandstrom said. The change in curriculum aims to equip community members with resources to support survivors and actively decrease harmful behaviors, she said.

Greg Lowry ’17, a SAPE peer educator, agreed that students should learn how to establish this culture based off consent. “Consent is part of what (we) do on a regular basis. (People) already know how to do this,” but they need to bring it into daily practice beyond sexual interactions.

First-year training

SAPE hosts trainings for “anyone who will listen,” Ruggles said. But the University perennially struggles to reach those who need training the most and make trainings more relevant to how people experience entitlement daily.

The University first attempts to train students during their formative week of orientation. Lowry joined SAPE as a result of his involvement in revamping the first-year sexual assault prevention curriculum. As a former residential peer leader, Lowry found the orientation sexual assault presentation “tokenizing and ineffective,” and afterwards, he “started picking out the difficulties with trying to educate people” on the subject, he said.

“A lot of the information is really similar” between sexual assault prevention, violence prevention and safe alcohol and drug use, said Kevin Swartout, assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University and researcher on sexual assault perpetration. “If we can create an integrated approach, … we would have a better shot at it being effective.” Swartout noted that after most schools’ first-year orientations, students never receive further training. “Booster sessions” could remind students of the campus policies and effective practices, but Brown does not currently have mandatory follow-up programs to reiterate prevention training after first-year orientation. Students may receive SAPE training, but that is on a local level in student organizations, clubs and societies.

Along with some peers, Lowry designed a new first-year orientation curriculum to identify how power and privilege create entitlement, he said. The programming also “uses different models of consent in everyday life, not just sexual situations,” in an attempt to build an understanding of consent, he added.

Other access points

But for many students, hook-up culture remains the most predominant aspect of rape culture they regularly encounter. In this climate, masculine people are expected to be the actors in initiating sex, coercing passive feminine people, said Jordan Ferguson ’17, a Masculinity 101 coordinator.

“The hook-up culture is more apparent in the social scene surrounding Greek life and sports teams,” said Lauren Shin ’19, who has researched hook-up culture in Brown Greek life and is a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

Greek Council mandates SAPE training for all of its new and returning members. Groups like athletics teams and the marching band have all received training in the past.

Athletic teams and Greek houses are important access points for training because their members often throw large parties and peers regard them as social leaders, Lowry said.

“These people also have a lot of social capital, so having them lead that discussion and tell other people that it’s important means they are going to listen,” Lowry said.

Athletic teams are not currently required to receive SAPE training. Nonetheless, Marc Peters, health specialist and interim deputy Title IX coordinator, regularly works with the football team, which “has shown a long-term commitment” to understanding and addressing hypermasculinity, he said. He has also worked with other teams on an ad-hoc basis.

A few years ago, upperclassmen members of the football team were “out of control,” prompting the sessions with Peters, said Garrett Robinson ’19, a member of the team and a masculinity workshop facilitator.

“Last year, after a game that we lost, I heard a couple of seniors talking in the showers saying, ‘Ah, let’s take it out on some girls tonight,’ and it was really upsetting to hear that,” Robinson said. With the masculinity workshops, Robinson has not seen that behavior from the team and works closely with Peters and two teammates, Kenari Drayton ’19 and Jordan Ferguson ’17, to run educational programs on masculinity.

Drayton said he was motivated to get involved in Masculinity Peer Education precisely to serve as a familiar face. “I wanted people to see me and see what I was doing, and think, ‘Okay, my friend is doing this. Let me see why he’s doing this and support him.’”

The athletics department administration recognizes that some men’s sports are steeped in hypermasculinity. Senior officers have used department-wide resources, such as surveys and exit interviews, to provide student athletes ways to gauge the climate around sensitive issues like sexual assault, said Colin Sullivan, deputy director of athletics.

“Could we do more? Absolutely. Everyone can always do more,” said Carolan Norris, senior associate athletics director for student athlete services and senior woman administrator.

Norris recognized that students, including Ferguson, have spearheaded the conversations around hypermasculinity and sexual assault in athletics. But the athletics department comprises over 900 student athletes, and a lack of resources and time has stymied attempts to train all athletes by SAPE, she said.

Student leaders encourage a comprehensive and community-based approach to training. Shin noted that a mandatory Greek Council sexual assault prevention lecture she attended in fall 2016 was led by unfamiliar adults who “detached themselves” from the intimacy of the issues.

Those who mandate the training are “missing a huge part of the campus” beyond Greek students, Shin said. “We need to see men teaching other student organizations” to ensure that this work is not done solely by women and gender-nonconforming individuals, she added.

Though the narratives of sexual assault survivors need to be the focus of prevention work, “we need to create a culture that doesn’t put the onus on survivors and victims to end rape culture,” said Je-Shawna Wholley, program coordinator for the LGBTQ Center.

Taking steps

In February, the Undergraduate Council of Students voted to require Category 3 student groups to have at least one executive board member go through SAPE training in order to receive funding from UCS, formally extending the reach of sexual assault prevention training beyond Greek Houses.

“It was interesting to me that Greek Houses were required to have SAPE training, but other groups are not,” said Viet Nguyen ’17, president of UCS.

The new legislation — funded by th

e Office of Campus Life — is a two-year plan, with the first year featuring a student group opt-in training. By spring 2018, all organizations must have a SAPE liaison to re-categorize as a student group, Nguyen said.

“If you’re getting funding from this school, you should learn what this school values,” Lowry said.

A culture of entitlement will not disappear without community buy-in and concerted efforts. The Division of Campus Life is creating a one-year, full-time fellowship that will focus on supplementing BWell’s peer education work next year, wrote Vice President of Campus Life and Student Services Eric Estes in an email to The Herald.

“Brown is lucky to have Title IX and Health Promotion to advocate for and support this work,” Sandstrom said. “But this work shouldn’t be limited to an Ivy League institution just because we have the resources.”

Rape culture is “not ephemeral. It’s omnipresent. I don’t have the solution to fix it. When we can make the cognitive switch that rape culture isn’t separate from the culture we’re breathing on college campuses, we’ll see change,” Ferguson said. “Whether we’re talking about it — that’s ephemeral.”