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First-year sexual assault prevention training moves online

Required summer training designed to teach incoming students about sexual assault, violence

The class of 2019 was the first to test out a new sexual assault prevention online training unveiled this summer by the Title IX Office and Health Services’ Health Promotion division.

The program, Agent of Change, leads students through various scenarios and topics including sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence, said Frances Mantak, director of health promotion. It is sold by We End Violence, a company that specializes in sexual assault prevention education.

The online training tool was created by two researchers experienced in sexual assault prevention, Mantak said. It was developed with the audience of first-year college students in mind, according to the company website.

The program uses Sims-like avatars to act out various scenarios in a video game-like fashion, Mantak said. Students are then forced to interact with the situation by choosing how best to respond from a multiple-choice list of prompts.

“Depending on the answers the learner provided, the path (of the scenario) would vary,” said Amanda Walsh, Title IX program officer. “Some of the language would change so that it would be conducive to the learner.”

Preston Schwartz ’19 said he felt that the model “romanticized” incidents of sexual assault.

“The module attempted to create characters that adhered to teenage archetypes and consequently distracted me … from the actual core content,” Schwartz said. “I was focused on how strangely these teenage characters interacted and responded to a sexual assault.”

Schwartz said he also wished there was an option to type in his own response, rather than choose from the multiple choice list of options drafted by Agent of Change.

The new online training also changed how Residential Peer Leaders approached the subject of sexual assault with their residents. During orientation, the unit meeting following the sexual assault prevention presentation focused more on consent, a “more positive topic,” Mantak said.

“We let the perhaps more difficult things be covered online,” Mantak added.

To evaluate student learning, the program commences with a pre-test, which examines students’ behaviors and attitudes around sexual assault, then concludes the “game” with a similar test in order to determine whether these values have changed, Mantak said. Questions may ask students to rate how much they agree or disagree with phrases like, “A woman who is raped while she is drunk is at least somewhat responsible,” according to the company’s website.

While the University can see only the aggregate data of students’ pre- and post-game tests, rather than individual student scores, students may look at how well they did and compare it to the average of their school, according to the Agent of Change website.

Results of the program were examined by the University and indicated “strong improvement” in student behaviors and beliefs, Mantak said.

The program is required for all first-years, she said. Those who did not complete the hour-long online module this summer were asked to complete it in the first few weeks of the semester by the Student Activities Office, Mantak added. The SAO is nearing 100 percent completion, she noted.

The orientation committee will review all of its programming through feedback later this semester, and the online module will be included for feedback, Mantak said. In the evaluation, administrators will decide whether or not to involve upperclassmen in the program, she said, adding that the University’s budget will also be a factor in their decision. As per the Task Force on Sexual Assault’s final recommendations, which the Title IX Office partially adopted this fall, all students will undergo sexual assault prevention training.

Because the program is specific to undergraduate student life, faculty and staff members will complete a different online training, projected to start Oct. 1, that covers topics related to Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act and the Clery Act, Walsh said.

While all staff members will be required to complete the program during the month of October, Walsh said it will be particularly useful to faculty and staff members “receiving disclosures, connecting students with resources … or perhaps experiencing violence themselves.” It will become part of the onboarding process for new hires who start after October as well, she added.

The program, also an interactive online module, comes from a different company called Workplace Answers but is heavily customized to Brown’s specific policies, Walsh said.

In-person training sessions have been held for various groups as well, including new faculty members, who were informed of Brown’s reporting policies and the University’s various resources, Walsh added.


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