Four-year sexual assault education program will be piloted next fall

by Lauren Budd | 2/4/15 6:38pm

Following a series of pilot programs slated to begin this fall, the College will require all students to participate in a four-year sexual assault education program. This initiative is part of the plan for Moving Dartmouth Forward, which College President Phil Hanlon announced in his speech last Thursday.

Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist said that the program is still in development, and its creation provides a valuable opportunity for collaboration among campus groups.

Specifics of the plan are still being discussed and worked on, Lindkvist said, and will use current sexual assault prevention programs such as the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative as focal points in planning the four-year program.

Lindkvist said the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative provides a good model because it consists of an overview program as well as specific modules focused on more targeted issues, with the overall goal of educating participants on how to be active bystanders that can disrupt dangerous behaviors.

“The four-year plan will build on the current initiatives, but there’s going to be quite a bit of consultation across campus on what that plan will look like,” Lindkvist said.

Dartmouth staff and faculty will also be included in the program, Lindkvist said. The plan’s implementation will ensure that faculty and student programs reinforce each other in areas including the key language used, the policies and procedures discussed and the ways Dartmouth as a campus can collectively address behaviors contributing to sexual assault.

“From my perspective, as we develop a four-year program for students...we need to be very thoughtful about consistency with the staff and faculty training that will be implemented as well,” Lindkvist said.

The program will address students through each of their years at Dartmouth and be customized to the differing developmental stages that arise, she said. The program will begin by speaking with freshmen and by giving departing seniors the tools they will need to combat “real-world” sexual misconduct when they leave the College, both in the workplace and in graduate education.

The plan will also address sophomore and junior students heading off campus for language study abroad and foreign study programs and will reinforce sexual assault and harassment awareness in different cultural contexts, Lindkvist said. The program will remind students that College policies still apply and resources are still available even when they are off campus.

“I think there’s a variety of moments in students’ lives where we can develop interactive and engaging programs,” Lindkvist said.

Because the effort is focused primarily on undergraduate students, the College will receive input from the Dean of the College and student health and wellness groups, including the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, Movement Against Violence, Greek Leadership Council and Sexual Assault Peer Advisors, Lindkvist said.

“In addition to specific organizations, I think there’s going to be a wide range of opportunities for input,” said Lindkvist.

She said that data collected from the American Association of Universities sexual assault climate survey, which will be distributed this spring, will be essential to the formation of the plan. Models from other institutions will also be used to help shape the plan, she said, with the University of New Hampshire’s bystander initiative and the United States Naval Academy’s four-year education program serving as examples.

Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice, expressed some doubts about the top-down nature of the sexual assault prevention element of Moving Dartmouth Forward.

“What the community does is almost more influential than what the campus does,” she said. “You can have a dry campus, but until students walk the walk, you’re not really changing anything.” Bystander training should be expanded to local bar owners in order to be most effective, Dunn said. She also said that student education should begin before classes start as part of a mandatory orientation program.

Dunn said that as a whole, the mandatory program will be a positive change for Dartmouth and has the potential to inspire national change.

“I think it makes a strong statement,” she said. “I think it sets the bar very high across the country.”

Unless the initiative aggressively targets freshmen and sophomores and starts the training before school starts for first-years, the plan will not be as effective as Hanlon hopes, Dunn said. She also emphasized the importance of involving positive male role models as examples of healthy masculinity for incoming male students.

Amanda Childress, the Sexual Assault Awareness Program coordinator, expressed optimism about the future of the plan.

“We definitely see the integration of some things that are currently existing, as well as the development of some new initiatives,” Childress said.

The developers of the four-year program are currently in early stages, focusing on initiatives that work at other schools, how to best address students at each stage of their College careers and how to be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, Childress said.

“We are trying to develop a program that isn’t just one-size-fits-all, but that is really catered to where our students are in their individual experiences and in their growth,” she said.

Student involvement and input is essential to the success of the program, she said.

“We want to utilize the students’ knowledge, experiences and inputs as we develop this program,” Childress said. “It’s important for students to know that they will be part of this, because we want this to be really inclusive.”

SPCSA chair Tori Nevel ’16 and SPCSA outreach and communications chair Shanet Hinds ’16 said that the implementation of this program was exciting because the SPCSA had been pushing for such a program for years.

“I feel like a one-time education program freshman year just wasn’t enough because it didn’t follow students through their time at Dartmouth,” Hinds said. “The experiences students have coming in change as they progress through their time at the College, so we need a program that adapts with students and their understanding of the issues they might be having.”

Nevel emphasized that the program was not just about sexual assault prevention, but effective bystander behaviors and leadership, going beyond basic details and providing information that will be applicable to the “real world” outside the Dartmouth bubble.

“It targets the underlying issues that come with that too, and the underlying causes,” Nevel said.