By Silvia Zenteno (Director of Educational Programs and Training at It’s On Us)
Colleges are not doing enough to prevent and address gender-based violence on their campuses. Last school year, we saw hundreds of campus-wide protests with students speaking up to tell their institutions what they need and what is or is not working. Students deserve more than to just be told, "Thank you for sharing your story," which our research has found happens all too often. We have also found that in response to gender-based violence on campus, colleges and universities often prioritize their own reputations and checking the box on Title IX requirements, rather than protecting survivors or investing in prevention training to address campus sexual assault in the first place.
Sexual violence happens every day in the United States and around the world, and our existing approaches are not working. It is time to do something about it. ’, a leading nonprofit in college campus sexual assault prevention started by then-Vice President Biden in 2014, recently released research that colleges can use to improve their prevention programming on campus, and if campuses start implementing these findings and recommendations now, it is possible to prevent an incident from happening tomorrow.
Since our initial launch as an initiative of the Obama-Biden administration following recommendations from the White House Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault that noted the importance of calling everyone into the conversation on sexual assault prevention, It’s On Us has grown into the nation’s largest nonprofit program dedicated to college sexual assault prevention and survivor support while activating students on hundreds of campuses in our awareness and education programs.
In this work, we recognized that, to date, no major study had been completed to evaluate the attitudes and perceptions of students who participate in their schools’ prevention programming, and whether this programming impacted their behaviors.
That’s why we recently released our , a first-of-its-kind study exploring the attitudes and perceptions of male-identifying students and their likelihood to get involved in the prevention of gender-based violence on campus. This research collected information on the types of prevention programming schools are conducting, as well as their effectiveness, reach, and possible gaps by using an exploratory qualitative method to better understand the experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of young college men.
We partnered with HauckEye, a consulting and insights firm, to conduct in-depth, one-on-one interviews with college men representing diverse campus communities. A benefit of qualitative research like this is its ability to explain behavior that cannot be easily quantified by allowing participants to detail their experiences and feelings.
This study found several important insights:
● Men generally aren’t aware of the extent of the problem on their campuses: Most participants were unaware of the extent of sexual violence on campus. While some schools have had high profile incidents, several respondents thought these were all isolated incidents. Framing the issue as solely a Greek life problem means that many participants did not think the issue affected them or their school.
● Current trainings are inadequate: The vast majority of participants reported that the prevention trainings they received, often online-only, were boring and ineffective. Positive prevention education experiences were in-person and included an interactive component like a certification. One student spoke highly of a comedian who came to campus and did a stand-up set about her own assault.
● Men benefit from close relationships with non-male friends and role models: The respondents most attuned to the issue of sexual violence had strong friendships with women on campus. Co-ed sports teams, for example, foster an equitable and inclusive environment on campus between participants across the gender spectrum, leading to less objectification. By contrast, respondents reported that male-only groups like fraternities incubate toxic masculinity, such as misogynistic views toward non-male peers.
● Men are too often at a loss as to how they can best help: The men in the study expressed a desire to help but didn’t feel they had the right tools to intervene. They expressed interest in training that would teach them how to intervene and deescalate situations involving sexual violence. The majority see themselves as moral people and want to do the right thing, but they just don’t know how.
It’s On Us intends for this study to be used to create actionable change in campus sexual assault prevention education. Below are four recommendations for colleges and universities to build more effective sexual assault prevention training programs:
1) Use creative training methods: Implement more creative training methods, such as bringing a comedian to campus. Several respondents also reported that certifications for completing training helped them feel more involved. Most respondents reported that their prevention training was boring and did not feel relevant to their campus lives.
2) Train in-person: Whenever possible hold trainings in-person to increase comprehension. Participants reported that online trainings were unengaging and ineffective. Several said they barely paid attention and passed the requirements easily.
3) Combat assumptions: Students at smaller universities, commuter campuses, and religious schools did not think sexual violence was a major issue on their campus. Some also saw violence as solely a fraternity problem. Combating assumptions like these is key to helping men realize the extent of the problem and the need for intervention.
4) Build connections: Men with strong ties to women and other non-male identifying people in their life felt more responsibility towards others and anger at other men who perpetrate violence. Ensuring that men, women, and gender nonconforming students are fully integrated on campus helps establish that non-male identifying students are seen as more than objects.
While this research focused on American colleges and universities, this is a global problem that will also require worldwide initiatives and action.
Schools can use these recommendations to make a change today. It’s On Us will continue to build on this research and conduct a large-scale quantitative survey to conduct further research of American colleges and universities and develop prevention education programming that educates and empowers everyone, including young men, to be a part of the solution.