This fall, the College instituted new sexual misconduct training for all incoming students to increase awareness of sexual assault on college campuses and provide education to reduce its incidence.
The sexual misconduct training includes a new online course addressing issues and awareness about sexual assault and revamped orientation workshops about sexual assault prevention, which are required for all first-year students.
In an email addressed to all incoming students, Patricia Flaherty Fischette, interim Title IX coordinator, explained the goal of the new sexual misconduct orientation. “We must work together as a community to create a culture where sexual assault or sexual misconduct of any kind is not tolerated,” she said. The online course, required for first-year students, entitled “Lasting Choices: Protecting Our Campus From Sexual Assault,” discusses strategies to navigate potentially dangerous situations, the role of alcohol in sexual assault and the meaning of “consent”. The course describes a scenario of a sexual assault on a college campus from the perspectives of the perpetrator, the survivor and bystanders to help students understand the multifaceted nature of assault.
Beth Kotarski, director of the Worth Health Center, explained the goal of the online course, which was created by United Education. “The course was meant to augment what we do in person with students. Through the suggestion of the external review, we were looking for a course that would give consistent information…All of the points of what has to be taught to students regulated by the Department of Education and Title IX are in the online training so we can guarantee that [a certain] amount of information is given the same way to all of the students,” she said.
While deciding which course to implement, different student organizations, such as the Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) and Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Resource (SMART) teams and the Student Council, were consulted to determine which course would be the most informative and engaging for students.
In addition, all incoming students are required to attend an ASAP workshop during orientation which focused on the concept of consent. This year’s workshops involved new activities for students to discuss consent, develop self-knowledge about their own boundaries and practice clear communication. The ASAP groups are made up of students living across campus, who are probably not familiar with each other during the first days of orientation.
“It was good to have the environment where you could openly discuss everything that has been going on with a group of people that chances are you do not actually know,” Meghan Kasal ‘17 said.
“ASAP is student run so everything that is in the workshops is included because students thought it was the most important thing they could share with other students,” said Marian Firke ‘14, co-coordinator of the ASAP workshops.
Firke also noted that the content of the workshop was different this year from what it has been in the past. “We felt that the workshops as they had existed in the past were quite abstract. [The workshops in the past] had people focus on and think about their own boundaries, but what we really wanted people to think about was how this abstract concept or definition of consent applies to real-life situations,” Firke said.
In this year’s ASAP workshops, four testimonials from Swarthmore students that had been sexually assaulted were used in addition to a three-part activity about consent. “The testimonials gave it a real life element,” said Zelu Sibanda ‘17. The first part of the consent activity was a journaling assignment in which each student was asked to think about what his or her own personal sexual boundaries are.
Firke said, “We wanted to remind people that if the first time you have ever been asked about sexual boundaries it is [someone who is already] your partner asking, you won’t have an answer. You can’t have an answer if you’ve never asked them before.” The next activity involved the ASAP leaders reading a realistic scenario and stopping throughout the reading to have students evaluate whether or not there had been explicit consent.
The final activity was an exercise in which students were placed in pairs and one would ask a question, such as “May I ask about your family? May I give you a foot massage?,” and the other person would answer, “No.”
“We did this exercise to feel what it was like to practice just saying ‘no,’ and all of the reasons that a blunt ‘no’ feels weird in real life. We’re all taught that other people’s feelings are more important than our own comfort. We wanted people to see here’s what it feels like to say this word and what its like to feel it and that this is a hard word to say,” Firke said.
Although ASAP has traditionally worked only on orientation, Firke noted that interest has been expressed for continued workshops. “We’ve had a lot of interest in bystander training, such as understanding the role of other individuals in party spaces, the role of a roommate who sees their roommate return in a potentially bad situation, hearing a friend make a negative joke that perpetuates rape culture” she said. “All of these are forms of bystander trainings that I think Swarthmore would benefit from.”
In addition to the online course and ASAP workshops, the school is planning to continue to evolve and expand its sexual misconduct education.
“That’s really the goal,” Kotarski said, “to increase awareness. And, we as a community really have to question what we are doing to support and educate in a way that doesn’t take the status quo for an answer.”