Sexual assault course required for new students

Before the question of what constitutes sexual assault has to be answered by a university committee or a court, a newly required prevention course aims to teach students the answer before it’s too late.

Starting this semester, USF changed its online sexual assault prevention course from Haven to Campus Clarity as part of a larger effort to comply with federal Title IX gender-equality standards. 

The Campus Clarity course, called Think About It: Turning Points, will be required for all incoming undergraduates. 

Undergraduate students who joined USF this semester will also be required to complete the program, while all graduate students will soon be notified to complete their own course, still under the Campus Clarity umbrella. 

Nanci Newton, director of USF’s Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention, served as part of USF’s Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Implementation Committee, responsible for choosing which product USF would select as its method to inform incoming freshmen and graduate students about sexual assault prevention and gender-based violence.

Newton said Campus Clarity was chosen over Haven because it was made to fit new VAWA guidelines. 

“Think About It is more comprehensive in its approach,” she said. “That’s where all of the current online or Web-based products are moving, because universities must meet these criteria.” 

On its website, Campus Clarity claims to be “a one-stop solution.” The course is composed of modules that address issues such as college “hookup culture,” bystander intervention and unhealthy relationships. 

Claiming to appeal to graduate students’ higher status and education level on college campuses, the graduate version uses “life-like interactions” to teach bystanders to intervene when they see an act that could be sexual assault. 

The courses are constructed in an interactive way that encourages students to engage with the program. The graduate program allows students to access information about specific state and university laws that relate to Title IX. 

The undergraduate program, meanwhile, uses what the company terms “live social norming,” which allows students to compare perceptions on alcohol, sex and other issues.   

Newton also said Campus Clarity allowed the committee to take action now, rather than hold for new products. 

“The committee that selected the Campus Clarity product was looking for a product that already met the VAWA guidelines, rather than wait for something new to be developed,” she said.

However, Newton also said the product is part of a larger movement within the university to promote sexual assault prevention. 

“What I really like is the fact that the whole issue, I think, is being looked at from a holistic standpoint,” she said. “We’re not just using a single approach.” 

NITE, a student organization on campus focused on social justice and equality, represents one of those approaches. President of NITE Kendyl Muehlenbein said Victim Advocacy’s REAL events, such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and Take Back the Night, are gaining traction. 

“Over the time I’ve been here, I can see that more people know what we are and recognize our events, like Take Back the Night and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” she said.

However, Muehlenbein also said she would still like to see more openness surrounding the subject on campus. 

“As far as the entire university, I wish there was more conversation about sexual assault and sexual violence and gender-based violence,” she said.

Meanwhile, Michelle Hughes Miller, who chaired USF’s Title IX Committee and is still a sitting member, said sexual assault has gained prominence within the committee. 

“In 2011, most of us within the Title IX Committee didn’t even think of sexual assault as the main component of Title IX,” she said — due to the broad nature of the legislation which addresses all areas of gender equality in education. 

Hughes Miller also said the content required under Title IX is “not negotiable,” though schools can choose how they wish to provide that content. She said USF’s large population might be a reason for its choice of using an online course as an introduction to a larger process. 

The university plans to continue promoting a safe environment beyond Campus Clarity and freshman orientation, Newton said. 

“It’s not just a one-shot deal,” she said. “There will be repetitive messages because that’s how you learn.”

Posters, online media, events and class time, she said, will be used to continue the message of a safe environment. 

“There will be social-marketing campaigns,” she said. “Those messages are going to continue, as will the ongoing messages here of ‘Got Consent?’ through our REAL program.” 

Though most of the information is focused on an on-campus approach, Newton said most sexual violence that happens to USF students is off campus. 

“Do bad things happen on college campuses? Yes, but most of the crime that happens to our students at USF happens off-campus,” she said. “Is there gender-based violence on campus? Yes, there is. I would like to see that at zero.”

However, Newton also said USF is still in a strong position compared to other similarly sized universities. 

“I’ve done victim advocacy in venues in large college campuses,” she said. “One of the things that when I looked at the work that I was doing and my knowledge of how gender-based violence was occurring in those other places, and compared the safety of USF to the safety of those other campuses, then I have to say that USF is doing better than other large campuses.” 

Overall, Newton said USF’s commitment to taming sexual assault goes beyond the selection of one product over another. 

“The story is much more about what are the approaches we are using right now and have planned in the future,” she said. “Providing comprehensive education for new students and ongoing students.”