Monday, September 24

Clea Wurster: More sexual violence awareness training must be required on the Hill


(Daily Bruin file photo)

(Daily Bruin file photo)


Bruins, get ready to enter the “red zone.”

No, this isn’t another campus tradition like Bruin Bash or the Enormous Activities Fair. Rather, the “red zone” is a term used by sexual assault researchers to describe a six-week period each fall when increased numbers of first-year female students experience sexual violence.

About 23 percent of female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault during their college careers, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

While these unsettling numbers have led many universities, including UCLA, to take measures to combat the issue through orientation sessions and one-time online modules, these efforts often fall short and miss the mark by failing to require students to regularly engage with the subject matter or even apply learned prevention efforts.

For example, Bruins are required to participate in facilitated conversations about healthy and consensual sexual relationships on only one occasion: New Student Orientation. Other programming attempts only consist of one-time mandatory courses like “Think About It,”which consists of a two-part online module to be completed during students’ first years and is designed to function as a sex, alcohol and drug abuse course.

UCLA shouldn’t aim for one-hit wonders, however. It’s crucial to continue discussion about topics such as sexual assault and consensual sex to combat the perils of the “red zone.” The Office of Residential Life needs to require that resident assistants lead regular discussions with their students and that residents complete complementary online modules.

When students discuss sex in problematic and harmful ways, it can contribute to sexual violence on campuses. Bruins tend to get their first taste of college life through the UCLA dorm experience, so it’s clear the Hill has a role to play in shaping these discussions.

Title IX requirements, for instance, mandate resident assistants be trained twice a year on how to be sensitive to students affected by sexual violence and how to prevent sexual violence, said UCLA spokesperson Brian Haas. Yet this year, the theme of a Rieber Terrace floor is “Game of Thrones” – a television show that has long been criticized for its portrayal of sexual assault and abuse.

While there was probably no malicious intent behind the aforementioned floor theme, showcasing healthy ideals to students instead would help denormalize sexual violence – especially given the federal government’s recent rollback of comprehensive sexual assault guidelines instituted by the previous presidential administration.

And students seem to notice this lack of attention to detail. Katie Shillman, a second-year political science and communication studies student, said she thinks current attempts to educate students are half-hearted and added she hopes to see more programming on the Hill.

“I think UCLA has a very strong hookup culture, which has its pros and cons,” Shillman said. “Guys and girls talk about hooking up and ‘body counts’ – like the person they just slept with last night is another trophy to display in their collection.”

Speaking about fellow students and sexual partners as merely “bodies” dehumanizes them, contributing to a culture in which students feel entitled and obligated to engage in sexual acts, with or without consent. The Office of Residential Life has a responsibility to guide students in the right direction through open discussion, and must give them the tools to discuss and maintain healthy sexual relationships.

While Haas said the Office of Residential Life does provide multiple events on the Hill and on campus throughout the year, students aren’t adequately incentivized to attend the events. There are no requirements that students attend, and there aren’t any tangible rewards for attendance aside from moral brownie points and knowledge about how to prevent sexual violence. Instead, these events should be combined seamlessly into life on the Hill so students do not have to go out of their way to attend.

Specifically, programming should include RA-facilitated discussions with students about sexual experiences to help them think about sex in a healthier manner and understand what to do when a fellow student raises concerns about sexual violence. If students are able to openly discuss sexual relationships and the societal factors that contribute to sexual violence, they will be more likely to recognize it when they see it and be more proactive in preventing it.

Residential Life should pair these discussions with more regular online modules so the issue isn’t forgotten amid back-to-school excitement. These modules would also serve students unable to attend events. UCLA could also use sites like the Prevention Navigator to gauge how students are feeling about the programming and determine what direction prevention efforts should move toward to ensure residents are truly internalizing these complex topics.

This isn’t to say Residential Life doesn’t already provide programming. However, very few events require attendance, and the real work in combating campus sexual assault lies in students routinely having discussions about healthy sexual relationships – discussions that can eventually give way to real change on campus.

Every student deserves to feel safe and understand issues relevant to them. But until Residential Life combines external programming with daily life to ensure students begin to take matters into their own hands, “red zones” will continue to besiege our campus each fall.

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Opinion staff columnist

Wurster is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.


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