Convincing students to care about assault awareness in a culture of apathy

I received an email yesterday informing me (for the first time) that I had not yet taken an apparently mandatory sexual assault awareness course. As such, my student account would be frozen until I completed it, prohibiting me from registering for spring classes (registration starts next week).

Since I had not been given prior warning, I was completely incensed, and immediately poured my angry feels into a response, not only pointing out the unfairness of issuing this ultimatum a week before registration (and the course was expected to take a few hours), but also using the threat of removing agency to continue my education in order to teach me, and other students, that infringing on others’ agency is wrong. Using power and control to teach against forcing power and control – effective.

Furthermore, the wording on the FAQ link suggested that even if survivors were triggered by the course, they had to take it anyway (at least resources for hotlines and on-campus counselors were included, but still).

Thankfully, my email got through to somebody, and I am exempted from the course (I also assume this means the freeze on my account is lifted), but it got me thinking: how do you teach students about sexual assault? More importantly, how do you get students to care if they a) don’t think it will ever happen to them, or b) think there’s a huge difference between “convincing” someone to have sex using alcohol, versus attacking a stranger in the park?

Sadly, too many people are jaded by all the bad things happening in the world, and will be difficult to convince that rape culture is a real epidemic.

I did feel conflicted about getting tangled up with the sexual assault prevention group, which of all things, you’d think I would completely support. And I do support their efforts – certainly every university should have something like this – but unfortunately, the method of education is a little sketchy. Making anything mandatory that is not relevant to one’s major is bound to get a “This is stupid” reaction from students who will, inevitably, feel inconvenienced. They will plop their butts in chairs out of obligation but probably spend the entire thing on their iphones. Pessimistic? I’ve seen it happen during a required safety seminar at my last school, so I don’t think so.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two ways to motivate students to come to a seminar about sexual assault awareness: 1) Offer extra credit that will count toward a humanities course or something (at least three of them were required for all undergrad students at my alma mater, regardless of major), and 2) You can never go wrong offering students free pizza.

So what do you think – are these types of programs effective? I recall reading somewhere that DARE – the Drug Abuse Resistance Education course I was required to take in elementary school – has a spectacularly low success rate. But that could be because of the scare tactics as that were used – who knows.


3 thoughts on “Convincing students to care about assault awareness in a culture of apathy

  1. At my daughter’s school, we (the parents) and the students sign a contract at the start of every year to agree on the rules and conditions of attendance. These include bullying, attendance, harassment, language, homework, the works… bearing in mind these kids are under 11, they take it pretty darn seriously and understand the consequences. Universities should do the same on a more age-appropriate scale, no? Each individual enters into a contract with clear boundaries.


  2. I think the problem is this: By the time you get to college, if you require a class to teach you how / why not to sexually assault someone, then it’s probably already a lost cause. It’s not like someone is going to wake up at 19 or 20 years old and suddenly realize they’ve been wrong all this time. Unfortunately, this needs to start at home.

    The people who would attend this class voluntarily are almost certainly not the ones who need it in the first place.


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