January 23, 2013

New Sexual Assault Program Responds to Fall Attacks

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In response to several reported sexual assaults in the fall, Cornell introduced a program on sexual assaults and safety to orientation week in January. University officials say that it may make participating in the program, called  “Speak About It,”  mandatory for all incoming students in the fall.

The program aimed to educate students about issues related to preventing sexual assault.

149 new students attended the program. Administrators will evaluate their feedback before deciding whether to offer the program in the fall, according to  Sarah Jones, assistant dean for new student programs.

“Speak About It focuses on consent, boundaries, and healthy relationships,” Jones said. “It’s a one-hour presentation by a group of performers who are sharing real stories from college students from around the country. They use those stories to talk about sex and healthy relationships … and how every member of the community has a role in preventing sexual assault.

Jones said that the program encourages students to discuss numerous topics regarding sexual relationships.

“The goal is really to introduce students so that they can get examples of different ways to use language to talk about consent,” Jones said. “It was also about ways to be a bystander in our community. So if you’re at a party and you see someone or you see your friend has had too much to drink, how do you reach out to them to see if they need help?”

Laura Weiss, director of the Women’s Resource Center, said she thinks having an event like ‘Speak About It’ in orientation is a good conversation-starter.

“Introducing [students] to the idea early is a good idea,” she added.

Weiss said that the new program is only a portion of Cornell’s overall response.”

“I think it really needs to be big picture. … It’s never a job that’s really done,” Weiss said.

Weiss said that she thinks the University will continue the ‘Speak About It’ program next semester.

“I think the Speak About It program will be a continuing part of orientation going forward because I think introducing to students the issues that it covered from their first moments on campus is important,” Weiss said.

“I think we’re moving in a direction where we’d like to make this type of program mandatory for all students in orientation,” Jones said. “The program we had last week in January, we really used it to pilot a specific program. Now, student leaders and students who were at the program will have a chance to assess it.”

Although the University is still waiting for students to return their evaluations, administrators believe the program was well-received by the audience.

“I thought that the audience was engaged and it was very well-received. In orientation events, you can usually tell when it falls flat,” Weiss said.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky