Spreading out accountability on campus
Sexual assault is a topic we have covered frequently this past year because it continues to be an extremely prevalent and increasingly discussed issue both on campus and in the world at large. With movements like #MeToo, women from all around the world have banded together and gained a new sense of confidence to come forward and bravely disclose their personal stories. Most recently, this solidarity was expressed in the Times Up movement when almost all the Golden Globes attendees wore black to protest sexual assault.
However, despite the positivity of these movements and all the support and understanding they have fostered, victim blaming—even in these movements—persists. Going back to the Golden Globes, for example, the women who did not show up in black were wrongfully shamed for not joining the protest. Unfortunately, victim blaming is often the response individuals receive when they come forward with their accounts. One way to combat victim blaming, as well as to prevent acts of potential assault, is to spread out accountability among community members and to make everyone responsible for being an active bystander.
Bystander intervention training is an initiative that Grand Valley State University has taken seriously, and for the second consecutive year, GVSU has received a grant from the Michigan State Police to help fund campus sexual assault programming. The grant will help to continue the university's use of the national "Bringing in the Bystander" model on campus. This will be accomplished through the bystander intervention program Peer Education and Prevention (P.E.P.) Talks, in which trained GVSU students educate their peers about sexual assault prevention and how to be a good bystander.
With the handful of assaults that have happened involving GVSU students over the past few years, it is easy to identify the need for bystander education programs. Students who may witness a potential assault may feel absolved from blame because they weren't directly involved, while others may feel too afraid or don't know exactly how to respond. These types of programs, though, introduce a new sense of responsibility by educating students on how—and why—they should act.
Based on surveys of P.E.P. Talk viewers, the university also found that there were issues with students understanding what constitutes consent. This is a disquieting realization. Not only must students be trained to be active bystanders, but they must understand what does and does not constitute consent in the first place. Now, with the grant GVSU has received, the student theater troupe ReACT!, which educates students on issues of sexual assault and dating violence, will integrate consent education into its programs.
Making education on sexual assault more readily available for students is a positive step. The grant will give ReACT! more chances to carry out performances on campus. However, the performances won't be impactful if GVSU students don't decide that they are serious about fighting sexual assault by learning what does and does not constitute consent and how to be active bystanders. If GVSU students don't feel confident that they are knowledgeable in these two areas, they should attend these events this semester.