Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, December 14, 2018

Staff Ed: Welcoming AU’s mandatory sexual assault prevention training

Sexual assault is one of the most pressing issues facing colleges and universities across the nation, including AU. Leaked emails from the disbanded fraternity Epsilon Iota showed AU students openly discussing raping other students in April 2014. In March, the Department of Education opened an investigation into whether the University is compliant with Title IX in how it responds to sexual violence.

It is a crisis on this campus. But at the end of last year, SG took a major step to fight back, stepping up to fund a pilot program for new mandatory sexual assault prevention training during Welcome Week. Freshmen participated in the training, called Empower AU, for the first time in August.

We applaud the decision to make prevention training mandatory.

More sex education is always positive, particularly because AU students may come from high schools that did not provide vital information about sex. Empower AU won’t solve the problem of sexual assault overnight, but it’s nonetheless critical for all students to engage in discussions about consent, communication, boundaries and bystander intervention as early in college as possible. Additionally, the Office of Campus Life’s commitment to funding the training in future years is a welcome development.

However, like all first attempts, there will be room for improvement moving forward.

We first need to recognize that Welcome Week won’t reach all students. Some freshmen don’t arrive on campus until classes begin. Commuter or part-time students who are not on campus all the time may fall through the cracks.

Make up-sessions scheduled for later in the semester are great, but won’t necessarily reach everyone either. We recognize that it is challenging to make any non-academic program truly mandatory for all college students.

While we think mass exposure to sex education is necessary, we recognize freshmen who have known each other for less than a week may hesitate to openly and seriously discuss difficult issues like this with one another. We think for some students, campus organizations may be a better vehicle for prevention training.

We want to lead by example. For the first time, The Eagle is requiring all Editorial Board members to undergo PEERS training by the end of the semester.

Organizations such as PEERS, the Wellness Center, Step Up! and Peer Health Exchange lent members to run the program, and they will be able to adapt future programs based on what did and didn’t work in 2015. If students aren’t engaging with certain aspects of the presentation, Empower AU should be altered.

Of course, improvement is easier said than done. Changing behavior in a meaningful way on a large scale takes sustained work. Mandating sexual assault prevention for freshmen represents a serious commitment in tackling this issue. The implementation of Empower AU in practice this year is exciting and encouraging.


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