Campus sexual assault isn’t a new problem, but addressing it is a growing priority for many colleges and universities. At the U, addressing it includes getting at its root causes—with increasing involvement from male students.
“Let’s be honest: Women are tired of being told how to protect themselves from violence,” says Katie Eichele, executive director of the U’s Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education, which provides support to victims of sexual violence while raising awareness about how to end it. “We need to enlist men, too.”
Or as student Jackson Ridl, a Beta Theta Pi member and volunteer violence prevention educator with the Aurora Center, puts it, “You can’t make 100 percent change by only including 50 percent of the population.”
Eichele and other staff have been reaching out to young men at the U, including athletes and fraternity members. Presentations on sexual violence prevention—some focused on defining consent, some on bystander intervention tactics aimed at stopping assault—are now incorporated into first-year programs, as well as programs for residence halls, fraternities, and sororities.
Step Up, Aurora’s bystander intervention program, guides male and female students in how to respond when they witness a sexual assault unfolding. A fundamental part of Step Up’s effectiveness is simply giving bystanders permission to be involved, says Peyton Owens III, assistant director of athletics in charge of student athlete development.
“Because the initial recognition [that something might be unfolding right before them] can just paralyze people, we’re trying to give them a blueprint so they have various ways to address it,” Owens says.
Owens is facilitating discussions about gender roles among student athletes, too.
“These are the conversations I really enjoy—when we’re discussing some of the things they’re seeing in their everyday life. They start to put on a different lens and say, ‘Hmmm. What is this really saying about women? About relationships?'”
Assistant vice provost for student life Lamar Hylton is optimistic that the conversations are yielding change.
He also credits the Aurora Center. “This is the first institution I’ve worked for that has a place like Aurora, with dedicated staff for prevention and advocacy around sexual assault. That says something about the priorities here,” Hylton says. Those priorities were reinforced this spring when the Office of Student Affairs gave the center funding for a new men’s engagement coordinator position.
Owens maintains that the effort to end sexual assault has gone from a monologue to a dialogue at the U. “We’re not here to point fingers. We’re going to talk, and we’re going to ask you, ‘What do you hear? What do you think?’ And with this approach, we’ve gotten more men on board, and they’re coming up with ideas and solutions. That’s been terrific, because this is not just a women’s issue.”
Adapted from Minnesota magazine. Read the full story