Earlier is better


Editor’s note: this is the second in a two-part series discussing the relationships between alcohol, sexual assault, and higher education.

In my last column, I said we can only begin to solve the rape problem on college campuses by actually taking steps to do something about it, by strengthening the relationship between sexual assault training and alcohol education at the University of Dayton.

My aim was to instigate a conversation about sexual assault on campus, but now I hope to start a conversation about the educational system set in place to prevent it.

Within the dean of students office, Kristin Altenau, the sexual violence prevention educator, and Alecia Smith, the coordinator of alcohol and other drugs prevention education, speak with UD students about alcohol intake and sexual assault, and the correlation between the two.

Altenau said the sexual assault prevention and alcohol and other drug prevention roles are “intentionally placed together” to facilitate collaboration. This collaboration includes campus-wide initiatives, peer educators and a series of programs called RSVP – all of which enable students to focus on the issue from different perspectives. They work with campus organizations ranging from campus ministry to athletics to Greek Life.

Altenau discussed bystander intervention, gender roles and consent with UD students. She commented on the “toughness” of these discussions.

“The conversations that need to be had around consent, bystander intervention and other valuable information aren’t typically happening in high school, and so many students come to college unprepared,” Altenau said.

“Subtle social stimuli and picking up on those aren’t consent,” she continued. “Even though the fact that alcohol affects interpreting social stimuli is certainly true, our society has taught us to rely on those subtle social stimuli when that’s not what we should be doing. A lot of our students don’t necessarily see that because they haven’t had that conversation. Nobody has sat them down before they got to college and said, ‘Why do we rely on subtle social cues? Why do we rely on ‘The Look’ in order to know if somebody is interested in you? Instead of having those conversations, instead of saying the word, instead of learning five things about that person before anything happens.’
We don’t have those kinds of expectations in our society.”

This toughness parallels that of sex education based on the similar context and effects. As cited by Time magazine, nearly 90 percent of high schools are teaching about abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases; yet, fewer than 60 percent are providing lessons about contraception methods.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of American students using condoms already reached its peak ten years ago and has declined in some demographics. Sexually transmitted diseases are spreading, especially among Americans ages 15 to 24.

Although sexual assault prevention and sex education are aiming to prevent completely different issues, they both aim at prevention and they both rest in an uncomfortable, often controversial, territory. And we don’t discuss issues residing in this territory from different perspectives—at least we don’t until it’s too late.

Altenau and Smith have reached more than 5,000 students this year alone, but we need to start having these conversations in high school. We need to instigate these preventative conversations before we are thrown into the “Red Zone,” the first six weeks of the first year of college when the risk of sexual violence is detrimentally higher.
We need to learn how to discuss sexual assault and its entanglement in gender roles and societal norms earlier. We need to learn how to discuss the issue without blaming the victim, without blaming all men, earlier than we do now.

We need to move discussion of sexual assault and rape out from this uncomfortable territory to start solving it, because we can only begin to solve rape by changing the conversation.

Flyer News: Univ. of Dayton's Student Newspaper