To me, summer time always brings to mind my time working in orientation and helping new students and their families transition to college life. It's often an exciting and sometimes emotional time, setting a marker for a new chapter in an individual's life. Yet, through my research, it also becomes clear that orientation, often the only time that the majority of new students on-campus are all together, provides powerful messages about sexual violence prevention.
Those messages can vary, but often colleges and universities have students (or sometimes hired actors) perform skits about sexual violence or have staff engaged in violence prevention share information about statistics and resources on campus. To be sure, these are sometimes well done and are certainly better than no discussions or messages about sexual violence (which can also be some institutions' choice, but not one that I can condone).
Unfortunately, many institutions' efforts don't go far enough in addressing the issues at hand, lacking specificity and often upholding a false binary of cisgender women as survivors and cisgender men as perpetrators. This erasure of cisgender and transgender men, transgender women, and gender non-conforming folks who have survived incidents of sexual violence is troubling and extremely problematic. My recent research has been focused on cisgender and transgender men who are survivors of sexual violence during college, and one of the questions I posed to participants was "What advice or recommendations would you provide your institution on how to support men survivors of sexual violence better?"
Below, I provide a list of themes that they shared with me that I think are important for higher education professionals to consider in relation to their work. Sexual violence prevention work pervades everyone's work in higher education. Survivors need faculty to be more aware of how classroom dynamics and conversations can be triggering to them. Survivors need senior student affairs officers and student conduct officers to review the ways that code of conducts uphold genderism, heterosexism, and sexism in powerful ways to sometimes erase and minimize survivors' experiences. Orientation staff need to create dialogue-centered opportunities to talk about consent and provide clear information about the resources available to all students on campus. Violence prevention specialists need to actively build coalitions with staff of student cultural centers on campus to support students who often experience higher rates of sexual violence than their White, heterosexual, cisgender peers. There are so many suggestions well beyond these...but suffice it to say, the time has come to act. We need to take action and change what we've been doing. The status quo has not served our students well, and our students are needing us to be more critical in our work and do much better.
Please review their thoughts below. Again, these are thoughts from survivors themselves, often folks who have been let down in very real ways by the institutions they thought were designed to keep them safe as students who lived, studied, and/or worked there. And here they are offering thoughts on how those institutions might do better. Let that sink in as you contemplate their suggestions.