Before I started my senior year, I read in a summer newsletter for Washington and Lee that the school had hired a Title IX coordinator to investigate sexual assault and harassment on campus and to make sure the University complied properly to the new government procedures. I reached out to Lauren Kozak via email and let her know how excited I was the school was taking this extra step. I met with her in person before school started and we talked about my experience over the summer working with the nonprofit Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) in Washington, DC. MCSR is an organization focused on engaging men and boys around issues of gender based violence.
During our meeting, Mrs. Kozak referred me to the University’s Director of Health Promotion, Jan Kaufman, who orchestrates bystander trainings for incoming freshmen during their orientation week. I was able to be a trainer for the freshmen bystander program along with University health and counseling staff members, and other involved students. In our facilitator meeting to prepare us for the trainings, I brought up certain areas of the presentation that failed to engage men around issues of sexual assault in an effective way. These trainings for the first years went really well and after that the Director of Health Promotion offered to take me out to lunch to pick my brain and hear about my experience at MCSR. This conversation really blossomed. This was an administrator desperately hoping to connect with students meaningfully and trying to understand sexual culture and rape culture on our campus. I offered her my frank perspectives and she asked me what new efforts or programs I thought would help. From this conversation I was able to brainstorm and offer her a new type of program that I thought would have greater impact in future years. Mainly, smaller groups and student lead discussion and interaction rather than simply a compliance lecture.
In the meantime, she asked me to be a trainer again for the follow-up first year program “Healthy Relationships.” This program concerned me from the start, because although it did a good job recognizing non-heterosexual relationship scenarios, it was fettered with gendered language, mainly describing people who have experienced sexual assault as female, and referring to attackers and retributionists as male. One line read something like, “for the men in the room, you might feel like punching the guy who did this to your friend, but this will not help her recover in the long run.” After I voiced my concerns about this language I was able to edit the “Healthy Relationships” program with more gender inclusive and culturally sensitive wording. I also included some lines about the importance of sexual assault being a man’s issue, and everyone’s issue. I am very excited that these changes have been enacted and will be a part of the trainings for next year’s students.
This is just one of many examples my experience interning with Men Can Stop Rape has enabled me to make a positive impact on my college campus and in my community. The skill set they equipped me with sent me back to W&L prepared to handle these topics responsibly and intelligibly, and to make a tangible difference with these issues I care about.
This post originally appeared in Facing Sexual Violence in Rockbridge County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.