10 April 2023
Beginning a collegiate career is arguably one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life. The first taste of freedom for some, it can feel surreal to be on the precipice of adulthood. However, particularly for women going to college for the first time, there’s an unspoken anxiety about the likelihood of experiencing sexual assault.
The risk of being the “over one in four” undergraduates to experience sexual assault feels precarious. Who can survive these four years without experiencing coercion, assault, harassment, stalking or some form of sexual violence? Given that 58 percent of coercion and rape survivors reported being assaulted in their first semester of college at my educational institution, should concerns about a new student’s personal safety overshadow the excitement that they experience going to college?
In Nevada, one of the risk factors for sexual violence is a lack of knowledge about community resources. Knowing this, in spring 2022 I began having group conversations with over 600 women in the UNR Panhellenic community about the process for reporting instances of sexual assault, harassment and domestic violence. I directed victims to resources offered by groups like the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and I played a small role in assisting these victims — oftentimes my fellow sorority sisters — who have suffered from the aftermath of such traumatic events. However, because approximately one in three students at UNR tell no one about their assault, these reactive efforts to bring resources to victims’ attention at times felt futile. As a result, I pivoted my efforts to a more proactive approach: sexual misconduct prevention education.
I attended several fraternity and sorority chapter meetings and gave presentations about the state of sexual violence on college campuses and the resources available to victims. I always noticed my peers perked up whenever I underscored the humanity of sexual assault victims. These “one in four” are their friends, partners, siblings or classmates. In providing this education, I have no doubt that my efforts were impactful. Despite my efforts, I learned that college-age youth are overwhelmingly undereducated about sexual misconduct.
In 2021, Nevada’s lawmakers passed SB347, which aimed to address sexual misconduct at Nevada’s higher education institutions by creating a task force, authorized NSHE institutions to enter into a memorandum of understanding with organizations that assist individuals with sexual misconduct, implementing an NSHE-wide climate survey to assess the scope of the issue, and providing training for students and faculty regarding grievance processes and sexual misconduct awareness. While SB347 was a meaningful step toward addressing these problems, students continue to be impacted by existing gaps in sexual misconduct prevention efforts.
Following the passage of SB347, NSHE entered into a systemwide contract with EverFi — a provider of an educational online module — to provide sexual misconduct education to students. While this online module did provide instruction, it has been suboptimal. On campus, I’ve witnessed students skip entirely through these modules. Across the United States, 1,300 universities, including Western Washington University, have opted to use EverFi as a sexual misconduct educational tool as well. However, following a 2020 study of four public universities in Mississippi that demonstrated no notable changes in students’ attitudes toward sexual violence after participating in EverFi programming, several institutions are looking at alternatives such as in-person instruction for training for students attending classes on campus. The poor quality of sexual misconduct training that Nevada’s higher educational institutions currently provide is one such gap in misconduct prevention that AB245 aims to address.
Aside from improving sexual misconduct prevention instruction by incorporating education into an existing course for college credit, AB245 aims to create a Commission on Higher Education Safety to review the results of a climate survey on power-based violence and provide preventative policy recommendations to the interim Education Committee.
Additionally, AB245 requires that schools partner with community organizations to assist K-12 students dealing with power-based violence. The bill also allows for K-12 students to be connected to organizations that assist victims of sexual assault if they contact SafeVoice, which allows students to anonymously report instances or threats of other types of violence.
Based on my experience assisting peers to work through the trauma of a sexual assault, the improvements to existing policies outlined in AB245 are sensible to address existing gaps in sexual misconduct prevention at all of Nevada’s educational institutions.
I am only one person; the education around this heartbreaking issue that I can provide for victims is limited. Yet, the sheer amount of individuals I’ve encountered on my campus that need some form of assistance — even if it is just a shoulder to lean on — is telling. We must build off of the work started in 2021, continue to address persisting gaps and fight for the personal safety of our students in this legislative session with AB245.
Sarah Peterson is a junior studying biology at UNR and hopes to matriculate into medical school. In 2021, she began providing assistance to her sorority sisters dealing with trauma incurred as a result of sexual assault. Today, she is working to build a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources to college-age youth in Nevada who have experienced some form of sexual assault. She can be reached at [email protected].
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