Colleges push sexual violence prevention while K-12 struggles

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While universities across the nation are making strides to discuss, combat and prevent sexual violence on campuses, K-12 schools are struggling to keep up.

Around the time students go through puberty, they learn about sex, pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases in the Brooking School District. But what they don’t learn about so much, if at all, is sexual violence, or consent to sex and what that should look like.

Klint Willert, superintendent of the Brookings School District, said in a prepared statement that sex education is “built into health curriculum throughout middle school and high school,” but that the only specific education dedicated to sex-related topics is a presentation for fifth-grade students on puberty, body changes and similar topics related to hygiene and personal well being.

As far as sexual violence and consent go, there is even less to show for.

“There is no formally adopted curriculum for the topics of sexual violence or consent for sex in the district,” Willert said. “However, the district curriculum does incorporate aspects of these topics in health courses and, on occasion, some electives at the high school.”

All educational institutions, public and private, though, are required by law to comply with Title IX, which states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Because Title IX prohibits sexual or gender discrimination, Title IX deals with matters of sexual assault, including education of matters surrounding it, like consent.

South Dakota State Title IX Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator Michelle Johnson said she has tried reaching out to K-12 schools to assist with Title IX compliance through presentations or classes and said she “didn’t receive a whole lot of feedback.” Johnson said it may have been a “timing concern” and is something she plans to continue pursuing. 

At SDSU, Johnson said there are several ways they try to educate about consent.

“For incoming freshmen, we have mandated that prior to move-in weekend they complete an online training,” Johnson said. “This year, we realized the completion rate was too low in the past, so this year we mandated that they complete it.”

Additionally, Johnson said she and the Dean of Student Affairs Sam Jennings give a presentation at Thump Start. This year’s incoming freshman class was 2,200 students, and Johnson said there were about 1,700 to 1,800 students at Thump Start to view the presentation. 

“We break them down into three groups, do 45-minute presentations about sexual assault, consent and sexual activity generally,” Johnson said. “Consent is a very big component of that conversation. We talk about when individuals can consent, when they can’t, when they lack the ability and what consent means.”

As for the online training, Johnson reported they went from 6 percent completion last year to 93 percent this year in freshmen and transfer students. If students do not comply with the mandatory training, Johnson said it could lead to being cited as a failure to adhere to the student conduct code. She said this has not yet occurred, and students who have not taken it still have time, but she said Title IX will pursue several different avenues before coming to that point.

“We’re going to try other means to get students to complete before we go down that route. We want this experience to be positive and educational,” Johnson said. 

There are other ways to complete the training for individuals with disabilities, as well as for those who are sexual assault survivors and may find the training triggering. For them, Johnson said they would receive in-person training with Title IX explaining what is taught in the online training in a less visual manner.

At the University of South Dakota, Title IX is a one-person office led by Khara Iverson. She reported all USD students receive yearly CampusClarity training and that all freshmen, transfer students, Greek organizations and athletics receive sexual assault prevention training.

Additionally, she covers training on sexual assault and consent with all new-hires for faculty and staff, including student employees.

After recently receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Iverson said USD’s Title IX will provide more programming and preventative training this year. With the grant came a program coordinator to help facilitate panel discussions, lectures, screenings and more.

“With this grant, we are looking forward to doing much more programming. Student organizations, the athletic director, our vice president of student services and also local police and university police are all members of this grant,” Iverson said. “It’s really more inclusive and representative of who wants to be involved with prevention programming for sexual violence.”

In the meantime, Johnson is focusing some efforts on a new program called Step Up, which is a bystander intervention program through workshops and awareness-focused communication.

“It will teach students to help address some of the situations and also be more comfortable coming forward and reporting situations so that the university can take more action to help prevent [sexual assault],” Johnson said.

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