Training Program for Campus Sexual Assault Survivor AdvocatesIndiana
The peer advocacy training program, which is no longer offered at Earlham College, was fully recognized as an academic course in the college's curriculum. The course, "Sexual Violence in Societal Context," involved a systematic, theoretical, interdisciplinary examination of the problem of sexual violence in the United States. The experiential portion of the course provided students with active listening and advocacy skills and familiarized them with community and campus resources available for survivors. The course served three majors (women's studies, peace and global studies, and human development and social relations). It was, however, open to all students (sophomores through seniors) in any major, and it also carried general education credit as a "wellness" course. The students who became advocates were recognized as being knowledgeable and available to assist survivors and to provide prevention programming on campus.
The goal was to educate students about the realities of various forms of sexual violence in the United States and on campus. The course examined how sexual violence is perceived in diverse populations and how members of different sexual orientations, genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures respond to sexual trauma. In addition, advocates were trained to be active listeners, to make referrals to health and healing professionals, and to accompany survivors through medical and judicial processes as needed.
Making the Idea a Reality
Originally, Earlham College offered a student-to-student training program that began to falter. The college recognized the need for a Peer Advocate Program but did not have the resources to hire additional faculty to support it. At the same time, the college was undergoing a major curricular change in the form of a new general education program. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs were encouraged to review their course offerings and consider innovations. The Philosophy and Women's Studies Departments were willing to devote one professor to develop this program. The college provided the professor with financial support to do research and acquire additional training for the purpose of teaching the course.
Benefits to Victims
Students benefited from having well-trained advocates available to respond to crises and to participate in peer education. Some students may have perceived advocates as less intimidating than professional staff. In addition, advocates reported that they felt empowered to speak and act about these issues in campus settings because they knew that they had authoritative data and experiences to back them up.
Benefits to Victim Service Professionals
Advocates who have graduated have pursued work at rape crisis centers, mental health facilities, and in schools doing preventative education. They "hit the ground running" in these programs, having accumulated many hours of training and supervision before leaving college.
The most important lesson learned is to network extensively. As with the development of SARTs, people who are concerned with sexual violence, but who approach the issues from different disciplines and with various professional outlooks, often must learn to listen carefully and to trust each other. To create a program that is both well-respected and academically and co-curricularly based, it is imperative to build and maintain good communication and relationships.
The advocate screening process, which involved a questionnaire and interview, was essential to helping students understand the rigorous nature of the course and to gauging the students' readiness for it. When students were not admitted to the program, the screening process gave them feedback so they could understand why they were not selected.
The biggest struggle for the course was to make it as inclusive as possible. Locating research that addresses the different forms of sexual violence in diverse populations is not always easy. The campus has a significant multicultural population, including many international students and an active lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning population. The course materials needed to address how sexual violence affects these groups. In addition, the advocate pool had to be diversified. It was predominately white at the time, although it had reasonably good diversity in terms of genders and sexuality.
Defining success in this program from a number of perspectives was important. First, the students reported that there was a gradual demystification of the way that the college addressed sexual violence. Because the population changes rapidly, this was an ongoing educational process. Second, students say that they saw a positive impact on the discussions of these topics, inside and outside of the classroom, because more students were able to speak calmly and accurately about the issues. Third, new alliances between the advocate program and various units of the college, including Athletics, Security, and Health Services, were built. Fourth, and perhaps most important, reports of incidents of sexual violence increased slightly, which indicates that the program may have had a long-term effect on campus life.
801 National Road West
Richmond, Indiana 473744095
800-EARLHAM or 7659831200