Talk, Then Talk Again

New survey identifies top strategies to direct students toward sexual assault policies and resources on campus; White House hopes other colleges will take advantage of the free advice.

June 10, 2015
 

A university tapped by the White House to lead the charge on sexual assault education and prevention released a report Tuesday on how institutions can best spread awareness of their sexual assault policies and resources.

A report from the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center found that students who were able to interact with and discuss their college’s policies were more likely to retain information on resources within the institution or be more knowledgeable about the policies themselves. As more colleges are encouraged to amp up their sexual assault education, experts hope these results can help officials find effective strategies for their students.

Close to 1,800 students from seven different campuses were included in the study, which exposed students to one of four methods of education, while one group received no education and was treated as a baseline for the other groups. While the various forms of education appeared to increase most of the students' knowledge on sexual assault policies, it was those who were read the policies aloud and then took part in a 20-minute facilitated conversation on the resources who seemed to improve the most.

Other students were asked to watch videos of students reading the policies aloud, but more than 70 percent of those asked only to view the film did not because they were told it was optional. Those students performed similarly to students who received no direct education at all.

Students who had the policies read aloud to them in class saw improvement in knowledge and confidence about university resources, but still did not absorb as much as those who took part in a conversation after hearing the procedures.

Sharyn Potter, co-director of the New Hampshire research center, said the findings were a clear sign to colleges and universities to adapt more interactive and repetitive training processes for their students.

She said past research on how students learn already indicated that a hands-on approach to learning a college’s policies and resources was more effective than a one-time session held in the middle of what is already a busy orientation for overwhelmed incoming freshmen.

“When students have the opportunity to role-play, to have conversations, to actually interact with the material, it’s a much more effective way of enabling the students to process and learn, and hopefully be able to talk about all of those practices,” Potter said.

UNH is already seen as a leader in sexual assault prevention. After launching a bystander intervention training program that has been widely adopted across the country, the university was identified by the White House as one of the three leading institutions effectively combating sexual assault on campus. And UNH researchers were awarded a grant by the Department of Justice in October to teach students how to prevent sexual assault.

Representatives of organizations that advocate for increased sexual assault education saw the survey results favorably and hoped that university officials would introduce the results into their programs.

Sarah Merriman, the communication coordinator at Students Active for Ending Rape, said it is important for higher education institutions to do their due diligence in exploring effective ways to share information before launching programs that may end up not making a difference for students.

“We want to encourage folks to do more research right now and not leap too fast, to make sure they have all of their bases covered,” Merriman said.

Annie Clark, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said her organization has found that colleges have plenty of resources addressing sexual assault, but students often aren’t aware of them or don’t know how to access them.

Finding the best ways to inform students of procedures and resources, she said, is essential to preventing sexual assault and helping survivors on campuses get in touch with the right offices and authorities.

“You could be spending lots of money on an online program, you could be doing your part on paper, but students aren’t retaining that information,” she said.

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