Peer educators raise awareness about sexual assault
Published April 2, 2012
Sexual assault is an uncomfortable topic for many people. But 10 NDSU students broach the subject on a regular basis through presentations to University 189 classes, Greek chapters, athletic teams and student organizations.
They are NDSU’s first violence prevention educators, and their job is to start the conversation and provide peer education about sexual and relationship violence.
“I have learned that although it is sometimes awkward, college students want to talk about this issue and learn more about how to stop it,” said violence prevention educator Mercedes Lee, a senior, majoring in crop and weed science, management communication and women and gender studies, from Perley, Minn. “Providing a safe environment where NDSU students can have a healthy dialogue about the issue is so crucial to the success of the violence prevention educator program in helping eliminate sexual violence.”
Part of the educators’ role is to help their peers acknowledge sexual assault is a problem. “I am always surprised at how few people actually know about sexual violence because it has an effect on our entire community,” said educator Josh Boe, a senior majoring in human development and family science, from Fargo. The educators often cite statistics from the National Institute of Justice estimating one in five women and about 6 percent of men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault while in college.
The violence prevention educators, started as a Sexual Assault Prevention Programs initiative, began presenting and organizing events in fall 2011 after going through an intensive interview and training process, said Sarah Dodd, assistant director for sexual assault prevention programming at NDSU.
They were selected based on their ability to work as a team, present to groups, facilitate discussion, show compassion and model appropriate, peaceful behavior. They went through 40 hours of training with experts from a variety of NDSU divisions and programs, the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center and Sanford Health. They went through another 12 hours of training from the Bacchus Network to become certified peer educators.
Jennifer Rothschiller, a junior majoring in public relations and advertising from Bismarck, N.D., took a leap of faith by getting involved. “I didn’t really know much about the program, but I knew I wanted to be involved,” she said. “Issues that we deal with are important to me, and it’s important to get our message out.”
In addition to giving presentations, the educators help organize campus awareness events such a Take Back the Night. “Their role for these events ranges from public relations to logistics to presentation development,” Dodd said. “They also provide a student perspective on other programming through sexual assault prevention programs.”
Right now, the educators are planning Sexual Assault Awareness Month events for April. Among their tasks will be tying teal ribbons on trees around campus for the April observance. “My favorite part is the programming we put on for campus,” Rothschiller said. “It’s motivational to see so many people from different places and organizations at NDSU come and show their support.”
NDSU’s Sexual Assault Prevention Programs were launched in July 2010. The programs were developed within the Office of Student Life with input and guidance from people throughout campus. In her role as assistant director, Dodd focuses on educational prevention efforts, manages the 24-hour SARA Helpline, takes part in research related to sexual violence and serves as the advocate for students who come forward with a sexual violence complaint.
The violence prevention educators program was started with a $10,000 Avon Foundation for Women grant.