The Georgetown University Student Association Senate plans to enhance student sexual assault prevention trainings for the fall of 2021 by revamping the training curriculum and expanding the number and scope of prevention exercises.
GUSA’s Policy and Advocacy Committee began working with Georgetown University’s Sexual Assault Peer Educators in June, devising ways to make training curriculums more relevant to the modern student experience, according to GUSA officials.
Expanding the trainings will involve more students in the dialogue of sexual assault on campus, according to GUSA Senator and Policy Chair for Sexual Assault and Student Safety Lily McGrail (COL ’21).
“I think it will make the reality of sexual assault on campus more known to everyone,” McGrail said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s a dialogue that’s on campus a lot, but unfortunately, not many people participate in it. The people who participate in it are survivors themselves, or really good friends of a survivor, but there’s a lot of people on campus who didn’t really think about this.”
McGrail also hopes the new trainings will make the dialogue of sexual assault more ingrained in Georgetown’s culture, therefore making students more vigilant.
“If this is something that’s not addressed a lot, when you are at, let’s say a party, and you are impaired because of drinking and it’s late at night, you’re not going to be as vigilant because you’re not really thinking about this,” McGrail said. “But if it’s more ingrained in Georgetown culture to be very against sexual assault and looking out for people who are vulnerable, then when you’re in those moments, that’s going to occur to you a little bit more.”
Georgetown first-year undergraduate and transfer students currently must complete one online course on sexual assault prevention before they arrive on campus, as well as participate in one in-person Bringing in the Bystander training session their first fall semester. It takes about two months for all first-year students to complete the five- to six-hour-long in-person training.
The current online course does not sufficiently prepare first-year students for the reality of campus party culture and the prevalence of sexual assault, however, because it lacks bystander intervention components that are necessary for incidents that occur during New Student Orientation, according to McGrail.
“Even though freshmen have online training before they arrive to campus, a freshman might not get by for two months,” McGrail said. “And the problem is, during NSO in particular, incidents of sexual assault do happen. And what’s troubling is that the online training doesn’t really do a good job of informing people what you should be doing if you see your friends not in a good place, of that bystander perspective.”
In addition to reforming online training, GUSA also hopes to change the in-person bystander training so students will take the sessions with their floors, ideally in their own common rooms with orientation advisers or resident assistants administering the training. OAs and RAs would be trained in the spring and over the summer by the Georgetown SAPE program.
Since most incidents of sexual assault occur in student living spaces, this change would hopefully create more accountability for bystander intervention among first-year floors, according to McGrail.
“Most incidents of sexual assault happen in student residences,” McGrail said. “So not only do you address it as saying this could happen here, but also, this could happen here and these people can be around you. And you can be around when it’s happening to your friends, and it’s your responsibility to step in and help or be vigilant.”
McGrail hopes these new trainings will foster a community of trust within student dorms, creating an environment in which incidents of sexual assault will be less frequent.
“I’m a survivor myself, and it was in my residence where it happened,” McGrail said. “My roommate was there, and it was actually someone she brought home and his friend. And she was not there for me, that trust was not there. And so I think having these groups be friend groups in their freshmen floors in their common rooms — that’s going to hit it home that this can happen to you, this can happen to your friend, it can happen right where you live.”
GUSA also wants to implement trainings for upperclassmen as well as first-year students, which means creating new curricula for each class year through Georgetown’s Health Education Services. A significant barrier is the lack of funding HES receives, however, which would prevent them from devising adequate and relevant curriculums, according to GUSA Senator and Policy and Advocacy Committee member Rowlie Flores (COL ’22).
“Something we want to address is that there’s a lot of funding issues when it comes to HES,” Flores said in an interview with The Hoya. “Working with HES on how to create a curriculum that’s both affordable and efficient is going to be very important for us.”
While few students are on campus this semester, McGrail said if first-year students or any other students are invited back to campus in the spring, GUSA will need to help carry out sexual assault prevention trainings. She worries, however, that regulations on social distancing will prevent students from reporting incidents.
“Another thing, too, that I worry about is that students will then be afraid to report sexual assault because they might not have been following social distance guidelines when it happened, which I don’t think is okay,” McGrail said.
Keeping in mind that students may fear consequences for violating social distancing restrictions, Georgetown has instituted an amnesty policy that aims to prevent incidents of sexual assault from going unreported. Students will not incur Code of Student Conduct charges solely for the information they provide when reporting or filing a sexual misconduct complaint or when participating as a witness in an investigation, according to the Office of Student Conduct website. The amnesty policy also applies to students reporting drug or alcohol-related medical emergencies and to students reporting symptoms of COVID-19.
Both GUSA and SAPE have also been working to update the current curriculum for first-year in-person bystander training, including more information on drug-facilitated sexual assault as well as material focusing more on survivors and assaulters, according to GUSA Sexual Assault and Student Safety Chair and SAPE member Sophia Bos-Shadi (COL ’22).
“The Bringing in The Bystander Model is a great training to start the conversation, what students felt was missing was building upon that by going deeper into topics such as drug-facilitated sexual assault, and prevention education that might address assailants and survivors as well as bystanders,” Bos-Shadi wrote in an email to The Hoya. “SAPE already has these facilitation models in place, but not every student has access to SAPE trainings which is why GUSA has been partnering with HES to work on additional trainings and facilitations.”
Sexual assault prevention curricula should also include information on how different identities experience sexual assault, according to McGrail.
“Recently, studies have come out saying people in the LGBTQ community are also really disproportionately affected by sexual assaults,” McGrail said. “That’s something that should also be incorporated into these sexual assault prevention trainings.”
McGrail said with more attention and resources given to sexual assault prevention efforts, Georgetown can ensure there are fewer survivors of sexual assault.
“A lot of dialogue in the university right now is that the university needs better resources for survivors,” McGrail said. “One hundred percent true. But ideally, we want to have less survivors, We want to have less people impacted by this. That same amount of attention needs to be given to prevention.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that students could face consequences for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct if they were violating social distancing guidelines. The university has instituted an amnesty policy so that students who make sexual misconduct complaints will not incur a Code of Student charge based solely on the information they provide. The article has been updated to reflect this information.