Georgetown’s Sexual Assault Peer Educators program has educated 300 students in sexual misconduct policies and bystander intervention so far this year, putting it on course to exceed the 700 students it educated last year, according to SAPE Faculty Advisor Jennifer Wiggins.
This year also marks the largest group of SAPE educators in the program’s history, with 75 peer educators.
Wiggins said the increase is due in part to increased dialogue on preventing campus sexual assault.
“The amount of traction that we got last year from our programming meant that student groups we connected with last year knew this is something that we want to bring in for our new recruits this semester,” Wiggins said.
While SAPE is on track to exceed last year’s numbers, it is still working on further diversifying the dialogue regarding sexual assault on campus.
Wiggins said in an article in The Hoya last April that SAPE needed to work on improving its diversity. According to Wiggins, only 15 of the 60 students involved with SAPE last year identified as male and few people of color were represented. Wiggins declined to provide a breakdown on SAPE trainers’ backgrounds.
According to Wiggins, the organization is currently prioritizing its selection of SAPE facilitators and how to train them to reflect the diversity of Georgetown.
“SAPE is definitely more diverse than it was last year,” Wiggins said. “I think when we are putting together task forces or focus groups we should be making sure there are diverse voices in the room — also being able to connect with offices like LGBTQ [Resource Center] or [Center for Multicultural Equity and Access] to encourage people to apply to be in programs that are centered around the dialogue is very important.”
SAPE’s Development Chair Maneesha Panja (COL ’18) said SAPE still needs to take more measures to better represent minorities.
“We are definitely in a transition period right now. I am not going to say that we are at a point in terms of the organization where we’re representing all groups that are being affected by sexual assault on this campus,” Panja said. “At the same time there is a lot of initiative that both [Wiggins] and the board has embarked on that is really trying to change that.”
According to Panja, this push for increased diversity needs to start with the university administration.
“I would like to see more administrative initiative to empower more people of color to be on the decision-making boards when it comes to choosing things such as Title IX coordinators,” Panja said.
SAPE’s growth is part of a larger effort on campus to improve bystander training since the release of the university’s Sexual Assault and Misconduct Survey on June 16. University President John J. DeGioia approved funds for “Bringing in the Bystander,” a bystander training program that will be administered to all student leaders on campus.
At least three members of Georgetown’s largest student groups will be trained on how to identify and respond to high-risk situations.
Panja said the new initiative will help improve awareness of sexual assault on campus.
“By administrating this training to all student leaders on campus, that is basically indicating that Georgetown is willing to take a shift in focus in that we’re taking this problem very seriously and we are taking direct action to make sure that every single person on this campus in whatever social involvement is hearing this message from somebody in power in a club or organization,” Panja said.
SAPE will also be altering the structure of its own bystander intervention to accommodate the new university initiative, according to Wiggins.
“What we are going to be doing with the bystander intervention workshop that SAPE does is that we are updating the curriculum to not mirror that of ‘Bringing in the Bystander,’ but it’s going to work to augment it,” Wiggins said.
SAPE’s Special Projects Chair Carlo Izzo (COL ’17) said the SAPE program was most recently updated following the first campus climate survey on sexual assault and misconduct, whose results were released in June.
“We have tailored our bystander intervention workshop to reflect some of the results from the campus climate survey,” Izzo said. “I think the bystander intervention training is going to be tough because it’s not personalized to the groups whilst SAPE personalizes everything to the culture at Georgetown.”
According to Izzo, bystander intervention training help will help increase the ability of students to respond to incidents of sexual assault.
“First of all it is an easy way to enter into the conversation around sexual assault because it doesn’t point figures or place blame right away,” Izzo said. “I think inactive bystanders do have a lot of blame and I think that we are trying to frame it in a way that you can be a positive force — it creates a lot more positivity and makes it much easier to join the conversation and is more welcoming.”
Izzo said the issue of sexual assault is becoming more widely spoken about on campus.
“What’s new now is that people who aren’t survivors or haven’t experienced sexual violence are suddenly interested in this topic,” Izzo said. “You get a lot of interest, and people power together to give voice to an issue.”
Bystander training is a key step toward creating a community committed to ending sexual assault, according to Izzo.
“My future step would be to end sexual assault, and I think it’s going to come through bystander intervention,” Izzo said. “Right now we have an awareness that it exists, but I think we need to get to the point where the awareness moves people to action.”
Correction: This article previously stated SAPE’s Development Chair Maneesha Panja (COL ’18) last name was Pancha.