Editor’s Note: This story is the fourth in the Kansan’s series on sexual assault at the University in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every Monday in April, there will be a new story on the topic.
Added resources to the University’s campus have allowed for more comprehensive training to be put in place for residential assistants at the dorms, said Aramis Watson, associate director of residence life in the University's Department of Student Housing.
Watson is referring to resources like the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center, the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access and the CARE coordinator, organizations all students and faculty have access to.
However, Watson, who served as an RA during her undergraduate years at the University in 2002, said even before these resources were put into place for students, RAs experienced a basic form of sexual assault training.
“Training, resources and services have grown across the country at colleges and universities. This growth has advanced and made the training done by housing departments across the country more comprehensive,” Watson said. “The training that occurred when I was an RA at KU had the same basic goals we have today: to intervene and provide students [with] resources. As the University and country continue to advance on this topic, so will the trainings that are provided to Housing staff.”
Before the start of every school year, RAs receive two weeks of intensive sexual assault training, according to Jennifer Brockman, director of SAPEC.
As the primary organization that provides sexual assault training for RAs, SAPEC focuses on supplying RAs with information about how to not only prevent situations like sexual assault from occurring, but also how to respond to victims of sexual assault.
“Through our partnership with housing, we’ve been allotted some of that time to be able to work with RAs to make sure they have good skills to be good support to students and those who have been impacted by sexual violence, as well as how they can work to prevent it in the residence halls,” Brockman said.
Since its creation in 2016, SAPEC has partnered with Housing to ensure that RAs and Housing staff receive proper sexual assault training, according to Watson.
Brockman said one of the main prevention initiatives in place that students and RAs are educated in is “Jayhawks Give a Flock.” This program, put in place by SAPEC, is a bystander education and training program developed for students that is imperative in primary prevention work on college campuses, according to Brockman.
The “Jayhawks Give a Flock” program educates RAs on how to recognize instances of sexual assault, when to intervene and ways to help others find emotional and physical support.
“All RAs go through 'Jayhawks Give a Flock,' which is the evidence-based national curriculum for bystander intervention. So every year, RAs go through this training process,” Brockman said.
RA sexual assault training comes from a collaboration with partners such as IOA, SAPEC and the CARE coordinator, Watson said. Housing, which follows the curriculum set in place by these organizations, trains RAs extensively through educational program workshops that are presented to them, according to Watson.
All RAs also go through a program known as “Consent at KU,” which educates students about what consent looks like and understanding relationships, according to Brockman.
RAs were not allowed to comment on how the workshop tends to operate in a more detailed sense.
Response to victims
In addition to SAPEC’s prevention training programs for RAs, they also receive training on how to respond to victims of sexual assault such as trauma-informed response, which is working with victims in crisis, and understanding gender-based violence recognition and response training.
“So, helping them identify what are those red flag behavior indicators for gender-based violence,” Brockman said, “and if they notice those indicators, who can they talk to, what is their response and what are their requirements as mandated reporters.”
Other resources, like the CARE Coordinator at Watkins Health Center, Merrill Evans, act not only as a free support system for students who are sexual assault survivors, but also take part in the sexual assault training provided to RAs.
Evans said this past January she partnered with SAPEC, where she met with new incoming staff for a presentation on do's and don’ts when responding to victims of sexual assault.
“These talking points of what not to do can be really helpful because you don’t want them causing any harm,” Evans said.
The primary goal
“The primary goal is emotional well-being. We want RAs to address their needs in the moment, and it is absolutely imperative that individuals have a validating response or you risk shutting them down,” Evans said.
Watson said it is extremely important that RAs know how to respond to survivors because an RA is most likely the first point of contact after an instance of sexual assault.
Watson said reports of sexual assault tend to happen on a peer level, which makes RAs involvement in training crucial for the University, but specifically for dorm life.
“It’s important for our staff to be trained on this because it affects so many people at so many different levels, and it’s important that our resources are readily available for students,” Watson said. “We struggle as an institution if someone doesn’t know the resources available to them, and we’re working very hard to break down those barriers. It’s not out of the ordinary to share with your peer, if we can get more people to utilize that, then it’s just going to make us a stronger campus.”
Last year there were 25 reports of sexual assault on campus. Currently the University doesn't report the time, location and process of sexual assault complaints, but the release of the information to the public would show more transparency at KU.
Earlier this year, it was found that 25 students had filed reports saying they were sexually assaulted on campus in 2017, with residence halls being where most of the reported misconduct took place.
Despite it being the most sexual assaults reported since the University's Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access opened in 2012, Watson said it doesn’t necessarily mean more sexual assaults are taking place, but rather more students are reporting instances of sexual assault, because they have the resources to do it.
Puja Shah, a senior who has been an RA at Ellsworth Hall for three years now, said undergraduate RAs are required to participate in mandatory trainings during the fall, winter and spring orientation.
Shah said training during the fall semester tends to be the most rigorous time of the year for training because they are dealing with new incoming RAs who are learning the training for the first time, as well as welcoming new and returning students to the dorms.
“During fall semester training, all undergraduate staff members are trained on how to respond to incidents of sexual assault. Within sexual assault training, KU Student Housing partners with the Office of Sexual Assault and Prevention Education Center to facilitate sessions, such as 'Bringing in the Bystander Training,' that educate undergraduate staff on how to safely and properly intervene, respond and report all concerns related to sexual assault,” Shah said.
The Student Safety Advisory Board voted Project Callisto into existence on Tuesday. The highly touted system from last year's election would allow students to gather and store evidence prior to reporting assaults to IOA.
If an individual reports sexual assault to an RA, Shah said no matter what, RAs are required to report the information to a senior staff member. RAs are known to the University as mandatory reporters, according to Watson.
“When responding to incidents as such, follow up is case-specific and individualized based off the needs of the survivor and it is reported to the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access for additional follow-up purposes,” Shah said.
Shah said, as a third-year RA, she believes it is critical that RAs are educated on how to respond to crisis, the resources available for survivors and how to report situations that may arise, because RAs are the eyes and ears of the community.
“My training has been extremely beneficial for the instances I have had to use it for because it has given me the appropriate tools to serve my community and it has provided resources to me when I may need support as well,” Shah said.
Shah wouldn’t comment on how many times she’s had to use the training.