Editorial: Hopkins deserves a better sexual assault module

March 9, 2017

The University sent out an email to current juniors and seniors on Feb 28 requiring them to complete a mandatory online training course that addresses sexual assault, as well as alcohol and drug use. Freshmen and sophomores had previously completed the module, called Think About It, as part of their Orientation.

The Editorial Board commends the University for making an effort to educate students about sexual assault and misconduct, and we agree that every Hopkins student should have to complete a course that exposes rape culture on college campuses and the reality of sexual assault.

Sexual assault can affect juniors and seniors too, and it’s important that each student has the same basis of understanding. If freshmen and sophomores had to complete the module, juniors and seniors should complete it too.

However, the Editorial Board, along with a significant portion of the student body, finds this module deeply inadequate, and it needs to be altered dramatically if the University continues to use it.

The University lied to upperclassmen when it stated in its announcement email that the module would take 45 minutes to complete. The module actually takes over 90 minutes to complete, further frustrating students. Hopkins must be transparent and consistent when describing mandatory programs, and with Think About It the University failed.

Additionally, in the University’s email, Joy Gaslevic, the Title IX coordinator, and Dean of Student Life Terry Martinez framed the module as an effort to prevent sexual misconduct, but the module involves numerous sections that exclusively focus on drug and alcohol abuse.

Alcohol must be included in any future program because sexual misconduct is more likely to occur in situations where alcohol is present. But the section in Think About It veers off topic when discussing drunk driving, showing videos that explain exactly what a “drink” is, and bizarrely explaining how to make a Long Island Iced Tea. The module also oddly contained an entire section on drug abuse, without tieing it to sexual assault.

Throughout the module, Think About It tries to present “relatable” characters to guide the user through a video game-like experience, but it falls flat. The module includes unnecessary details about the characters that detract from the overall message.

For example, Tom, a gay student, is said to have “traditional Filipino parents.” Tom is the only student whose ethnicity is mentioned. The module implies that his family’s potential homophobia had prevented him from exploring his sexuality before college. Think About It presents his sexual “awakening” as part of a natural progression in reaction to his upbringing. Why did the Think About It team decide to include obvious stereotypes in its lesson? And why did they only present such detailed background for the gay, Filipino student?

One of the first sections of the training focuses on hookup culture and communication, but the its tone clearly supports abstinence and shames sexual exploration. This logic could turn a student’s simple regret for a consensual sexual encounter into shame, making the student feel guilty for having consensual casual sex.

The module’s presentation of the definition of rape is problematic. The module defines rape as “vaginal intercourse with someone who cannot give consent, expressly denies consent and is forced, threatened or in fear.” However, this definition differs from what the federal government, Maryland and the University call “rape.”

The University’s broader definition of rape, which includes “any act of sexual intercourse with another individual against a person’s will or without consent, where sexual intercourse includes vaginal or anal penetration, however slight, with any body part or object, or oral penetration involving mouth to genital contact,” is available within the training, but it is buried within a long document. The module requires that users open the University’s policy and agree to it before moving on, but there is no way to confirm that users have actually read the entire policy.

Furthermore, since the University’s definition of rape is the broadest of the three, it is easier to violate the University’s policy than module’s. Hopkins should stress its own, more stringent policy in the module.

Think About It also needs to clearly address that there are conflicting definitions of rape and explain in an easy to understand way what the consequences of specific sexual acts would be at the University, state and federal levels. It also needs to define more clearly the differences between “rape,” “sexual assault,” a “sexual offense” and “sexual misconduct.”

Students also need to know which resources are available to survivors of sexual assault. The Editorial Board recommends that the module clearly displays all the resources Hopkins provides on campus, including those offered by student groups like the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU). Right now the module does not provide this information in a digestible way.

Think About It’s tone is too conversational for the subject matter. The training awards points and badges as users answer questions and read articles, but there should not be rewards for completing a module about sexual assault. Think About It aims to be relatable, but quickly becomes laughable. Many of the gimmicks in the program are inappropriate and make it feel like a video game. This training does not need to be fun; It needs to be serious, respectful and educational.

The Editorial Board questions how effective an online program can be in educating students about sexual assault. Many of the students who took it last year or as incoming freshmen told us that they do not remember much about it, so this module may not even have any lasting impact.

We want to commend our Title IX coordinator Joy Gaslevic for her straightforward communication with The News-Letter. We know that her job is difficult, and we want to thank her for her hard work and her dedication to students. We encourage students with complaints about this module to send them to Gaslevic. She cannot work to change anything if she does not know which parts of the training are problematic. But we are confident that she will do her best.

Think About It should be better, and it easily can be. The Editorial Board hopes that the University and students will work with the module’s developers to improve it. It is without a doubt important that all students have the same education about sexual assault, but that education needs to be accessible, effective and serious. Think About It is not effective or serious, and before it is given to the next generation of Hopkins students, it must be improved.

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