Sexual assault module frustrates students

By MORGAN OME | March 9, 2017

Screen-Shot-2017-03-09-at-11.36.50-AM-1024x687

COURTESY OF MORGAN OME Even though the University has claimed that Think About It takes 45 minutes to complete, the module typically takes 90 minutes to finish.

Many have criticized  “Think About It,” an online training module aiming to educate students on sexual assault, which was recently sent to juniors and seniors.

Critics feel frustrated with how the mandatory module characterizes sexual assault and portrays it in relation to drug and alcohol use. In response, the University has defended Think About It, and plans to continue using it. Hopkins will require all incoming freshmen classes to complete the module.

In an email sent on Feb. 28, Title IX Coordinator Joy Gaslevic and Dean of Student Life Terry Martinez  informed upperclassmen that they must complete the training by Apr. 29 or face holds on their SIS accounts.

Current sophomores completed the module last year and the freshman class took it over the summer.

“This training effort is aimed at preventing and addressing sexual misconduct in connection with University education programs and activities,” Gaslevic and Martinez wrote.

Hopkins joins over 300 colleges and universities that use “Think About It” for Title IX training. CampusClarity, a joint initiative from the University of San Francisco and LawRoom,, created the module. CampusClarity is owned by Everfi, an education technology company.

Gaslevic explained that the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee (SVAC) vetted a variety of different modules before selecting Think About It. Gaslevic said that they selected Everfi because of its interactive and informative training module, and she said it has received positive feedback from students at other institutions.

Think About It includes four sections: “sex in college,” “partying smart,” “sexual violence” and “healthy relationships.” According to CampusClarity’s website, the course is intended to prepare and educate students entering college.

One of the concerns cited by students is how some sections of the module define rape. Junior Juliet Villegas was concerned that it did not take into consideration all rape victims.

“It said that rape was essentially penetration through the vagina. However, that excludes a large part of rape victims,” she said.

But Gaslevic stressed that the University does not support this definition. The module includes multiple definitions since there are discrepancies between how Maryland, the federal government and Hopkins determine what “rape” is.

“The Think About It module does reference Maryland law (in a section that references legal definitions) which currently defines rape in this way,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “However, the training module also references and links to federal law, as well as the Sexual Misconduct Policy & Procedures used for handling sexual misconduct matters at the University, both of which define sexual assault more broadly.”

The University defines rape as “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.”

However, the State of Maryland’s definition, which is cited in “Think About It,” says that rape is “[engaging] in vaginal intercourse with another by force, or the threat of force, without the consent of the other.”

Morgan Balster, a sophomore who took the course last year, disliked that the module conflated substance abuse and sexual assault.

“I thought that having [drugs and alcohol] and sexual assault in one training was distasteful and offensive,” she said. “It implies that someone who has been on drugs or consumed alcohol is more likely to be sexually assaulted, which shifts the blame onto the victim, where it shouldn’t be.”

Gaslevic clarified the University’s position on the relationship between sexual assault and drugs and alcohol.

“Consumption of alcohol and or drugs does not ever lead to or cause sexual assault,” she wrote. “While many campus assault cases involve consumption of alcohol and/or drugs, actions of a respondent — not alcohol or drug consumption — lead to sexual assault.”

However, she emphasized that it’s important to understand how substances can affect an individual’s ability to give consent. Gaslevic also explained that many Hopkins sexual misconduct cases often involve alcohol.

“It is important — and part of legislative guidance and mandates — for a comprehensive prevention course to address the connections between alcohol and sexual consent, describe how alcohol can be used intentionally as a tool by potential perpetrators, and share risk-reduction strategies for all students,” she wrote.

Balster also argued that the module portrayed hookup culture in a negative and condescending light.

“[Hookup culture] isn’t a crime. Sexual assault is a crime,” she said.

In response, Gaslevic stressed that neither the University nor the module intends to condemn hooking up outright.

“The decision to be sexually active is a highly personal decision and the module only seeks to provide information on this topic, not to judge and not to flag it as a particular issue at our institution,” she wrote.

While taking the module students are prompted to answer highly personal survey questions like “How many times have you had sex (including oral) in the last three months?” Even though the module says the responses are anonymous, some students questioned this since they are required to log in with their student ID.

But according to Gaslevic, responses are aggregated and de-identified and cannot be linked to individual students. She also noted that survey questions can be answered with the “No Comment” option.

Other students expressed concern that the module could trigger survivors of sexual violence because it does not provide a clear way to opt out.

Although senior Max Balka does not personally think that trigger  or content warnings are necessary, he stressed that many students satuchly support using them. He said that the University should not make the module mandatory for those who may be triggered by its content.

“This module... forces all students — including victims of traumatic experiences such as rape or molestation — to continue actively engaging with the triggering content in order to graduate,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Gaslevic said that if a student felt triggered by content in the course, they should contact her or the OIE.

“If someone is triggered or expects to be triggered due to past assault, they should email me and request an exception to the training,” she said. “I’m open to considering an exemption.”

Balka, echoing a common complaint, questioned why upperclassmen need to complete the training, especially seniors who are graduating within a few months.

“I was frustrated at the very fact that a previously undisclosed de facto graduation requirement was tossed onto the laps of the Class of 2017 during our final weeks as undergraduates,” he wrote. “This module is not designed for graduating 22 year olds.”

Gaslevic explained that the University believes it is essential for all students to be uniformly trained on the topic of sexual violence.

“Sexual violence can impact any student, regardless of their identity and their undergraduate year at the University,” she wrote.

Though Villegas, the junior, disagreed with aspects of the module, she thought that its use of statistics was beneficial. For example, she appreciated how the module addressed the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. She also appreciated the segments detailing how alcohol differently effects men, women and people of varying body types.

“I think that information is really important because a lot of students come here either never having anything [to drink] or being completely unaware of it,” she said.

Villegas also sees potential for the module to be a convenient and useful way to educate students about sexual assault.

“I think [online training] could be effective if it were more sensitive and more careful about what it talked about,” she said

Sophomore AJ Tsang recognized some of the module’s positive qualities and praised the University’s goal of educating students about sexual assault. However, he took issue with the definition of rape the module adopted and felt that the interactive graphics created an optimistic tone that was not appropriate for discussing sexual violence.

“In spite of the problems with [the module] — in terms of wording — when I factor in the intention of it and that it was [required], the net impact is positive,” he said.

Tsang also noted that the University’s approach to handling sexual assault cases has improved.

“When we look back on... how much progress we’ve made in this era compared to 10 to 15 years ago when there were obvious cover-ups of sexual assaults and rapes on campus, I think it shows that through sustained pressure and sustained student advocacy we can really effect great change,” he said.

Gaslevic encourages students to share their feedback, especially since EverFi is working on updating the course this year. Input from Hopkins students would be taken into consideration.

“We welcome any interested students, including individuals who have expressed concerns about the training, to contact OIE should they wish to participate in future EverFi focus groups,” she wrote.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.