With so much recent attention focused on sexual violence occurring on college campuses, there is a strong push among American universities to raise awareness and prevent hostile situations. According to BBC News’ Rajini Vaidyanathan, many sexual assault victims are blaming universities for mishandling cases of abuse. President Obama’s plea last month for colleges to step in and stop the epidemic from continuing has led to many institutions enforcing preventative campaigns like the bystander intervention programs at the University of Massachusetts and other schools.
Meanwhile at McDaniel, February has been dedicated to promoting healthy relationships among students. This program, put together by the Wellness Center and the Department of Campus Safety, has been occurring for the past few years, but this year it has overlapped with the rising national concern about sexual assault at colleges. By raising awareness of healthy relationships, could cases of sexual assault be prevented?
Campus Safety Officer, Corporal Adam Reid explained, “The Healthy Relationships program helps students recognize what healthy relationships look like and why they are important.”
According to Dr. Erin MacDougall, Psychologist and counselor at McDaniel’s Wellness Center, the purpose of the Healthy Relationships program is “giving information about what is a healthy relationship, [and] what allows us to be the best person and the best partner in that relationship.”
“We tried to get the message out this year that everyone deserves a healthy relationship, especially you,” she said.
The Healthy Relationships program is a collaborative effort between the Wellness Center and the Department of Campus Safety with Dr. MacDougall in charge of the emotional health portion, Dana Plevyak, R.N. in charge of the physical health portion, and Corporal Adam Reid leading the campus safety portion. By working together to reach the same goal, the two departments can offer more resources for keeping students safe and informing them in all areas, whether it’s emotional or physical.
“We show examples of unhealthy behaviors so students can identify them in their own relationships or in those of friends and family. The program also provides helpful resources to individuals involved in unhealthy relationships who may want assistance getting away from a bad situation,” Corporal Reid said. “We have partnered with the Wellness Center to distribute materials and information to promote safe and healthy relationships. We also serve as a 24/7 reporting station for students who want assistance or would like to speak up for themselves or a friend who they feel may be involved in an unhealthy relationship.”
The Wellness Center also offers individual counseling, training sessions for R.A.s and peer mentors, educational tables and events. There was supposed to be a Valentine’s Day table promoting physical and emotional health of student relationships, but it was cancelled due to snow.
Dr. Erin MacDougall pointed out that this program isn’t just about romantic relationships. “Broadly speaking we’re in relationships with a lot of people,” she said, meaning that college students carry on relationships in many ways, whether it’s with family members, roommates, friends, classmates, teammates, and even hookups.
1 in 4 college students are involved in unhealthy relationships, Dr. MacDougall said. Combine that with the statistic recently stated by President Obama of 1 in 5 women sexually assaulted during their college life and you may start to wonder if there could be a relation.
While there has not been explicit evidence announced of an overlap in theses statistics, it makes sense that at least some of the sexual violence occurring on college campuses may stem from young adults failing to recognize and prevent unhealthy relationships.
“Students don’t always know what a healthy relationship is, they don’t know what their rights and regulations are, and some students don’t feel like they can assert themselves either sexually or emotionally to say ‘I am not comfortable about this,’” according to Dr. MacDougall.
Teaching students these valuable life skills will play a part in keeping sexual violence from tainting their college years.
“Students should also be proactive as bystanders to identify those “red flags” in the relationships of those around them to encourage them to get help. Getting the word out and educating our student populations about these matters can make a significant impact in reducing the problem nationwide. It is the job of all colleges and universities to bring light and awareness to these very important topics,” said Corporal Reid about fighting the national sexual assault problem.
Here at McDaniel, there were two reports of sex offences in 2012, three reports in 2011, and one in 2010 as recorded in the Department of Campus Safety’s 2013 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.
Assistant Director of Campus Safety, Officer Joshua Bronson assured that despite the relatively low numbers of reports of sex offences, “one is too many.”
Since Officer Bronson founded the Sexual Assault Prevention Committee at McDaniel last year, Campus Safety has seen a rise in the number of reports of sexual violence. Though that seems like a bad thing, Bronson claimed it is actually “good because it means that people are comfortable coming to us to report sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and things like that.”
Educating students on how to maintain healthy relationships and recognize signs of unhealthy or harmful relationships can help them to not only protect themselves, but also their peers. By knowing what is considered unhealthy behavior, people will more easily be able to spot potentially dangerous situations and help to diffuse them before there is trouble.