- Male college students aren’t aware of the extent of sexual violence on campus and feel separated from its effects, according to researchers who interviewed young men for a new report from It's On Us, an organization dedicated to preventing campus sexual assault.
- Despite this, a majority of men on campus wanted to help but felt ill-prepared because of a lack of substantive training. Most received at least one training on gender-based violence in college, but respondents called the experience ineffective, boring and disconnected.
- Overwhelmingly, the men interviewed were more likely to be empathetic and act to stop sexual assault if they have strong female role models or friends, or if someone in their family or immediate social circle survived sexual assault.
Colleges often require students to undergo some form of sexual assault prevention training as a condition of enrollment. But the trainings tend to be digital and outsourced to an external company. The surveyed students said trainings felt too generic and irrelevant, with examples that were not reflective of their experience.
“The topic deserves my respect, but the way they teach it … it’s just easy to dismiss. It’s not something a lot of people take seriously,” one Northwestern University student told researchers.
The report recommends administrators implement creative training methods instead of offering one-size-fits-all modules. Ohio State University invited a comedian to do a stand-up routine for students about mental health and sexual assault, an event that was well attended and engaging, according to a surveyed Ohio State student. Hearing from an influential member of the campus community or a peer also proved to be more engaging.
Training should be held in person whenever possible and focus on combatting sexual violence stereotypes, the report said. These stereotypes are part of what makes male students feel removed from the issue.
Respondents at smaller colleges said sexual violence was a bigger issue at larger institutions with Greek life. And men at colleges within other towns or communities viewed non-students who live near campus as more dangerous than other students.
Neither perception is accurate. High rates of sexual assault are reported across all institution types, and 85% of survivors know their assailant prior to a sexual assault, according to the report.
When possible, colleges should use local campus data and be transparent about why a new training is being conducted, the report said. Respondents said a lack of candor or an attempt to use national data made it feel like their college was trying to cover up incidents of sexual assault.
But young men need more than just training to build a healthy awareness of campus sexual assault. They need nonmale friends and role models to view peers who aren't men as people, rather than objects, according to the report. The respondents most attuned to the issue of sexual violence had strong friendships with women on campus.
The types of activities and social groups men participate in greatly affect their chance of making a gender-diverse group of friends. The report compares coed sports teams and fraternities. The teams give students across the gender spectrum a chance to hang out as equals and form friendships. But fraternities and other male-only groups can become echo chambers for toxic masculinity, according to respondents.
Researchers asked open-ended questions of a group of 20 male students that was representative of the national college student population. Their work ran from March 10 to April 25.