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Measuring the challenges and triumphs of Michigan State’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Department

Expanded programs with virtual meetings: How MSU addresses sexual violence on campus amid a pandemic

January 26, 2021
Two members of the presidential search committee wear teal ribbons at the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 11, 2018.
Two members of the presidential search committee wear teal ribbons at the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 11, 2018. —
Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

Since its creation in 2008, the Prevention, Outreach and Education (POE) Department at Michigan State has worked to change MSU’s culture on campus surrounding relationship violence and sexual misconduct. 

The program has been fully virtual for the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that has not slowed down the program at all as it continues to grow and train different parts of MSU in being more informed about sexual violence and how to promote a safe culture on campus, POE Department Director Kelly Schweda said.

"We teach them the definitions, we give them scenarios, we give them resources that are available on campus to them so that they are well educated about what's going on around them and the violence that we may see in our communities," Animal science junior Paige Gibb, a peer educator for the undergraduate SARV program, said. " ... So we are just educators that want to make a difference in our community, and we bring this education to the students through these workshops."

POE has expanded Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct (RVSM) training to all parts of campus, including programs for faculty and staff, MSU Athletics, and fraternities and sororities in addition to the undergraduate student training program, Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence prevention (SARV), that has existed since 2018.

“We are busy all the time,” Schweda said. “Faculty and staff really want to talk about it, they want to make culture change. They want to be involved in these types of changes across our campus. People care deeply about our campus community being safe, and being trauma-informed and being supportive of survivors. And I think that that's really reflective in how busy we've been.”

The pandemic has not slowed down POE and SARV training on campus, as they shifted all of their content to a Zoom format. In the fall, POE offered 485 SARV and bystander workshops for first and second-year undergraduate students, and plan to offer over 100 more this semester.

“Over the summer, my staff worked really hard at transitioning all of our programming to a virtual format,” Schweda said. “And it's not just a recorded Zoom, somebody talking at you; it's still as interactive. We trained our peer educators — we have over 80 peer educators, we trained them all on a Zoom platform — and it is all still interactive with peer educators leading the discussions. We had to break it down into smaller groups so that it can be managed that way. We had to run three times more (workshops) across campus so that we can manage it in smaller doses, so it still could be interactive.” 

The workshops are offered in a webinar-style format, where the peer educators lead discussions and the participants respond with live feedback in the chat. This is a lot different than the traditional in-person SARV workshops, but the peer educators said that this has increased participation from students. 

"I've actually been surprised  how much more participation we're getting and people seem to be much more engaged," Gibb said. "I think because it might be a little less scary participating when it's in a chat over Zoom rather than in-person, especially when we're talking about serious topics like this. So, it has actually been a good transformation on to Zoom."

The online format is not all positive, however. Peer educators said that it is hard to tell if students are actually paying attention to the workshop due to the webinar-style Zooms, and only have the chat to measure participation from students. 

"I think in-person has a better effect, because we can see them and we can see if they're focused," Social relations and policy and women and gender studies junior Darien Battagin said. "During the in-person sessions, you know, we tell them to put their phones away, and try to engage and like we can pick out people who we think aren't paying attention as much. And it's just an almost a better environment."

Two of the newer programs created by POE, Greeks take the Lead and Spartans Against Violence (SAV), focus on how to prevent sexual violence in MSU Athletics and Greek life at MSU. 

The SAV program is mandatory for everyone associated with MSU Athletics, from tutors for the programs to coaches and athletes themselves. There are two training sessions per year for MSU athletics, which focuses on the prevention of sexual violence within the athletic department as well as how to be an advocate for survivors of sexual violence as an athlete on campus. 

"I help my co-worker with the women's athletic sessions," Fisheries and wildlife junior Hannah Eberhard said, who helped lead SAV programs in the fall. "And we have been really focusing on the second session because they have to do a first one and a second one. And the second one we're really focusing on rape culture, and breaking down these barriers of misogyny, and survivor victim-blaming, different things like that."

These programs continuously help athletes learn about sexual violence and what to do as a bystander.

“Instead of just doing a one time program for athletes, they go through in batches with their team members, and they go through multiple trainings with us,” Schweda said. “So not only talking about the policy, but really being challenged on how to be a leader, how to intervene, how to interrupt violence if you see it happening ... and navigating relationships with athletes.”

Greeks Take the Lead is a yearly training program focusing on preventing sexual violence within Michigan State’s fraternities and sororities. According to a 2017 State News analysis, Greek Life at MSU has been a consistent source of relationship violence at MSU, with 19 RVSM cases being reported to East Lansing Police Department between 2012 and 2017 and many more that were suspected but not reported. 

“We do trainings, particularly for the presidents and for the risk managers, because we want to make sure that the leadership in those chapters and those councils has very specific information regarding some of these topics,” POE Assistant Director Matea Caluk said. “We do the leadership trainings and we do new member training. So when new people come into the chapters, we do specific trainings for them. And this is in addition to them attending SARV and bystanders, so they do get these additional trainings.”

POE has created an advisory board of 14 undergraduate students, called the Student Voice for Prevention Initiatives, which will work directly with the staff at POE to create workshops and classes that focus on the wants and needs of undergraduate students. The board met for the first time on January 21 and will meet monthly with POE to give feedback on the RVSM programs that are required for undergraduate students. 

“We do use the CDC model for sexual assault prevention on campuses as our base model for doing our work, but we also feel like having that student voice will be so important in order for us, again, to create programming that's going to serve the students,” Caluk said.

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This article is part of the 'We Can't Forget' print issue. Read the entire issue here. 


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