Each April the teal ribbons are pulled from their drawers, social media campaigns are launched, and Take Back the Night candles are lit. Established in 2001, Sexual Assault Awareness Month has raised public awareness and educated over two decades worth of college students on sexual assault prevention. While prevention trends in the month of April, a handful of local schools have added yearlong lessons on sexual misconduct to their curriculum in efforts to prepare their students for their journey in higher education. This month, we look at two more schools that have stepped to the front line.
For Pam Zipper, sexual assault prevention education plays a vital role in a student’s education, especially in the post-pandemic world. “With the pandemic’s in-person learning restrictions, our students got a little behind socially,” said Zipper, the 7th – 12th grade director at the Walden School. “So now that we are back in the classroom, we need to help catch them up and close the gaps,” she continues. “What is sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and consent? These are the conversations we need to be having.”
And for Zipper, the sooner these conversations are had, the better.
As The Walden School has students from K-12, Zipper is able to start teaching these lessons as early as eighth grade. In an introductory workshop, eighth and ninth grade students learn how their current actions have consequences that follow them into adulthood. Zipper said the purpose of educating students this young is to prepare them for their adult life. “By the time students reach adulthood, media has sent millions of messages, sending them in the wrong direction,” she said. “We approach students in a way where they don’t feel threatened by the information, but they are still educated and the earlier we do it, the better adults we are putting into this world.”
As for her upper classmen, sophomores learn about the bystander effect and the mechanics of intervention, while juniors and seniors participate in sessions on consent. “Consent on a foundational level is easy to define,” said Zipper. “But it is important for students to take into account all of the different variables present when they find themselves in an actual situation.”
With these workshops set to be a regular fixture at the school, it’s hoped that sexual misconduct prevention will be an embedded skill by graduation. “We sometimes wait too late to have these very important conversations, sometimes not having them until the students are adults, and to me, that’s way too late,” said Zipper. “We need to start having these conversations more and more so we can help our students navigate these uncharted waters.
St. Xavier High School
At St. Xavier High School, sexual misconduct prevention is closely aligned with the school’s principles. “Our standards as a Catholic school includes teaching students responsibility for self, ethical decision making, advocacy skills, and being able to assert one’s self when necessary,” said school counselor Amber Wissing. “It is also in our school counseling standards to cover different social and emotional pieces with our students and sexual misconduct prevention is one of them,”she said.
While sexual misconduct is a topic that’s taught in the school’s theology courses, the counseling department’s recent 11th and 12th grade workshops, have added elements of college culture to the comprehensive message. “It’s important that the students hear about sexual misconduct more than once and in different ways from various people,” said Wissing. She states that by adding elements from college life to their workshops, students will be better prepared to handle the real situations that await them in their undergraduate lives. “The reality is that our students will be faced with many situations, some with alcohol involved, some where they are bystanders,” she said. “So, we need to talk about what’s happening on college campuses and what the right decisions are in the different scenarios they’ll encounter.”
Wissing said the student response to these lessons has been wholly positive. “The majority of the students have said that these lessons are needed and they appreciate how down to Earth and relevant the topics of consent and bystander intervention are for them,” she states.
As St. X prides itself on being an institute of college preparation, Wissing hopes that these workshops will continue that very mission. “Anytime you think a scenario through, it makes you better prepared to live that scenario. So now that they have examined these scenarios that occur on college campuses, and they’ve been given tools to navigate those situations in a healthy way, then when and if needed, they will be better equipped to pull those tools out and use them.” •