As the summer wound down and freshmen prepared for their first semester as college students, the class of 2023 received an e-mail from E. Royster Harper, vice president for Student Life.
The message contained information on the online modules all new students are required to take: Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates and AlcoholEdu for College. What I found interesting was how neutral I felt towards the modules. It has come to my attention that preparing for college comes hand in hand with the beginning of conversations between parents and students about alcohol abuse and sexual assault.
Both are serious and important topics of conversation. However, most of my peers have pushed the modules aside, intending to take them as late as they can. Many don’t seem to consider the topics as pressing or important, but simply another task to check off the to-do list.
“I think most people already know at least some of the logistics behind sexual assault,” LSA freshman Tyler Traskos said. “But I talked to other guys from different colleges who also had to do the modules, and we all agree that they present the information in a way which makes people want to get through it as fast as possible, rather than paying attention.”
There are numerous other universities, along with U-M, that have reached out to students to participate in the courses, however, there remains a common feeling of disinterest among freshmen. While I greatly appreciate the openness of conversation and how many schools across the nation are participating, my skepticism raises questions about the effectiveness of the program.
The module is a lecture-style presentation with interactive features and videos that admittedly grab one’s attention. However, after completing the exam, I was unsure of what I should be taking away from the lesson.
Even with my knowledge, I took the module somewhat distractedly. In addition to the repetitive questions on the exams and verbose facts from federal and state law, there was something missing.
There are tactics such as not wearing a ponytail while walking alone at night, using keys as claws in-between your knuckles, or never leaving your drink unattended — all simple yet effective strategies for students the modules could promote. It isn’t enough to be aware of the proper labels of assault or where to find help at the University, but to make the issues more relatable and applicable to the real world. The module was informative, but it didn’t reach the full potential it could have.
Along with the modules, freshmen are required to attend two in-person sessions, each being two-hour discussions, with regard to sexual health and healthy relationships. Though the class of 2023 has yet to absorb all the information the University is attempting to share, it seems as though the discussions set a standard for other University of Michigan students to discuss these issues.
“The in-person sessions were really important conversations to have, and it brought everyone to the same page,” LSA sophomore Liliana Arida-Moody said. “Overall, I think it’s a good way to establish a healthier culture with a big student population.”
It is imperative to note the privilege I had in high school being able to receive these lessons, as well as the personal conversations I had with teachers and mentors who were aware of assault and drug abuse. While it isn’t perfect, the University community is actively giving students a chance to properly educate themselves. Another reason why these modules are falling short is because the students are not fully harnessing what they learn. It is the responsibility of the freshmen to take the information and use it the best they can.
It’s an unfortunate reality that the most effective way to learn the true consequences of alcohol abuse or sexual assault is experience. No one understands the grim truth of alcohol abuse and sexual assault unless affected personally, which is why I feel the need to push universities and even high schools to educate students before they reach a point of helplessness.
The United States still faces a high number of unreported sexual assault incidents and alcohol abuse, especially in college settings. However, many families and educational programs do not have these necessary conversations until the students’ first year of college. How we educate students reflects upon our society and how we discuss an issue that has long been kept underground.
My hope is that, along with the online modules, in-person sessions and overall conversation about alcohol and sexual assault, there will be a spark for an even larger and deeper conversation among University students. This should be the starting point for students to actively seek better solutions and speak up about their experiences so the academic community can become more honest, progressive and find more effective programs for the incoming freshman classes.
Cheryn Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.