Often times people come to us and say that as soon as their students even hear the word “rape,” they begin looking at their phones. Or their eyes glaze over, they visibly tune out.
Have you ever tried to deliver training on a hard-hitting topic and had your audience completely dis-engage?
This disengagement that we’re talking about can happen for a number of reasons: Maybe your audience is uncomfortable talking about this topic. Maybe they assume that they or their community is immune to the problem. But it could also be that your chosen teaching method is boring or inaccessible to them. In order to get students where we want them to go with these issues, we have to meet them where they are.
As a company whose focus is sexual assault prevention, we know these challenges better than anyone. Meeting our audience where they are is the core belief behind so much of what we do at Catharsis Productions. This means creating programming that people in the particular demographic you’re trying to reach feel a connection to. It means creating content that they’ll not only relate to, but be excited by.
We’re all familiar with the fact that one in five people experience sexual violence or assault in their lifetime. Yet if students don’t feel the lesson applies to them – they don’t IDENTIFY with the issue(s). Getting rid of the notion that “it’s not my problem” with sexual assault is one of the most important hurdles to overcome. But once you do, your students can absorb the teachings you have to share in a personal way, and that, as we know, is extraordinarily powerful.
So how do you make your audience ENGAGE with material and STAY engaged? And how do you improve your messaging surrounding these difficult topics to support this?
There are some best practices we believe in when it comes to preventing sexual violence. At Catharsis Productions we use techniques like humor to lower barriers and relatability to establish a deeper connection with our audience and deliver our message. We also focus on prevention education rather than risk reduction making sure to explain the difference and impact of each. We also use a socio-economic model to structure our programs. In looking at this socio-ecologic model, we strive to provide interventions, and reframe the rape culture that has been both deliberately and inadvertently taught to us, on four different levels: individual, interpersonal, group or community, and systemic.
Today we want to focus on a specific approach we take: Programmatic Alignment.
The first major problem that we find many schools are facing is that, no matter how powerful your training is, students do not absorb material nearly as well when the learning is conducted as a one-off. It becomes a matter of knowing not only when, but also how often, to administer your message to students. Answering this question is crucial in their learning success.
All too often, we see this type of training framed as a frantic info-dump, most of the time at an inopportune moment when incoming first years are already extremely overstimulated from their first week on campus and then never exposed to the information again. This poor timing and lack of follow up does more than simply make your trainings forgettable – it makes them ineffective.
This feeds into our central the idea of culturally implementing the material: you don’t just want your students to blast through the information so that they can be finished with it as soon as possible. You’re already at risk for this because of the toughness of the topics, and having prevention training that’s over in the blink of an eye achieves nothing other than mandatory legal compliance. It checks the box. But like any other lesson we try to give our college students, you want them to think critically and internalize the message – we want it to truly touch them and impact their worldview. In this line of thinking, administering Title IX training is so much less about rote learning or memorization for the student, and so much more about a discourse. To create this discourse, students need exposure to the topics at strategically repeated intervals throughout their academic career.
One anonymous Health Education Coordinator at an institution we’ve worked with was quoted saying, “We’ve certainly been a victim of this is only doing things over orientation and not actually thinking about a student’s development and not actually thinking about the way they need to hear the message differently as they develop over time.”
Who you choose as your audience for Sexual Assault Prevention is just as defining a detail as when you choose to reach them. A second huge problem we see with schools struggling to reach their students is that they fail to reach all their students – the message is received, but only by a percentage of the total student population, and is therefore not carried through as a true norm throughout the campus.
Reaching out to incoming students, at first glance, makes tons of sense. You want to make sure your community is taught from day one the moral and cultural values that make up your institution, so that they can go forth and be awesome. However, we find that schools who focus on their incoming, first-year students alone miss the opportunity to normalize the ideas behind their teachings– the concept is only on the radar of newcomers, and quickly forgotten.
Conversely, when schools wait too long to try to reach their students with antiviolence messaging, we’re often told that the result feels too little too late. Forming new habits is far easier than breaking old ones.
We recommend finding programmatic alignment for the trainings that your students will experience over time. This means creating content that is group specific – at Catharsis we have a full progression of programs geared towards very specific points along a student’s development with these topics. Not only does maintaining alignment make your messaging consistent campus-wide, it creates an actual pipeline that kids coming through your campus will experience. We want to curate not only the training that new students receive, but the kind peer influences they’ll face, and generate themselves, in the years to come. To do this, you’ve got to reach students beyond their initial exposure. You have to continue the conversation, and make prevention the ongoing responsibility of everyone, not just incoming freshmen.
At Catharsis we start with the individual student. Our flagship live program, Sex Signals, and our online training program U Got This! are both structured to target this ground level audience, aiming at an individual’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
We then target the way students talk to each other, we focus on the interpersonal goal that your students should know how to respond to rape culture and harmful warning signs when they encounter them, be it between classmates, coworkers, or even friends and family. Catharsis’ programs The Hook Up and Got Your Back(which is geared for military installations) are both designed to empowering students with the necessary tools to have these conversations productively and courageously.
We want to look at the kinds of clubs and campus orgs that are being created and supported, and try to set up student and staff leadership for success, since they are the ones who will spearhead the group mindset. We often offer our program Beat the Blame Game for first responders and campus leaders in this vein.
And finally, we look at the kind of institutional practices you’re putting in place for the entire campus and district as a whole, and what your systemic primary prevention looks like, which is the foundation behind our train-the-trainer program, the Force of Awesome Institute.
Cultural change is the goal and we want to help achieve this in your campus. Programmatic Alignment is just one key element for a successful implementation of prevention education in your community.
Want to learn more about Catharsis Productions and our programs? Click here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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