Local colleges teaching students to recognize, report sexual assaults

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As fall semester approaches, local colleges and universities are pulling out all the stops to prevent sexual assault on campus. (KTRK)

Welcome to college.

Find your dorm, your classrooms and your roommate. Then get ready to have "the talk". Although, this won't be your typical birds and bees kind of conversation.

"We don't necessarily talk about consent and it's really, really important," Dr. Richard Baker, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Equal Opportunity Services told an auditorium full of new, incoming students on the University of Houston's main campus.

By law, Texas must tell every college student how to report sexual violence.

This "talk" about consent shows students what it looks like and sounds like so there is never any question that "no" means "no". The orientation week presentation complements an online training called "Salutations," which has already completed by more than 14,000 new U of H students.

Dr. Baker admits that teaching students from so many different backgrounds and understandings of sex and relationships can be difficult, but safety is paramount.

"We have a culturally competent informed approach, which means I need to think like an 18-year-old, 19-year-old and what are the barriers of their reporting and figure that out," said Baker. "And constantly send that message that when you're ready to let me know, I'm ready to handle your issue."

Colleges across the country have been under a microscope since 2014, when the U.S. Department of Education began naming them to an ever-growing list of schools facing investigation for their handling of sexual abuse complaints. Since then, several large, prestigious colleges like Columbia University, Stanford University and Baylor University have grabbed headlines for the way they've dealt with cases of sexual violence.

"I think that we are all learning from what happens when a university doesn't respond," said Rice University's Allison Vogt. As the director of the Sexual Violence Prevention program and Title IX support at Rice, Vogt has kept a close eye on how students respond to the school's efforts to address sexual assault.

The usual hush-hush topic had the Rice campus buzzing last year when the student association proposed expanding an orientation week course into a mandatory, semester-long class for freshman: "Critical Thinking in Sexuality."

Though the course is on Hold, Rice sophomore Molly Tilbrook supported a push for sexual assault education beyond the usual orientation week offerings. "Especially because students are coming to Rice often when they're only 17, pretty young, a lot of stuff -- being away from home is really new for a lot of the kids," she said.

Before students ever set foot on campus, administrators say parents can also play a role in stopping sexual assaults by having candid conversations with their children about healthy relationships.

A growing number of colleges (including the University of Houston and Rice University) have also adopted amnesty policies that forgive bystanders or victims of sexual assaults for underage drinking and sometime drug use if it encourages them to report sexual violence.

Governors in Rhode Island and Wisconsin have already signed similar legislation into state law.

Related Topics:
educationcollege studentssexual assaultTexas
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