This fall, Yale College is launching a new peer education program aimed at teaching students how to identify and prevent sexual misconduct.
The program places three trained, paid students known as communication and consent educators in each residential college, where they will work with masters and deans to develop unique programming, said Melanie Boyd, special advisor to the Yale College dean on gender issues. In addition to holding small events for residential college communities, the student educators — who completed preliminary training Sunday — will eventually present a “risk reduction” workshop to freshmen, lead “bystander intervention” sessions for sophomores and give sexual misconduct education sessions for leaders of registered student organizations.
“These are difficult issues and require frank, thoughtful conversations — the kind of discussions students are often most willing to have with other students,” Boyd said.
The college began accepting applications for the new program in July. The program developed after the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention — which formed after a group of Delta Kappa Epsilon brothers sang offensive chants on Old Campus in October — released a March 2 report recommending that leaders of student organizations attend special training sessions.
The task force made its recommendations just days before 16 Yale students and alumni filed a complaint March 15 with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that Yale violates Title IX regulations and fosters a sexual climate that is hostile toward women.
Boyd said the Office for Civil Rights investigation of that complaint has “fueled” the University’s development of better sexual misconduct prevention and education programs, but she emphasized that this process was already underway when the investigation began. She added that the creation of the new peer education program exceeds the Office for Civil Rights’s standards.
“What the communication and consent educators are doing is well above what would be required in any kind of Title IX sense,” she said.
Three educators interviewed said the Title IX investigation did not affect their decisions to apply for their new jobs.
Sania Tildon ’12, a communication and consent educator for Branford College, said she provide strategies for leading events that Branford’s dean and freshman counselors might already want to host. Boyd said she hopes the educators will develop creative methods to present information in less serious settings than the usual straightforward discussions about sexual behavior.
The communication and consent educators were initially slated to supervise only two large-scale projects: bystander intervention training for sophomores and sexual misconduct training for leaders of registered student organizations, Boyd said. They were given extra responsibility after several freshman counselors told administrators that they were uncomfortable presenting the risk reduction workshop to freshmen, she added.
“It was not ideal,” Boyd said. “[The freshman counselors] did not have time to learn the workshop.”
Developing and presenting all three programs in one year would be too much work for the student educators, Boyd said. This year’s peer educators will lead just two of these three events, Boyd said, adding that Yale College has not yet decided which of the three educational elements will have to be delayed until next year. Next year’s educators will host all three events.
Melissa Lucchesi, outreach education coordinator for nonprofit college campus security organization Security On Campus, Inc., said she expects the sessions for registered student groups to have a significant impact on campus culture. She added that universities report strong results when they implement peer education programs.
“By educating everyone across the board, it gets everyone on the same page, and it helps to create solidarity in the community about these issues,” she said.
But when the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention issued its recommendations in March, 12 of 13 students interviewed said such a requirement was more necessary for some student groups than others.
Wendy Murphy, an adjunct law professor at New England Law School in Boston who has filed Title IX complaints against schools such as Harvard Law School and Princeton University, said she doubts that required educational sessions would substantially improve Yale’s culture.
“My sense of the student reaction to these things is that [they] perceive them as not only a pain in the neck but completely unconnected to this kind of problem,” she said. “The real solution is to have a meaningful, quick and effective response to reports of sexual misconduct. Once that becomes a reality, students should have an appreciation for the values Yale is trying to promote.”
Provost Peter Salovey announced in April the creation of a new University-Wide Committee, a disciplinary body intended to streamline the process of bringing forward complaints of sexual misconduct across Yale’s 13 schools.
An earlier version of this article misleading version of a quote from Melanie Boyd, special adviser to the dean on gender issues. She said freshman counselors, not communication and consent educators, did not have enough time during their training to master “risk reduction” workshops designed for freshmen.