Sexual assault awareness across the curriculum

Sexual Assault Awareness Month logoApril is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and it has come this year at a time when many U-M instructors are wondering how, in their role as teachers, they can make a difference with this issue on campus. For some, relevant course content provides a perfect occasion for engaging students in discussion about sexual violence and identifying relevant campus resources, initiatives, and policies. But what if you teach in an area where such issues are not relevant to your course topics? How, if you want, can you help promote a safer campus? And how can you be prepared to respond supportively in the event that a student’s learning in your class is negatively affected by an experience of sexual violence? Students often trust teachers as a primary contact when dealing with distress, so no matter your field, it’s useful to be prepared for such encounters.

Recently, student governments in both LSA and the College of Engineering have endorsed language that all faculty can include on their syllabus to provide information about campus policies as well as resources regarding sexual assault and harassment. The students leading these efforts propose that, as easily-accessible documents, syllabi are perfect places to share information such as contact numbers for crisis support services--resources that, by definition, students don't plan to need. They also emphasize the important role faculty can play in drawing attention to safety from sexual assault as a Title IX concern, in minimizing stigma against sexual assault survivors, and in demonstrating an institutional commitment to a campus where students can learn free from the threat of sexual violence. Such syllabus statements were advocated for similar reasons in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog.

As alternatives to such a policy-focused statement, some U-M teachers choose to include syllabus statements that focus more directly on the potential impacts on student learning of sexual violence. These might emphasize the boundaries of confidentiality, or point students to resources about supporting their friends and classmates who are survivors of sexual violence. Holly Rider-Milkovich, Director of U-M's Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), recommends instructors include language such as the following on their syllabus or in speaking with students:

  • As an instructor, one of my responsibilities is to help create a safe learning environment on our campus. It is my goal that you feel able to share information about your experiences as a student. I will seek to keep information you share private to the greatest extent possible.  There is some information that I may need to share with the university, especially regarding sexual misconduct or information about a crime that may have occurred on U-M's campus.

Other teachers choose to include a more general statement about student well-being. For instance:

  • As a student, you may experience a range of issues that can negatively impact your learning, such as anxiety, depression, interpersonal or sexual violence, difficulty eating or sleeping, loss/grief, and/or alcohol/drug problems. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance and affect your ability to participate in day-to-day activities. In order to support you during such challenging times, the University of Michigan provides a number of confidential resources to all enrolled students, including Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (734.764.8312), Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) (24-Hour Crisis Line: 734.936.3333), Psychiatric Emergency Services (734-996-4747), and Services for Students with Disabilities (734.763.3000; 734.615.4461 [TDD]; 734.619.6661 [VP]). 

As you're designing your courses for coming semesters, CRLT consultants would be happy to work with you on such syllabus statements or any other matter. You can call us at 734-764-0505, or request a consultation through the website.   

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