[Re-]Think[ing] About It

Alexa Rodriguez Pagano | Freshman Press Writer

This summer, I checked my new Washington University email incessantly, making sure that I was fully prepared for my first semester of freshman year. On Aug. 2, I opened my inbox to an email regarding “Think About It,” a three-module mandatory course dedicated to informing students about healthy relationships, alcohol abuse and sexual violence. All first-year students were required to complete the first of three modules of “Think About It” prior to Bear Beginnings on Aug. 25.

At first glance of this email, I was very impressed that Wash. U. took the effort to educate new students on important topics of alcohol, healthy relationships and sexual violence. Coming from many different schools and backgrounds, it is important to have courses like “Think About It” to ensure that each student knows how to treat people with respect and how to handle dangerous situations that may involve alcohol or violence. Knowing this, I was immediately on board with taking such a course because I knew that it could be informative for many other students who have not had exposure to education regarding sexual violence.

Even though I was impressed by the email from Chancellor Mark Wrighton, there was something missing.
It is true, as Wrighton said in his email, that my new classmates and I “come from many different backgrounds and with a variety of beliefs and experiences,” meaning that many of my fellow classmates may have had previous experiences involving sexual violence that may be triggered by the mandatory course. Nowhere in the email was there a warning regarding students’ comfort towards sensitive content in the course nor was there a way for students to opt-out of the course anonymously. The only resource in the email for questions or concerns about the course was contact information for Amanda Hoylman at Student Health Services.

Even upon opening the mandatory course, there was no option for students to opt-out of the sexual violence section prior to beginning the course. Instead, in the intro screen for the sexual violence module, there was yet again another message to email Student Health Services and the RAINN hotline number for students to call for support, and it was only in the middle of the sexual violence module that contacts at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center were introduced. I understand that the University tried to offer some sort of support system by providing a faculty resource and a specialized hotline, but it is more harmful than helpful to students who would be required to disclaim their identities if they are uncomfortable completing the sexual violence module, even though the rest of the course responses are anonymous.

An easy solution for students who may have experience with sexual violence is to have a required survey prior to beginning the course. The survey could have a slew of questions regarding the background and experiences of the student, including whether the student has been a victim of sexual violence. When students provide this information at the start, they can then have the option to mark the sexual violence module as complete while still having to complete the rest of the course. Having this option at the beginning of the course will avoid any discomfort that the module may cause students with past traumatic experience while also allowing the students to maintain their anonymity.  

Even though Wash. U. could have done a better job in navigating the toxic effects the module could have on many students, the “Think About It” course was still a great effort by the University to educate all first-year students before they face similar situations explained in the module involving alcohol, relationships and sexual violence on campus. For next year’s class, I recommend that the course is amended appropriately to be more aware and inclusive of students’ experiences. Even though my solution may not be the most effective, there must be a way to foster a safe space for learning online just as there is on campus.