Newswise — This fall, Humboldt State University is taking a groundbreaking step by becoming one of the nation's first universities to have residence halls dedicated to preventing sexualized violence and supporting survivors and their allies.
One of 15 campus living communities organized around a particular academic, cultural, or personal interest, the Students for Consent Culture Living Community is part of a new effort that focuses on bystander intervention, healthy relationships, supporting survivors, and more. Other examples on campus include the Klamath Connection Living Community, which groups biology and wildlife majors, and the Sankofa House, which focuses on issues of black culture, history, and identity. Mary Sue Savage, HSU’s Prevention Educator and coordinator for CHECK IT, says the creation of the latest living community can help. Since 2014, CHECK IT has been the campus' student-led initiative to educate students, staff, faculty, and community members on ways to actively challenge violence by intervening (checking it) when they witness a potential moment of harm (i.e. sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking). The group also seeks to grow a community of support for survivors of all gender identities. According to CHECK IT's Savage, the new living community is a way to extend the group's mission.
"We know that harm is happening across campuses, so for us to be a model and do something that can continue to shift culture and reduce those numbers in concrete ways is powerful," Savage says. "The reason we're doing this is because students deserve the right to pursue an education without experiencing harm. The Students for Consent Culture living community, in combination with CHECK IT and other campus efforts, can work to establish new norms.” Brian Mistler, director of the Student Health & Wellbeing Center, adds that there are many benefits to living in a community that shares your values. "Living in congruence with your values can add a lot to your emotional well-being, and we know that students who are well adjusted and well-regulated with their emotions do better academically, socially, and in all areas of life."
Stephen St. Onge, director of Housing & Residence Life, added that the development of the new living community builds on HSU's reputation as a bellwether in the area of sexual assault prevention. "HSU continues to lead the nation in developing a culture of consent and we are proud to support students in this student-led initiative," says St. Onge.
The idea for the new living community started with Yvette Cerna-Garcia, a Communication student who was looking for a way to combine her passion for the CHECK IT bystander intervention program with her job in the residence halls. During a sexualized violence prevention seminar in 2015, Yvette saw the opportunity to combine intervention work with the community-building values of the Housing & Residence Life office. "Our goal was to bring a space to students who want to be part of a movement to end sexualized violence and empower those students," she says.
Yvette sees benefits that extend beyond the year most students spend living on campus. "We hope it creates kind of a ripple effect, where these students can take what they've learned into their classes and the community and can educate others about the importance of ending sexualized violence."
Students in the new living community will engage in training and discussion to help develop skills that can actively challenge and disrupt the amount of sexualized violence among college students. A retreat is planned for all residents prior to school starting, and weekly meetings will also be part of the program. A community advisor assigned to the living community will undergo training with CHECK IT and a peer educator will be available to the living community to ensure the student needs are being met. "The living community, service classes, and volunteer opportunities and mentors—that's a whole package. That really says to an incoming student, ‘We want you here, we value what you could contribute, and we're going to try to put you in the strongest possible position to make change,'" says Maxwell Schnurer, professor of Communication and member of the committee that helped develop the new living community.
Based in the Creekview Residence Hall's Fern building, the living community will house up to 30 students. Incoming and current students can apply now through HSU’s Housing and Residence Life website.
During college recruiting events, Yvette encountered parents concerned about their students joining a living community that puts these issues front and center. "Some parents are definitely skeptical, but when we explain the mission and that we're focused on violence prevention, they're just ecstatic," she says. "They tell me, ‘wow this is great, they never talk about this in sex education at high school.'" The Department of Justice reports that one in five students will experience sexualized violence during their college years. Sexualized violence is a broad definition of actions that includes a range of cases where someone is coerced into unwanted sexual situations. In a 2013 survey administered by HSU's Sexual Assault Prevention Committee, 22 percent of women, 11 percent of men, and 28 percent of trans students who responded reported experiences of sexual assault. Data from a similar 2016 survey is still being analyzed.
About CHECK IT
CHECK IT is a student-led movement that is about creating a more consent centered culture where students look out for one another, support survivors, and make clear that harm is not acceptable in our communities. CHECK IT empowers students to actively challenge and disrupt harm when they witness potential moments of sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. It provides the campus community with multiple tools for intervening in ways that are realistic and match people’s unique personalities, identities, and communication styles. Launched by students in 2014, CHECK IT was funded through a grant from the Department of Justice and developed by the Sexual Assault Prevention Committee (SAPC) in partnership with the North Coast Rape Crisis Team. In 2016, CHECK IT Peer Educator Celene Lopez was among 10 recipients of the It’s On Us White House Champion of Change award, which recognizes outstanding student leaders in the movement to end sexual violence in colleges.