Two students at Tusculum College have developed a Sexual Assault Prevention program they hope will be replicated and utilized at campuses nationwide.
The program was developed by seniors Jennie Frost, a creative writing major from Friendsville, and Kelsey Freeman, a psychology major from Johnson City, as their Honors Program thesis project.
“As students of Tusculum College, we have experienced many of the attempts to combat sexual assault. Oftentimes it seems as though programs are focused on how to cope with something that has already occurred, which does little to keep violence from happening in the first place,” the two stated in their project proposal.
According to Freeman, their research showed that statistically, the percentages of sexual assault, re-victimization and rape are significantly reduced when students are exposed to a Sexual Assault Prevention program. “A finding like this is an example of how important it is to aim programs at preventing students from being victimized first and foremost. Students should be provided the tools to become proactive in their own safety and feel as though they can help not only themselves, but also others.”
Frost added, “This is my passion. What we are doing can change things if we can keep it going. In four years, everyone on campus would have had this exposure.”
Through the program, which began prior to the start of school this fall, the two are working “top to bottom and bottom to top.” Frost said they started with a presentation to all faculty and staff at the college prior to the start of school. This has been followed up with presentations to all orientation classes which include all first year students, both freshmen and transfer students.
This year alone the program will reach more than 300 students. The 30-minute, interactive presentation focuses on consent and what it means, as well as encouraging “bystander intervention.” The program addresses terms and definitions, as well as what the legal definitions are regarding terms like “rape,” “consent” and “incapacitated sex.” Students are engaged in the program through interactive discussions focused on scenarios from the students’ research.
“What we’re talking about is very difficult for some people. It makes them uncomfortable,” said Freeman. “We are talking about sex and some of these students just don’t want to talk about it.”
Both students have been recognized at Tusculum for their academic, creative and service successes and have become examples already on their home campus. “Jennie and Kelsey have become a glowing example of what our Honors students can accomplish when we allow them to follow their passions,” said Meagan Stark, coordinator of academic support and tutoring and director of the Honors Program.
“For them, this project started as a senior thesis for Honors credit, and rapidly developed into an opportunity to gain professional skills related to teaching, research and public service. For Tusculum, they’ve developed a legacy project that can continue empowering students for years to come. I’m incredibly proud of what they’ve managed to accomplish thus far, and I look forward to watching the program grow in the future.”
With both Freeman and Frost graduating in December, they are working now to find ways to train others in a way that makes the program sustainable after their departure from campus. “We have a small group of students that are considering forming a student organization for this purpose, but we need funding and the opportunity for training,” said Frost, who added that they are looking at the possibility of writing a grant for this purpose. Ultimately, she added, they would love to see the program expand past Tusculum Colleges and be implemented at other colleges and universities.
“Tusculum College strives to prevent any instance of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and stalking in order to maintain a living and learning environment where every student can focus on utilizing her or his full potential and achieve their objectives,” said Dean of Students David McMahan.
“Over the past few years, the college has broadened prevention efforts from merely promoting risk management and protection on the part of potential victims to reducing dangerous cultural perspectives among potential perpetrators which lend to harmful behavior and empowering bystanders to intervene to diffuse potentially harmful situations. The collaboration with Jennie and Kelsey to develop, communicate and implement proactive programming from a peer to peer perspective has greatly enhanced our ability to attain these goals.”
In addition to hopefully creating a program that will have a statistical impact on sexual violence, both students believe their work on this project has been preparation for their days in graduate school in the not-too-distant future.
“We are both hoping to have the opportunity for teaching assistantships in grad school,” said Frost. “I can’t think of anything we could have done that would have prepared us more.”
On top of that, Freeman added that the whole project has been, “the best experience of my life.”