“Ten to twenty minutes during our next team meeting would work best for us.”
This is a consistent refrain I have heard when collaborating with college athletics departments on sexual violence prevention—and in my decades of delivering sexual violence prevention education, I have learned that 10 to 20 minutes is an unrealistic expectation for changing student-athletes’ attitudes, behaviors and beliefs. Those minutes end up being a mad dash to cram in 10 pounds of information into a five-pound bag.
Preventing sexual violence requires more time than just a locker room pep talk.
Sports have a great strength: the ability to inspire the community in a shared vision. But this often gets lost between the institutional silos of Athletics, Academic and Student Services Departments. Because we believe our work is the lynch pin for student success, we guard heavily our access to student-athletes and their time. The lack of collaboration and communication between the campus partners, who all play a role in the care of student-athletes, undermines the very strengths and protective factors that support our student-athletes in the first place.
Seeing the problem is the easy part. Responding in a way that is both effective and productive is the quagmire.
At the University of Kansas, we have a potential solution: Next year, for the first time anywhere in the country, student athletes will enroll annually in a one-hour academic Gender Based Violence Prevention Seminar. This project is led by the sexual violence prevention and social justice professionals across campus and required by the Kansas Athletics department; it gives backbone and legs to the oft-cited but seldom-implemented “commitment” of collegiate athletics to sexual violence prevention.
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center (SAPEC), the first free-standing prevention program on campus, was formed at the University of Kansas in 2016 on the heels of student activism regarding sexual violence. SAPEC’s collaboration with Kansas Athletics at the University of Kansas is different than anything I have ever experienced in this field. When I became the Director, little did I know what was in store.
On my second day at KU, I received a call from Kansas Athletics Senior Woman Administrator Debbie Van Saun, who welcomed me to campus and desired a shared vision and action plan between our two departments. This one phone call set into motion over two-and-a-half years of progressive collaboration, which has changed the landscape of prevention education for student athletes and the greater campus community at KU.
At first I wondered: Is this for real? How long until they stop replying to my emails? But the emails kept coming—and no one ever said “1o to 20 minutes.”
Our shared goal was to provide evidence-based gender based violence prevention training to all student-athletes, to create something radical and effective, because the student-athletes deserved our best together. We began with team targeted trainings. We had the right people on board with the right plan of action. Then we saw the opportunity to do something truly unique.
In 2018, SAPEC created the curriculum for four unique one-credit hour academic classes on sexual and gender based violence prevention. Classes are designed to be taken one at a time, once a year, over four years. The Seminar was created for the KU campus as a whole, and Kansas Athletics volunteered to help pilot the program by requiring all student athletes to enroll in the four-class Gender Based Violence Prevention Seminar. Their buy-in made the magic happen for the first program of its kind in the nation.
Launching any new academic class is a challenge. After completing all the rigorous academic administrative regulations and supervision, we worked with Kansas Athletics to communicate this new requirement to their student athletes and align with NCAA requirements. While the classes will be open to all students, student athletes are required to enroll annually. Finally, we are getting out of the locker room and engaging with student-athletes in the classroom for prevention—throughout a four year academic career, student-athletes will now receive 45 hours of direct education on gender-based violence prevention.
The Gender Based Violence Prevention Seminar launches in the fall of 2018. Only time and Internal Review Board approved research will tell if this model is a promising practice for gender based violence prevention—but regardless of the results, the implementation of such a comprehensive policy and procedure shift in a D-1 athletics program is both ground breaking and inspiring.
Our students athletes have always deserved more than 10 to 20 minutes—and at the University of Kansas, we are putting our commitment to prevention into practice. I always tell my prevention team that it’s a beautiful day to change the world. Through these types of collaborations, every day is a beautiful day.