By Brittany Lewis, MCASA Program Intern
Community colleges engage with a diverse spectrum of individuals living in their community. Many students turn to their local community colleges because they offer a variety of short-term programs, certificates, and continuing education options at a pace and schedule that meet a range of needs. Community colleges are typically 2-year, nonresidential schools that act as an affordable and flexible option for students and can pave the way to students transitioning to 4-year institutions. But many community colleges face obstacles when it comes to providing effective sexual violence prevention education. It is important that sexual violence policies and practices at community colleges are tailored to suit the community and needs of their students. Title IX mandates that all schools receiving federal aid have clear policies on how to handle sexual discrimination, which includes sexual violence. Because community colleges are differently structured than 4-year institutions and often serve different demographics, meeting the requirements of Title IX can sometimes pose a challenge. Below are a few ways community colleges can overcome these obstacles and provide effective sexual violence education to their staff and students.
Mandatory Trainings: Community colleges that successfully create a zero tolerance sexual violence climate recognize the necessity of prevention education. However, because they don’t always live on campus or attend 4 straight years, reaching students at community colleges can be a challenge. To combat this, some community colleges have required that students and faculty attend mandatory sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and/or bystander intervention programming each semester. This requirement gives students who are part-time, transferring mid-year, or enrolled in a shorter certificate program a chance to receive sexual violence education. In addition, colleges have found that providing prevention training materials on their website (in written and short video form) enabled them to reach online students. Online resources allow students, faculty, and community members to reference materials any time, not just during a given workshop or training.
Know Your Audience: Applying college sexual violence prevention programs with a “one size fits all” mentality can be a significant barrier to connecting with community college students. Students often vary widely in age, from recent high school graduates to retired adults. Both ends of the age spectrum are vulnerable to sexual violence in different ways. It is also important to remember that a higher percentage of students attending community colleges may have been exposed to previous traumas prior to enrolling. The diverse nature of community college populations is important to consider when tailoring prevention programming. For example, many bystander intervention scenarios focus on how to intervene in a college party environment or focus on situations that can arise in a dorm room setting. These scenarios are less likely to always be relevant to the audience engaging in the program. When giving a bystander intervention training or other prevention programming, make sure that any examples and discussions used are relevant to your student audience. Taking into account the audiences’ unique needs and experiences will help increase the comprehensiveness of prevention programming.
Use Your Strengths: Community Colleges should form strong ties with local community resources. For each community college in Maryland there is a local rape crisis center (RCC) that offers services for students who are sexual assault survivors. As of 2015, Maryland law requires colleges and universities to pursue agreements with their local rape crisis center. For model Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and roadmaps for creating an MOU, check out MCASA’s College Sexual Assault Policy Project. MCASA's College Policy Attorney is also available to provide assistance and support as schools draft these agreements. Many local mental health organizations offer complimentary therapy sessions to students who do not have access to a counseling center at their local community college. Holding regular wellness fairs during hours when students are on campus is also an excellent way to bring together community resources and expose students to a variety of anti-violence strategies and healthy coping skills. Additionally, it is important that all staff members including adjunct faculty are trained in trauma informed care and sexual violence prevention.
For more information on how to best provide sexual violence prevention education to nontraditional students you can listen to PreventConnect’s web conference titled “Community Colleges: Opportunities for Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention.”