SMU set to launch pilot program, the First Year Experience

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited throughout to include additional information provided by Director of University Communications Sarah Hanan.

Universities struggle with the problem of sexual misconduct on campus, as the issue continues to gain prominence nationally. Shedding light on this epidemic, the implementation of Title IX and the Clery Act seeks to hold education programs receiving federal financial assistance accountable for crimes committed under their jurisdiction.

Most universities are now implementing sexual assault education programs in order to reduce the number of cases and inform students of their rights. Still, the majority of sexual assaults go unreported as victims often do not feel comfortable coming forward or even fear reprisal.

As part of SMU’s required University Curriculum, Personal Responsibility and Wellness I is a course required for graduation that focuses on maintaining wellness in all facets of life. Sexual assault is addressed within the curriculum as it relates to consent and healthy relationships.

However, there is the potential that the Personal Responsibility and Wellness course will be replaced with a new program in the future. While PRW courses will remain through fall 2021, the First Year Experience seminar will continue as a pilot program in fall 2019. In its pilot phase, the First Year Experience will be under evaluation for its potential to become a permanent university course.

Concepts of PRW and the First Year Experience will be similar, but the content of these respective programs will be different. The First Year Experience seminar will cover six “Student Affairs learning domains,” according to Sarah Hanan, a director of university communications.

These domains include: Courageous Leadership, Global Consciousness, Personal Congruence, Social Responsibility, Holistic Wellness and Amplified Capacity. The Holistic Wellness component will include content pertinent to new college students, including education on alcohol, nutrition and mental wellness, and healthy sexual behavior.

Another interesting component of this pilot seminar is that the SMU faculty and staff that are leading the First Year Experience seminars will be working with students who are sophomores and above who will serve as co-facilitators and participate in the course discussions.

Kelsey Fleming is a sophomore at SMU and was chosen to be a co-facilitator in the pilot series through her involvement as a Mustang Corral guide.

“I do think having a sophomore help teach it is ingenious. I know my kids really look up to me and know I am there for any sort of help. I do think they need to be wise in choosing who teaches it,” Fleming said.

The changes in curriculum have not been officially determined, but Dr. Donna Gober, Director of Wellness at SMU, affirms that they are underway.

“The content and delivery modality of the proposed course are still being discussed and planned within the Division of Student Affairs,” Gober said. “There may be a point in the future in which Wellness Faculty and Division of Student Affairs Staff meet to determine the best course of action for this new plan.”

First Year Experience will provide students with an understanding of how sexual assault is handled on campus, and it will provide a supportive environment for students to discuss general topics and personal experiences.

“We learn about sexual assault and how it is handled,” Fleming said. “We watch the Tea video, deal with ranking cards with various scenarios, compare how it is different or alike between males and females. As for seeking help, we discuss the resources on campus and provide a card with all of their contact information.”

While we are experiencing local changes in sexual assault education at SMU, national policies are also being rewritten by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

“Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved,” DeVos said in a New York Times article in September 2017.

The proposed changes would attempt to supply more resources for victims, give more rights to the accused, and require that institutions only be held accountable if school officials have reports on the incident. There have been both positive and negative reactions from authorities close to the issue, and SMU students have also weighed in.

“I think everyone deserves a right to a fair trial,” Nick Savignano, a sophomore at SMU, said. “While it should be easy to report sexual assault, the university should thoroughly investigate before reaching a final decision.”

There still seems to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the topic of sexual assault on college campuses, how it should be handled, and how students should be educated about it. SMU is opening the topic up for discussion by taking a new approach on wellness classes in an attempt to create a safe learning environment and place for victims to come forward.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, contact SMU Police at 214-768-3333 or The Office of Violence Prevention & Support Services at 214-768-4512.

Photo credit: Ed Uthman via Flickr