Wittenberg recognized for sexual assault prevention program

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has recognized Wittenberg University for a program aimed at preventing sexual assaults.

Wittenberg is the 2016 recipient of the “2 Days in May Promising Practice Award” for its “Not Without Consent” program.

A group from the attorney general’s office was on campus last week to create a video about the program to be shown to other colleges.

The training is given to all incoming students in the fall, Director of New Student Days Carol Nickoson said.

“We knew that there was a need for an educational module related to sexual assault prevention and that it needed to reach all of our incoming students,” Nickoson said.

It was created three years ago in partnership with Project Woman, a local organization aimed at ending sexual assault and domestic violence.

“(The program) is designed for student awareness of issues around consent, healthy dating, dating violence,” Project Woman Executive Director Laura Baxter said.

It teaches students about consent, she said, and how to step in as a bystander to prevent a sexual assault from happening.

“We involve the students so heavily in the process,” she said.

Older students also participate in the training to offer a peer’s perspective.

“The students incoming are hearing an older student that they respect saying, ‘Hey, this is what our campus community is all about; it’s about protecting each other,’ ” said Brooke Wagner, a professor at Wittenberg who developed the program.

The program is different from other sexual assault training, she said, because it’s not given as a lecture, but an interactive experience.

“We split the students into small groups of no more than about 20 students,” Wagner said. “And they’re all split based on the gender they most identify with.”

Wittenberg currently has two title IX investigations with the U.S. Department of Education opened. The investigations, one began in 2011 and the other in 2013, are looking at complaints of the university failing to respond adequately to reports of sexual assaults.

The Springfield News-Sun previously reported that the university had made efforts to increase awareness on campus and streamline the investigation process into sexual assault claims.

Nickoson said the Not Without Consent program wasn’t a response to the investigations.

“I wouldn’t say that it was in response to anything other than we need to be having this conversation from the get go,” she said.

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