Mercer University tackles sexual assault within large student organizations
MACON — Colleges across America have been put under the microscope over the past few years as more student-reported sexual assaults have graced news headlines.
Mercer University has steered clear of the limelight and attempted to address sexual assault on its campus by requiring that both students and faculty members take an online course called Think About It.
“We just felt that what Campus Clarity and the Think About It course had to offer was the most valuable to our students. It covered the topics that we needed to cover,” said Melissa Mashburn, Mercer’s Title IX Coordinator. “Title IX goes beyond just rape and sexual assault, it includes sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.”
Title IX is a federal law that addresses a range of issues concerning gender equality in the education system such as sexual violence and inequality in school sports.
“In 2011, the federal government said ‘Hey, institutions you’re not taking this seriously therefore we’re going to reiterate some guidelines that we have already put into place,’” said Mashburn. “It was towards the fall of 2011 that Mercer began revising our policies and procedures and we began working on training programs for faculty and staff within the Mercer community.”
The university has put effort into preventing sexual assaults on campus, however some students have questioned whether the Think About It program is enough.
“There should have been a little more conversation instead of a one way ‘Take this course. Pass this course and you’re done.’ kinda thing,” said Caroline Loos, a junior at Mercer. “Let’s get out here and discuss these issues.”
In the Think About It course, students take quizzes and watch videos that depict possible college scenarios involving alcohol, sex and relationships with lessons on how to properly solve problems and avoid misunderstandings.
While Loos felt positive about the overall effect of the program, there were certain aspects of Think About It that she thought missed the mark.
“I was a little disappointed that it mainly focused on male against female interactions,” said Loos. “They do dominate the amount of issues, but I don’t think just because that’s the case others should be ignored.”
While a standard Mercerian only has to worry about completing the online program, the university requires that students involved in athletics and greek life go a step further when it comes to sexual assault awareness.
“Athletics handles it a little bit differently,” said Kay Lennon, the Title IX liaison for Mercer Athletics. “Once the new legislation came out, we put in some extra training but not anything too different from what we’d already been doing. Coaches talk to their student athletes a few times a semester.”
According to Lennon, all of the team coaches meet with the Director of Athletics, Jim Cole, on a monthly basis to ensure that athletes are reminded of the do’s and dont’s of college life.
“Coach tells us what is and is not sexual assault and how to handle those situations,” said Jalen Penn, a defensive lineman on Mercer’s football team.
While the university’s athletic department educates their teams mainly through coaches, members of the greek system receive messages on sexual assault on various levels.
“Mercer will say ‘Hey, we’ve got this required training’, the national offices and regional offices also have gotten really proactive because it is an issue and it’s something that has come to the forefront of most colleges,” said Carrie Ingoldsby, the Director of Campus Life and student involvement.
Greek life makes sure that students are aware of the ramifications surrounding sexual assault as soon as they begin their involvement in the organization.
Once a student receives a bid they are required to take a new membership 101 course that covers hazing, alcohol and sexual assault said Ingoldsby.
This process has helped freshmen who are new to the greek system get familiar with the kinds of hurdles they will have to face on campus.
“I definitely learned from the video course because I don’t party very much,” said Laura Ann Harrell, a freshman member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. “It was about how much you can drink without getting drunk, how to know your limits and I didn’t know that.”
On top of the initial greek training, a Title IX committee is being formed within the greek system and is working with Mercer University’s president, Bill Underwood to tackle these issues.
“We have representatives from each chapter,” said Ingoldsby. “The president actually met with our greek officers twice this semester to talk about what greek life can do in order to combat sexual assault here at Mercer.”
Mercer has always been concerned with the prevention of sexual assault on its campus and the introduction of Title IX has only increased their efforts, said Mashburn.