In an email sent Tuesday night, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Marc Wais announced an online training course about sexual misconduct that is mandatory for all students. The course being mandatory shows that the administration is taking their responsibility to reduce campus sexual assault seriously. Some students have criticized the course as having the potential to trigger victims of sexual assault, who may traumatically recall the event when reading and listening to discussions of assault and date rape that are part of the course. One possible solution may be to allow victims of sexual assault to opt out of the course, but there are shortcomings to this course of action: students should not be able to opt just because they don’t think the course is important. In the absence of a perfect solution, NYU should keep the course mandatory, and the Wellness Center should continue to work with students who seek assistance with issues surrounding sexual assault.
NYU should always acknowledge the sensitivity required for any discussion about sexual assault, and it is clear that NYU has not simply thrown the course together with no thoughts of repercussions. A trigger warning is featured before the program starts, cautioning students that “some of the information in this course might be difficult to hear” and encouraging them to contact the Wellness Exchange if they need support. While some may disagree with the wording or the decision to include the trigger warning, providing such a notice is a better solution than an opt-out system, which is too porous. It is hard to envision how such a system would work because it cannot express hesitation — it is imperative that students who come forward are not doubted or questioned. However, setting the bar for exemption too low could lead to students withdrawing from the program because they lack the time — or worse, they lack concern for their fellow students. Given that one in four women is a victim of sexual assault during her academic career and that rape is the most common violent crime on U.S. college campuses, NYU must act quickly and decisively to reach as much of the student body as possible. From this perspective, the implementation of the online training course is a step in the right direction.
No course of action will please everyone, and so we are left searching for the best choice amid a host of imperfect solutions. The debate, which began on social networks in the hours after the program’s announcement, proves that whatever move NYU makes, it will not be met with universal approval. For this reason, it is important that NYU does right by victims of sexual assault. Making students take this course embodies a more proactive approach to preventing rape, akin to the slogan “don’t teach women how to not get raped, teach men not to rape.” That victims of sexual assault will also be asked to complete this training is unfortunate, but if the course were optional it would not reach the audience who need it most — those who wouldn’t voluntarily take it.
Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]
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