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Embracing Your Village to Promote Student Well-being

Health, Safety, and Well-being Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Division Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention, Education, and Response Wellness and Health Promotion AVP or "Number Two" Senior Level VP for Student Affairs
October 7, 2019 Allison Tombros Korman NASPA

In this series, we highlight the tools and programs provided by Culture of Respect to help higher education end campus sexual violence. 

It takes a village.

This adage helps us to remember that it is not just parents or guardians who are responsible for bringing children up to be healthy, productive members of our communities. Rather, a host of individuals, each of whom makes a unique contribution to the way the young person engages with the world. There are teachers, but also coaches, extended family and friends, troop leaders, childcare providers, clergy, and countless others. It takes an entire village to help form the student who is now part of your campus community.

So the question becomes, how can we use this same idea of a village to keep students safe and healthy at their college or university?

Too often on college and university campuses, the work of ensuring students’ health, safety, and well-being is distributed across myriad departments and offices: health services in one place, prevention education for sexual violence in another, and alcohol prevention education in a third. Not only does the siloing of these issues create an artificial barrier in the way we think about them, but it also establishes a logistical and practical divide in the way the work is done. In a time when everyone is trying to do more (make an impact! see an outcome!) with less (budget, time, personnel), working collaboratively - as a village - across these divides is a strategy that can make an impact. 

Participants in the Culture of Respect Collective begin the program by creating or adapting an existing multidisciplinary, cross-campus task force or working group. While the charge of this group is to address sexual violence on campus, this is a model that is, and should be, replicated to address other areas of student well-being, including mental health, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and others.

When asked how these multi-stakeholder task forces or working groups successfully made an impact, participants highlighted key outcomes of their work, including: 

On having a student sexual violence survivor on their task force

It was amazing to have student input and have her as a part of our team. She helped us...to identify missing components and gaps in our process and was able to help us learn how better to help protect and educate our student community.  Having her as part of our team gave us the incentive to improve.

Normalizing difficult conversations

[W]e were able to bring awareness to the topic of sexual violence prevention on our campus. When I first started doing this work… the topic was not widely known. My work was always encouraged, but many people didn't know how to talk about it then. I feel like the level of understanding of the topic has increased significantly, and discussing it has become normalized.

Closing gaps in communications

I have developed a closer working relationship with colleagues in health and wellness...This strengthened/refreshed relationship has contributed greatly to their advocacy for prevention materials to be included in new opportunities that sometimes we aren't aware of because of internal institutional communication gaps.

Building new relationships

[We talked about] sexual assault policies of the agencies that provide internship opportunities to our students. This allowed me to meet with career services professionals and have a conversation about sexual violence prevention with a department that I would normally not network within this capacity.

Reaching new pockets of the institution

…[F]olks who are responsible for graduate and professional student support and education are reaching out more to inquire about and ask for programming and resources for their student populations, not just on our main campus, but in a few other in-state locations as well.

The work of keeping students safe and healthy so they can fully engage in their education is far too big - and critical - to fall at the feet of just one person, office, or department. Rather, by embracing a village mentality and an understanding that we can all positively contribute to the well-being of students, we set up ourselves, and our students, for greater success. In the words of one participant, ''[the Collective] reminded us that ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Every department at our institution can be affected by sexual violence, therefore; every department, within their capacity, should be a part of prevention or response.”

Culture of Respect supports institutions of higher education in all aspects of preventing and responding to campus sexual violence. Apply now for the fourth cohort of the Collective and join more than 100 colleges and universities in fostering a Culture of Respect.