Through the generous support of the NASPA Foundation Innovation grant, the Division of Student Affairs and the Center for Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick assessed its unique multi-year End Sexual Violence campaign. In the 2017-2018 academic year, researchers at the Center on Violence Against Women (VAWC) within Rutgers University’s School of Social Work conducted a total of nine focus groups with 43 Rutgers-New Brunswick students to gather more in-depth information about the issue of intimate partner violence (IPV). The purpose of the groups was to collect information about students’ understanding and perception of IPV in order to inform the campus climate survey design administered in Spring of 2018 and to inform educational programming by student affairs. The focus groups were designed to collect information from students about: (a) general thoughts regarding intimate partner violence on campus and how the terms are defined by students; (b) perception of the issue of intimate partner violence at Rutgers–New Brunswick; (c) campaign messaging, perceived university responsiveness, and peer supportiveness; (d) awareness of policies and resources regarding intimate partner violence on campus; and (e) willingness to intervene as a prosocial bystander in potential situations of intimate partner violence.
Students from both the general student body as well as specific subsets of the student population were invited to participate in the focus groups. Of the 43 participants, a majority of the students were undergraduate (88%), female (51%), and did not identify with a disability (93%). Subsets of the student body included students from cultural/ethnic centers, graduate students, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) students, commuters, student advocates, and student intimate partner violence survivors.
The following overarching themes emerged from the content analysis: general dating violence knowledge and definitions; dating violence on campus; perceived university responsiveness; and responding to peer disclosure. Findings informed educational programming and the design of the 2018 #iSPEAK campus climate survey.
Some of the broad findings we learned from the focus groups included: (1) While many focus group participants expressed a broad understanding of the behaviors that constitute dating violence, some participants expressed confusion about defining dating violence and violence that is perpetrated by someone unknown to the victim. (2) Participants often discussed the normalization of controlling behaviors within student relationships. Further, many participants discussed the normalization of such behaviors and the intersection of technology. (3) Participants expressed a lack of knowledge regarding University policies related to dating violence and stalking. While some were able to name Title IX, most were unfamiliar with the processes in place to report incidents of intimate partner violence. (4) While most focus group participants considered university resources valuable, they emphasized the importance of raising awareness of existing resources and the need for increased opportunities for education and training regarding dating violence and stalking. (5) Many participants discussed several barriers to effectively intervening when they perceive a peer to be in a relationship where dating violence is occurring. Barriers included feeling it is not their place to intervene and a lack of tools needed to effectively intervene.
This work is critical to ensuring student success on campus and after graduation. Through the support of the Innovation Grant, we are better able to understand and meet the needs of our campus population. Receiving this funding speaks to the priorities of NASPA and the NASPA Foundation, as well as the donors supporting these opportunities. We are looking forward to continuing to promote this work and the results of our findings.
Dayna S. Weintraub, Ph.D., Director of Student Affairs Research, Assessment, and Planning, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
NASPA Foundation Innovation Grant Awardee
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