Rice class combats sexual assaults

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The problem is one we’re all too familiar with: The prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses is intolerable. But universities are still working out the most effective ways to turn it around. We’re glad to see Rice University leading the way with an innovative approach.

Rice is offering a pilot class, “Critical Thinking in Sexuality,” this spring that aims to prevent sexual assault and harassment through education. Starting next fall, the university plans to make the five-week course mandatory for freshmen.

In five 50-minute sessions, students will learn about issues like consent, sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and how to intervene in dangerous situations, according to the school’s newspaper, The Rice Thresher. An additional five-week section, covering contraception, sexually transmitted infections and other topics, will be optional for the second half of semester.

That goes significantly further than the status quo on many campuses, which typically involves pamphlets or a short talk during orientation; that meets the standards of a 2013 federal law requiring colleges and universities to teach new students about how to prevent sexual assaults.

For example, before Rice’s new course, new students covered the issues in a 90-minute session during orientation week, according to the Houston Chronicle. And Rice’s course appears to be the first of its kind.

Too often, education aimed to prevent sexual assault has focused on how to avoid becoming a victim — drinking responsibly or sticking with friends — rather than the issues underlying the assault.

That approach has not done enough to combat the problem. That’s borne out by high-profile cases that make the headlines, such as Baylor’s football team and Stanford’s Brock Turner — to say nothing of the scores of harrowing assaults that never make the news.

At Rice in particular, 24 percent of female undergraduate students, as well as 7 percent of male undergrads, reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact during their time at the university, according to a survey released in the fall 2015.

Those findings echo a larger study, released in September 2015 by the Association of American Universities, that surveyed 150,000 students at 27 private and public college and universities across the country, including the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M.

It found that around 1 in 4 female undergrads had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact during their time at college. For male seniors, it was more than 5 percent.

It’s not yet clear how effective Rice’s new class will be, but it’s unquestionably worth a try.

As Rice’s undergraduate dean John Hutchinson told the Houston Chronicle, “If our pilot is successful, which we’re optimistic that it will be, we do think this will set the gold standard that other universities are going to want to emulate.” We hope he’s right.

— The Dallas Morning News


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