University sex education not enough

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A college campus can be a playground for young adults, many of them who are away from their family homes for the first time. At a city college like DePaul where the campus is comprised of the third largest city in the U.S., the stakes of falling off the monkey bars and swing sets are amplified.

Binge drinking, drug usage and sex are part of what makes up the transformative years college provides, especially for those students living on campus where the high concentration of predominantly freshmen students fuels socialization with and without substance abuse. 

To try and ease students into this new found freedom and personal responsibility, DePaul’s freshmen orientation addresses these issues, including the sexual decisions students will have to make, including how to ask and give consent.

Although DePaul addresses sexual education in orientation as well as promotes multiple programs aimed at sexual health awareness like the Vinnie Vow: Bystander Intervention Training, Title IX coordinator Karen Tamburro said the most effective time to influence young people on sexual health isn’t their first week of university but a decade prior in elementary and middle school.

“I think there should be a lot more education at the younger grades,” Tamburro said. “Issues of consent, respect for personal space and respect for each other are all concepts that can be taught(…) so that students hearing about consent is not at freshman orientation.”

As Title IX Coordinator, Tamburro is responsible for a bucket of tasks like responding to reports of sexual misconduct, reviewing policies and procedures as well as ensuring educational programs are compliant with Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 that mandates all federally funded education programs and activities do not discriminate based on gender.

A recent graduate from the College of William & Mary, reacts after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke about proposed changes to Title IX, Thursday, Sept. 7 at George Mason University Arlington, Virginia, campus.
(Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

“Sex discrimination includes sexual harassment, and one form of sexual harassment can be sexual assault,” Tamburro said.

The purpose of Title IX is to eliminate barriers based on sex from educational opportunities, and Tamburro addresses how significant a barrier sexual assault is to a student.

“Something like sexual assault is so severe that a single incident of that can create a hostile environment,” Tamburro said.

Statistics collected by RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) on sexual violence on college campuses reveals a portion of DePaul’s undergraduate class likely has experienced or will experience “rape or sexual assault  through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” Specifically, 23.1 percent of the 8,166 female undergraduate students or 1,886 female students and 5.4 percent of the 7,241 male undergraduate students or 391 male students. 

Title IX made headlines after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made known on Sept. 7 her plans to revise the previous Obama administration’s guidelines laid out in the previous president’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter.

At George Mason University’s Arlington, Virginia campus, DeVos said, “one rape is one too many, one assault is one too many, one aggressive act of harassment is one too many, one person denied due process is one too many.”

Later on Thursday DeVos told CBS’ Jan Crawford her department has already begun reviewing and rescinding  former president Obama ‘s guidelines.

DeVos said the system in place has failed too many students. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved,” she said.

On DePaul’s campus, Tamburro said investigations, reports and how both victims and the accused are treated is fair. 

DePaul alum Emma Gonzalez passionately endorses more discussion about sex. As one of DePaul’s first peer health educators with the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness during her senior year in the 2015/2016 school year, Gonzales helped facilitate student events as well as help revamp the Vinnie Vow training. She also spoke on a Title IX discussion panel called “Know Your IX” in 2016.

Like Tamburro, Gonzalez agrees sex education surrounding issues of consent should begin much sooner than college.

“By the time you reach university level, your perceptions of sex, socialization, party culture, rape culture — those things are already formed unfortunately,” she said.

Gonzales started participating in health education in her Chicago public high school, but remembers the topic of sexual health and awareness briefly and incompletely addressed in her Catholic middle school. Organizations like Illinois’ Rape Victim Advocates or  RVA conduct middle school and grade school education on consent and boundaries.

“The earlier you start, the better,” Gonzalez said.