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Male student-athletes unite against sexual violence on campuses

Commonwealth University – made up of Mansfield (pictured), Lock Haven and Bloomsburg universities – has signed tuition and scholarship agreements with 50 area school districts to encourage local high school grads to attend.
Tom Riese
Commonwealth University – made up of Mansfield (pictured), Lock Haven and Bloomsburg universities - is among the state colleges and universities using grant money for sexual assault prevention on campus.

Male student athletes could become powerful allies against sexual assault through new educational programs.

Colleges and universities got $1.4 million last month for sexual assault programs from the It’s On Us PA campaign. Just over $137,000 in grant money is coming to Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania, with a focus on educating student athletes on sexual violence prevention.

According to Susquehanna University’s Wynn Phillips, colleges can change the culture around sexual violence by reaching out to mostly male-dominated groups. Many young men, she said, have not been taught about relationships and sex in a healthy way. Phillips, a 2020 Susquehanna alumna, is the university's director of violence prevention.

It's On Us PA is based off of the nationwide It’s On Us campaign. Over the next two years, Susquehanna University will use the national campaign's ‘Prevention is a Team Sport’ program to connect with male athletes. Money from the state grant will allow the university to participate in the national program.

“[It’s On Us] was conducting all of these studies with all of these different male student-athletes, y’know, [and asked,] ‘Did anyone ever have a conversation with you about consent? About sex? What did these things mean? When did you feel left out of these conversations?’ And [they] used all of that data that they were able to, y’know, aggregate and felt relevant to what the students needed to then turn it around and say, ‘Okay, now these are the education pieces that have been missing for so many of our people,’” said Phillips.

Commonwealth University is similarly using their funding, according to Calli Ackles. She is the university's associate director for Title IX. They brought student-athletes into the conversation by having them create anti-assault slogans for their teams.

“Wrestling’s, for example, was ‘Sexual Violence is Out of Bounds,’ because that fits with their taglines,” said Ackles. “And baseball’s like, ‘Strike Out Sexual Violence.’”

The university plans to set up speakers reciting teams’ slogans and a table on sexual violence prevention at some upcoming campus sports events.

Ackles said student athletes are overrepresented in sexual violence cases – she hopes these new programs will make a difference.

“So, a study by Dr. Mary P. Koss included that athletes were roughly involved in over one-third of sexual assaults committed on college campuses,” said Ackles. “And the study concluded that while athletes constitute 3.3 percent of the college population, they perpetuate 19 percent of all sexual assaults on campus.”

That study was published in 1993 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, and is still held as accurate by prominent sexual violence researchers.

Colleges and universities also plan to use their grant funding to expand peer support programs and to bring in people with lived experiences to speak with students.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org