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Jamie Hoover, a Northwestern senior studying biomedical engineering, is a founding member of the university's chapter of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.

Sexual violence prevention training for men spreads across campuses

by Elena Schneider
May 21, 2013

For Jamie Hoover, founding Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault at Northwestern University was personal.

As a high school student in Palatine, Hoover “had a friend who had been raped and another who was sexually assaulted,” he said. “I can’t really remember how it came out, but it was a hard conversation,” for both young women to say the least.

When Hoover heard a handful of fellow male students were forming a chapter of MARS during his sophomore year at Northwestern, he immediately joined. He’s now a senior, majoring in biomedical engineering, and outgoing MARS executive board member.

MARS launched at the University of Ohio at Miami in 2001, formed to educate male students about consent, masculinity and prevention of sexual violence.

Similar groups have mushroomed across the country. In the Chicago area, Northwestern is not alone in its MARS mission. The University of Illinois students established the Men Against Sexual Violence organization that hosts trainings and an annual conference to end sexual violence. The University of Chicago also holds peer educator workshops for both men and women.

This year, the Northwestern Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life mandated MARS presentations for all incoming fraternity pledge classes. “We try to make it more of a conversation that a presentation,” Hoover said. “It’s a group of bros who are just going to sit down and talk to you and say, ‘Hey, this is not a good thing. This is what you should look out for. This is what you should do.’” Hoover added that the group hopes to expand to non-greek outreach in the next year.

Yet this school year, universities have come under fire for their treatment of sexual assault and rape survivors. Critics accused Amherst College and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of abandoning victims to red tape and restrictions, failing to advocate for their personal health and academic standing.

Last fall, a Northwestern student shared her story of sexual assault and the university’s response in a Facebook post on Oct. 18. Senior Laura Buxbaum said she was pressured by Northwestern to go on medical leave until she was “healthy” enough to return, the Daily Northwestern reported. Northwestern officials said medical leave is voluntary and never forced, the article said.

“When all the MARS guys read that post, we said, ‘How could that possibly have happened here when we know about all of these things that are put in place for that not to happen,” Hoover said. “The problem is that not everyone on this campus knows about all of the policies and resources."

Northwestern established a sexual violence staff position 20 years ago, but only in the last few years did the conversation shift from “response to prevention,” said Laura Stuart, coordinator of sexual health education and violence prevention at Northwestern. “Mistakes happen, and I think we have to do our best as a school to prevent those mistakes and to be there to say, ‘Yes, this should not have happened,’” she added.

In 2011 Northwestern established the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, or CARE, to coordinate education and counseling for sexual assault victims and a new staff position. Along with MARS, another student group, Sexual Health Awareness Peer Educators, or SHAPE, also formed in recent years to inform students about sexual health.

“We believe that the number of students using the [education and counseling] services has gone up more than 200 percent,” Stuart said, crediting most of that growth to peer educators.

“We get a fair number of people who hear about us because they have friends who are in SHAPE in MARS,” she said. “They can reach more students because there are more of them and their message is received in a very different way.”

In 2011, peer educators from SHAPE and MARS also started making these presentations during Wildcat Welcome, Northwestern’s new student orientation which sets the expectations for all students surrounding sexual violence, said Josh McKenzie, associate director of New Student and Family Programming at Northwestern.

“It’s a discussion we believe to be really important, as it goes into campus safety and healthy relationships,” McKenzie said. But he said he hopes to extend the conversation into a student’s entire first year, not just during the first days. “I don’t think we’ll be completely eradicating that conversation [from Wildcat Welcome], but some of it is more appropriate to have once people know the basics of the university,” he said.

In addition to long-term student education and outreach, Stuart also said her strategic plan for the coming years includes a new position for a coordinator of men’s participation in organizations such as MARS and provide advocacy services.

Hoover said he is excited at the prospect of a male staff member in this role since these conversations, especially with men, are difficult to have. “We have grown up to believe that we shouldn’t talk about it and that we don’t have to talk about it,” he said. “We want to be part of changing that culture.”