Each fall, approximately 30,000 undergraduates—thousands of whom are setting foot on a college campus for the first time—flock to San Diego State University for the start of a new school year. The first few months can be a whirlwind of excitement for newly independent young adults, but they also pose a serious danger. Over half of all college sexual assaults each year occur between the beginning of the semester and Thanksgiving. This timeframe is so fraught with risk that victim service organizations like the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) have dubbed it the “Red Zone.”
It’s statistics like these that CCS has worked for over 50 years to prevent. CCS was originally established as the Center for Women’s Studies at SDSU, which eventually launched the country’s first formal Women’s Studies department in 1970. Today, the organization provides training programs on college campuses as well as a bilingual crisis helpline, emergency domestic violence shelters, and the city’s only rape crisis center.
The conversations about sexual violence and assault have evolved with the rise of the #MeToo movement, leading advocates for change—especially on college campuses like SDSU—to start addressing problems before they happen. “There’s a mindset of domestic violence and sexual abuse, that it’s inevitable,” says Mark Martinez, head baseball coach at SDSU. “But it’s not inevitable—it’s preventable.”
For the past four years, Martinez has worked with CCS on behalf of SDSU’s entire athletic department to provide training for coaches and first-year student athletes about the epidemic of violence against women and other statistically vulnerable groups. These groups include transgender and gender-nonconforming students, as well as the deaf community, who all face a higher risk of sexual harrassment, sexual assault, and physical or mental abuse.
The program consists of a three-unit training course from the CCS Healthy Relationships and Violence Prevention curriculum. Verna “Vee” Griffin-Tabor, CEO of CCS, breaks down the three pillars of the program as educating youth on the dynamics and components of healthy relationships, building critical-thinking skills around the core concepts of consent and boundaries, and educating youth on how to apply bystander intervention skills to stop violence in their communities. She’s confident that the training has already yielded positive change.
“Pre- and post-survey data showed improved understandings of healthy relationships, consent, and bystander intervention,” Griffin-Tabor says.
The athlete-specific curriculum provides tailored discussion points like the real-world damage of “locker room talk,” how to recognize warning signs of domestic violence in social situations, and de-escalation techniques both on and off the field. Hundreds of first-year students have already completed the training, which has expanded to include athletes across all SDSU sports teams. Martinez says he’s seen an enormous effect on the athletes, some of whom have expressed regret that they didn’t have this type of guidance sooner in life. “We can’t fix that,” says Martinez with a hint of sadness. But he’s focused on giving the entire student body the opportunity to benefit from the tools CCS provides for lifelong learning.
“We have a tagline: ‘Aztec for life,’” says Martinez. “This fits right into it.”
Both Griffin-Tabor and Martinez cite funding as an obstacle. “The request and demand for services, including this incredible prevention work at SDSU, exceeds our current resources,” says Griffin-Tabor. Her goal is to increase the number of volunteers as well as trained staff members to expand both the advocacy services and prevention training across the SDSU campus and six other campuses where they’ve launched similar programs. Martinez hopes that with financial help, CCS training will become a permanent fixture at SDSU beyond the athletic department. “It’s been a big win for us,” he says. “It’s created a great culture that’s going to last a lifetime.”
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