FYCARE program adjusts workshops to be more inclusive

First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education is two hours of bashing men.

It targets the Greek Community.

It singles people out.

It does not apply to me.

Rick Stejskal, FYCARE program coordinator and first-year graduate student in Social Work, and Molly McLay, assistant director of inclusion and intercultural relations at the Women’s Resource Center, acknowledged that FYCARE, a subset of the center, has faced all of these criticisms over the course of its 17 years as a mandatory campus program for all freshmen and, most recently, transfer students.

Yet the program directors and facilitators believe they have focused on the same goal since the program’s earliest inception in 1982: responding to students’ needs.

Before FYCARE became mandatory, Pat Morey, director of the Women’s Resource Center, said she was hired to coordinate efforts through the Counseling Center, along with other campus representatives, to address sexual assault prevention and education. Eventually Morey and her colleagues teamed up with students, and their efforts gave way to a grassroots movement to educate the student body on sexual assault prevention.

It was under somber circumstances that FYCARE ultimately became a mandated program. On Halloween in 1995, a University research computer programmer, Pia Gratton, was raped and murdered in the basement of the Social Work Building on campus.

“Unfortunately, sometimes it happens like this, where a monumental event will trigger organizations taking greater power — and that’s what happened here,” Morey explained. “The chancellor at that time was looking for what to do to keep this kind of tragedy from happening again.”

As a result, FYCARE became officially required for all incoming freshmen in 1996. In the 2012-2013 academic year, 92 percent of students fulfilled the FYCARE requirement. The outlying 8 percent includes students who may not have completed the academic year, said McLay, the licensed social worker who oversees the day-to-day function of FYCARE.

Daniel Hug, junior in Business, is a transfer student who was required to complete the workshop this year. Though he found the material repetitive from a similar program he completed before transferring to the University, he said that the information is useful for incoming students.

“Two hours really isn’t that long if you think about it,” he said. “It’s a very loaded issue, so it’s pretty important.”

Though they do still follow the original format of a large group presentation and breakout group discussion, FYCARE facilitators and directors have consistently worked to modify the program and make it more engaging based on student feedback.

Under the leadership of Alex Nelson, senior in LAS, the program’s script underwent major changes this past summer, McLay said.

The adjustments to the scripted part of the program are intended to make the discussed scenarios gender neutral, Stejskal said.

Additionally, students can sign up for a men and women’s section, or a gender neutral one if they do not identify with a certain group, Morey said.

Stejskal also has made it his personal goal to help dispel the myth that all sexual assault victims are women, or that only men are perpetrators. As a sexual assault victim and supporter of many friends who have experienced sexual assault, Stejskal said that he would never want to be a part of a program that excludes a certain group.

“Students may think this program is made by ultra-feminists who make men out to be evil and terrible,” he said. “One-sixteenth of males do admit to behaviors that are sexually aggressive and would constitute sexual assault, but that also means that there are 15 out of 16 males who do not.”

McLay also emphasized that although FYCARE exhibits sensitivity toward one’s sex, it does not prevent the program from laying down the fact that sexual assault is a “highly gendered crime.”

“The vast majority is committed against trans or gender-nonconforming individuals and women, mostly by males,” McLay said. “We do bring it up, but it is not the only focus.”

Another significant change in the dialogue surrounding rape education is the elimination of any language that alludes to the culpability of the Greek community.

Currently, Stejskal said the Women’s Resource Center is working with Fraternity and Sorority Affairs to establish a member of each Greek chapter as a liaison between the Women’s Resource Center and their respective chapters. Stejskal said that each Greek organization had a liaison in the past. He said he hopes it is reinstated in the coming years because Greek organizations make up such a large portion of the student body.

While campuses with similar sexual assault prevention programs have transitioned to administering the program online, there are no plans for the Women’s Resource Center to follow suit.

“A lot of campuses are moving toward online versions (of this program),” Morey said. “(But) we feel that dialogue and talking are most conducive to both learning and shifting the attitude.”

The trouble with shifting attitudes, she said, is that it is something that is difficult, if not impossible, to measure.

The number of reported cases of sexual assault has remained steady in the past three years, with 12 reported cases in 2010, 11 in 2011 and 12 in 2012, according to the University’s Division of Public Safety Annual Security Report for 2012 . Statistics from previous years were not available immediately from the Division of Public Safety. Although the number of reported cases have remained consistent, Detective Robert Murphy with the University police said that statistics are not always the best way to measure if a program like FYCARE is working.

“If we get numbers down, it might look like we’re ‘crushing crime,’ but we are actually trying to get reporting up,” he said. “We want to give people options.”

Of course, preventing sexual assault is the ultimate goal, Morey said, but she agreed that studying the fluctuation of statistics may not be representative of the success of sexual assault prevention programs.

“What is appropriate (to measure) and what we have measured is that … we have seen an absolute decrease in how long it takes a student to come forward and say that they’ve been sexually assaulted,” she said. “That’s huge. It used to be before we started doing this work that literally six months, 12 months, longer. Now, (it’s) a week, two weeks.”

Morey admitted that the FYCARE program cannot take all of the credit for this trend, but she stressed that the existence of the program shows students that the University is giving students the necessary tools if they or one of their friends should experience sexual assault.

“I think that being at an institution that takes this issue seriously really helps students to recognize that there’s something they can do,” she said.

However, it is important to realize, Morey pointed out, that facilitators only have two hours up against the students’ 18 years of social indoctrination. Therefore, in the future, the Women’s Resource Center is working toward gathering feedback before and after the workshop to gauge students’ knowledge of what constitutes consent, what to say to a friend who has experienced sexual assault, what resources are available and how their perceptions may have changed as a result of FYCARE.

“I feel like for the people who pay attention and give it credit … it probably will have a lasting memory for them. Just get them to be safe and more aware,” said Kyle Gomez, freshman in LAS.

Stejskal said that as a facilitator, he measured the impact of the workshop based on students’ reactions. He would have students come up to him afterward and thank him for sharing his story. McLay also said that receiving emails from students grateful to FYCARE for the chance to open up the conversation about something that they were not to exposed to in high school reflects that FYCARE is doing its job.

“FYCARE is primarily authored by students, and their voice is so important,” McLay said. “It is only successful if it’s relatable to students, and so as coordinator of the FYCARE program, I always have my eye on that.”

Maggie can be reached at [email protected]