FRIENDLY competition impacts almost all aspects of University life. From the classroom to the Greek community, fine arts organizations and everywhere in between, students strive to achieve excellence and a reputation of superiority. Used in a constructive way, competition breeds overall improvement as increased efforts to excel raise the standards for all involved. But some sectors of the University community - specifically, those concerned with sexual assault education - should not rely on competition as a motivating or driving force.
The Jan. 20 issue of The Declaration ran a column about the University's newest sexual assault education group, One in Four, written by a former member of Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE), another such organization. The author delivered a scathing critique of the all-male group, characterizing their attempts to educate men about helping women handle sexual assault as utter failures.
The lengthy tirade attacked many aspects of the One in Four program, not the least of which its creator and advisor, Dean John Foubert. Perhaps the program could stand some revisions. Many of the criticisms made in The Dec column addressed perceived problems with the One in Four program that already have been changed and improved.
The personal animosity reflected in The Declaration column seems strange, given the nature of the subject. Sexual assault education should not devolve into a political issue. Informing the University community about the dangers, realities and risks associated with sexual assault would be most effective without one-upsmanship. Personal attacks by members of one group on members of another have no constructive aim. The Declaration article merely provides an example of what seems to have become a politically-motivated conflict.
The newly-created Sexual Assault Leadership Council hopefully will take strides to eradicate the problems created by competition between SAFE, One in Four and Peer Health Educators (PHE), the three student groups with representation on the Council. The Council provides a forum for communication, feedback and constructive criticism that will benefit the individual groups involved and the community of sexual assault prevention activists. Rather than hash out their differences on the pages of University publications, these leaders hopefully can collaborate to work for the cause in which all involved believe so passionately.
Dean John Foubert, One in Four advisor, said the Council would provide "a forum for the sharing of ideas" and would "help the three groups involved learn more about each other and present a united front." In a personal interview, Martha Rutkowski, SAFE's representative on the Council, said that before the formation of the Council, each group often was uninformed about the other groups' activities.
Foubert said he feels that the groups involved in the Council always recognized that they worked for the same cause, but that some members of each group didn't know as much as they could have about what the other groups were doing. Perhaps this lack of information led to the climate of competition between sexual assault groups referred to by Rutkowski.
It seems almost silly to talk about sexual assault education groups becoming competitive with one another. Yes, One in Four has been the object of publicity hype over the past few months, but that shouldn't alarm members of other sexual assault education groups on Grounds. Novelty always attracts attention, especially when it's novelty in the form of an all-male group educating other men about sexual assault. This doesn't make One in Four superior in any way, just new.
And with a year and a half under their belts, the men of One in Four have moved out of the spotlight that followed them last year. SAFE and PHE have a history of providing the University with effective sexual assault education. This means they likely have some constructive criticism to offer One in Four. In turn, as a more recently developed program, One in Four possibly could provide SAFE and PHE with fresh ideas about how best to address issues of sexual assault with a male audience.
The Sexual Assault Council should work to unite the groups addressing sexual assault at the University. Each has something unique to offer, and putting politics aside will make the fight against sexual assault more effective. These groups should channel their energies into working for the cause they share.
Educating the University community about the dangers of sexual assault and attempting to eradicate it from the community both are major challenges. Each of the groups involved with the Council play a vital role in the effort to meet these challenges. Establishing open communication between the groups - and ending unproductive competition between them - should be the Council's first order of business.
(Amy Startt's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)