Jennelle Johnson is in her second year as an AmeriCorps member with College Possible. She coached high school juniors last year and is now coaching the same group as seniors at Reynolds High School. Jenn saw a gap and advocated to add sexual assault and consent training for our AmeriCorps team and students. Here’s the why and how of it.
Q: What gave you the idea to bring sexual assault training to the College Possible team?
A: As a student at Colorado State University, I worked for four years as an on-call advocate for the sexual assault hotline. I saw firsthand how many college students were impacted by sexual assault (studies show 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college) and how difficult it could be to navigate the systems on campus. To take on a role more focused on prevention, I worked for a nonprofit that presented to local high school students educating them on sexual assault, consent and how they could be change agents. At College Possible, we are working directly with high school and college students and statistically, we know that unfortunately sexual assault is an issue many of them are facing. As advocates and mentors for our students, I thought this was a really important topic for us all to be more informed on.
Q: What’s included in the training?
A: The training included three parts:
- First, the whole team watched a screening of the documentary The Hunting Ground, which takes a look at the widespread rates of sexual assault on college campuses and the lack of support students receive from their universities when reporting. Following the screening, I facilitated a discussion with the entire team to discuss how this issue might show up for our students and why this topic was important in our differing roles.
- Next, we walked through the sexual assault curriculum that coaches would be delivering to the high school students. We then broke out into our specific teams to discuss ways this curriculum could be used outside of the traditional high school setting (e.g., for college students).
- The last piece included a few role play scenarios and best practices to support sexual assault survivors.
Q: There are a lot of topics that could be covered with students to help them prepare for college. Why is this topic a high priority?
A: Across the country, sexual assault is impacting so many people, but is not being talked about enough. There are many factors that allow students to be successful in college, and not all of those skills are academically related. As coaches, we have the opportunity to develop very close relationships with our students and I believe it is our responsibility to not just prepare our students for college academics, but also for the emotional and social experiences they may face. Unfortunately, sexual assault is likely to be one of these experiences, whether it is with them directly or their peers, and education is one of the best tools we have to help decrease the tragically high rates of sexual assault on college campuses.
Q: How did training go with the College Possible team, and your students?
A: As soon as this topic was brought up with the team, it was evident that it was a subject already on many people’s minds. In general, AmeriCorps members were excited to go forward with this and shared afterward that they thought it was one of the most tangible and relevant sessions they have had with their students. In my experience, students were equally receptive of this curriculum. During the two sessions covering this topic, students were engaged, thoughtful and took part in very meaningful discussions.
Q: If you were to do it again, what changes would you make?
A: This was the first year doing this for both College Possible and students, and my hope is that the curriculum and trainings can grow and improve in the future. I think changes could be made to make this curriculum more specific for all of our different job roles, as well as with more of a focus on cultural responsiveness and intersectionality. Coaches might also appreciate having more time in between the trainings and the in-school sessions to process, practice self-care and feel even more prepared.