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Sexual Assault on Campus: Insights from Research on College Student Social Life. Prof. Elizabeth A. Armstrong Graduate Students: Laura Hamilton, Evelyn Perry, Brian Sweeney, and Amanda Tanner Undergraduate Students: Katie Bradley, Teresa Cummings, and Aimee Lipkis.

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sexual assault on campus insights from research on college student social life

Sexual Assault on Campus: Insights from Research on College Student Social Life

Prof. Elizabeth A. Armstrong

Graduate Students: Laura Hamilton, Evelyn Perry,

Brian Sweeney, and Amanda Tanner

Undergraduate Students: Katie Bradley,

Teresa Cummings, and Aimee Lipkis

research question
Research Question
  • Why do college campuses remain sexually dangerous places for women in spite of years of sexual assault prevention programming?
three existing explanations and policy responses
Three Existing Explanations(and policy responses)
  • Individual Characteristics

Policy response: Educate to change individual attitudes

  • Group beliefs - “Rape Culture”

Policy response: Educate to change group attitudes

  • Fraternities as Dangerous Context

Policy response: Education directed to Greek system, regulate Greek system

method
Method

Qualitative investigation of undergraduate student social life.

  • Focus Groups – 16 groups, 89 students
  • Ethnographic observation and interviews – floor of 1st year women in “party dorm”
peer culture
Peer Culture

Concerns with status, belonging, popularity, and interest in playful, public sexual fun motivate student participation in dangerous party scenes.

slide7

Peer Culture: Status & Belonging

“You see these images of college that you’re supposed to go out and have fun and drink, drink lots, party and meet guys. [You are] supposed to hook up with guys, and both men and women try to live up to that. I think a lot of it is girls want to be accepted into their group and guys want to be accepted into their groups.”

slide8

Peer Culture: Sex as Public and Fun

Describing a Playboy party that was “so fun,” one floor resident explained that, “it was basically an excuse … for everyone to just dress in the sluttiest little thing that they can pull off without looking like complete trash. But it was just so fun. You had an excuse to just let loose.”

slide9

Peer Culture:

Gender & Sexual Expectations

“But like I only like will kiss. I just like kissing. I won’t do anything else.”

“This guy that I was talking to for like ten/ fifteen minutes… says, could you, um, come to the bathroom with me and jerk me off? And I’m like, what! I’m like, okay, like I’ve known you for like fifteen minutes but no.”

social organization
Social Organization

The social organization of student life intensifies peer cultures and structures social options.

residence life intensifies peer cultures
Residence Life: Intensifies Peer Cultures

Students of similar age, race, sexual orientation, class, and appearance are clustered.

residence life patterns gender interaction
Residence Life: Patterns Gender Interaction

Men and women mostly live on separate floors.

Some residence halls have locked floors.

Informal contact between female and male students occurs mainly in the eroticized and alcohol-fueled party scene

residence life push factors
Residence Life: Push Factors

Lack of Public Space

Little communal space and dorm structure make spontaneous interactions unlikely

Social Control

Successful at reducing visible partying, but students experience dorms as not “fun” and leave to party

fraternity parties transportation
Fraternity Parties: Transportation

“All those girls would stand out there at the circle drive and just like, no joke, get into these big black Suburbans driven by frat guys, shoving themselves in there, wearing like seriously no clothes, piled on top of each other. This could be like some kidnapper taking you all away to the woods and chopping you up and leaving you there.”

fraternity parties men define party atmospheres
Fraternity Parties: Men Define Party Atmospheres

Some Party Themes:

  • CEO/Secretary Ho
  • School Teacher/Sexy Student
  • Golf Pro/ Tennis Ho
  • Doctor/Nurse parties
  • Trophy wife and James Bond husband
  • Pilot/Stewardess
fraternity parties men control alcohol
Fraternity Parties: Men Control Alcohol

Brothers serve themselves first, then women they are with, then other women, and then unaffiliated men.

The promise of more or better alcohol is often used to lure women into private spaces.

women s experiences
Women’s Experiences

One floor resident reported, “Guys pressuring girls to drink who don’t want to drink. Or not even who don’t want to drink, but who just don’t feel comfortable drinking with them. Sometimes boys are creepy and you don’t want to sit and pound shots with them….”

slide18

Women’s Experiences: Party Rape

Respondent A: I didn’t know what happened. I was scared and wanted to get the hell out of there. I didn’t know who it was, so how am I supposed to go to the hospital and say someone might’ve raped me? It could have been any one of the hundred guys that lived in the house. And I didn’t even know if it happened for sure.

Respondent B: It’s just so hard because you don’t know how to deal with it because you don’t want to turn in a frat because all hundred of those brothers…

Respondent A: I think I was also at the point thinking like, you know, I just got to school, I don’t want to start off on a bad note with anyone, and now it happened so long ago, I don’t know who it was, it’s just one of those things that I kinda have to live with.

defining party rape
Defining Party Rape
  • Assault by acquaintance or in-network stranger
  • Victims typically the most vulnerable
  • Alcohol and sometimes date rape drugs used as weapons
  • Often occurs off of home turf; wake up in unfamiliar location
  • Difficult to reconstruct what happened
  • Rarely reported
why do women continue to participate
Why Do Women Continue to Participate?

Some don’t. They withdraw.

“You don’t go to a bar the way you used to before knowing all of this, at least I don’t. … It kills your social life.”

why do women continue to participate1
Why Do Women Continue to Participate?

Peer culture & social organization work together to limit options for:

  • Meeting people, gaining status
  • Experiencing an eroticized public scene
  • Receiving gratifying male attention
status agency in a risky world
Status & Agency in a Risky World

Students are invested in this world.

They take the bad with the good.

Sexual risk is normalized.

Women are assumed to be skilled at strategies to reduce risk.

They are blamed when their strategies fail.

changing the organization of student life
Changing the organization of student life
  • Focus on cultivating community
    • Provide more spaces amenable to socializing
    • Enhance aesthetic properties
    • Make residence halls more appealing to upper-level students
changing the organization of student life1
Changing the organization of student life
  • Increasing diversity within residence halls
    • race and nationality
    • social class
    • geographic origin
    • age
    • marital status
    • sexual orientation
mentoring
Mentoring
  • More contact with upper-division students and adults
  • More faculty involvement in student life
carefully reign in excess partying
Carefully reign in excess partying

Punitive policies may backfire:

  • Students consume more hard alcohol in less safe ways.
  • Drinking is pushed off campus to venues where administrators and women have less control.
  • Men with access to alcohol have an increase in status and control.
targeted education
Targeted education

Education should

  • target high-risk populations
  • start early (orientation) and continue
  • appeal to students motivations and interests (fun, partying, cross-gender interactions, sex)
  • offer concrete suggestions for avoiding non-consensual sex
  • come from credible sources
targeted education1
Targeted education
  • Lessons from our classrooms:
    • Students’ interests and motivations must be taken into account.
      • Most students are not critical of gender and sexual arrangements.
      • For the most part, the party scene is FUN.
targeted education2
Targeted education
  • Involve students in active learning about their social worlds and experiences.
  • Have them do research and teaching.
    • Helps to lead students into a critique of gender and sexual arrangements and party scene.
    • Helps to bridge gap between living and learning, students and faculty.
social organization peer culture approach
Social Organization & Peer Culture Approach

Point 2. Party rape is enabled by features of student peer cultures. Desire for FUN and concerns with status, belonging, popularity drive women’s participation in dangerous party scenes.

social organization peer culture approach1
Social Organization & Peer Culture Approach

Point 1. Party Rape is enabled by the SOCIAL ORGANIZATION of student life.

  • Greek life
  • Residence life
  • Etc.
social organization peer culture approach2
Social Organization & Peer Culture Approach

Point 3. Social Organization & Peer Culture Work Together.

Social Organization Intensifies Peer Culture.

Peer Culture Reinforces Social Organization