In August, the University of Houston will welcome more than 7,000 new students to campus. But before these incoming freshman and transfer students take their first classes, the University is sharing useful information and teaching an important lesson during its new student orientation program.
Richard Baker, assistant vice president of equal opportunity services and the campus’ Title IX coordinator, leads the Coogs Get Consent assembly. It has become one of the most popular orientation sessions among new students. Like the rest of orientation, the delivery is fun, interactive and energetic— but the message is serious.
“During Coogs Get Consent, we talk about healthy relationships, the idea of consent, and, if something does happen, where they can go to get help,” said Baker.
UH launched Coogs Get Consent three years ago. It addresses mutual consent and communication, or as Baker puts it to students, “the importance of getting the ‘yes’ before you get the ‘no.’” During the session, Baker addresses sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking—all issues covered in the University’s sexual misconduct policy. Baker says the University is seeing the results of the training and awareness program with more students taking action—filing reports and seeking assistance when an incident of sexual misconduct does happen.
“When we get reports, it shows that students trust the process and they are trusting in the University so we can address it and create a safer campus,” said Baker, who is also responsible for coordinating the University’s response to and adjudication of sexual misconduct cases.
In compliance with the federal Jeanne Clery Act, the University issues an annual report of crime on campus each fall. The 2013 Clery report, the latest report available, was the first to include Violence Against Women Act Crimes, which were added to the report as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, signed by President Obama in March 2013. It includes reports of dating and domestic violence, and stalking. Baker says he expects the reports of crimes in these categories, as well as sex offenses, to go up when UH releases its annual crime report later this year.
“I am looking at that as a direct correlation to the amount of information we are delivering to students, faculty and staff to report what they see and what they hear as it relates to these sensitive issues,” said Baker. “I believe that the fact that numbers are going up allows us to find individuals who are committing acts of misconduct, and when we can stop that misconduct from happening or from reoccurring, it makes the campus safer.”
Baker says much of the success of the Coogs Get Consent training program hinges on students being empowered to intervene. It’s all about “Coogs taking care of other Coogs,” he says. It’s a message that resonated with incoming freshman Ariane Mosher, who heard the presentation during freshman orientation earlier this month.
“This training definitely makes it more of an approachable and comfortable environment to speak up,” said Mosher. “Once you take out that awkwardness, I think you have more people willing to stand up and say ‘hey, that’s not cool,’ which may put a stop to an activity that could really hurt someone and badly damage a person’s future.”
The UH System will launch another training program next month called Salutations. Salutations is an online situation-based training program that all UH System students will be required to complete as part of the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or Campus SaVE Act, a 2013 amendment to the Clery Act. Students will be presented real scenarios and exposed to common issues relating to sexual misconduct. In addition to sharing information and resources available to students, such as ways to anonymously or confidentially file a report, the training also addresses the rights of the accused.
“The idea is to reduce the risk of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking occurring on our campuses,” said Baker. “If we can eliminate it, that would be the ultimate goal. In the meantime, we are going to continue to make our students aware of these important issues, give them the tools needed to help prevent these things from happening, and respond appropriately when they do happen.”