100 Associations

Safety: From Bystanders to Helpers

By / Aug 12, 2020 (Koivo/Goodillustration.com)

After failing to find the resources it needed, Sigma Nu partnered with a sorority to create tools to teach members how to step in to prevent a sexual assault before it happens.

Safety • Sigma Nu Fraternity

The #MeToo movement unleashed a chorus of voices sharing formerly hidden stories of sexual assault, including on college campuses, where according to one survey one in five female undergraduates say they’ve experienced it in some form. Sigma Nu Fraternity was moved to address the matter in 2015, looking for tools to educate its members on college campuses about how to identify the danger signs and intervene to prevent an assault if necessary.

Sigma Nu quickly discovered that the kinds of tools it was looking for didn’t exist.

“We evaluated what programs were being used for college students related to sexual misconduct, and whether or not they could be easily scaled up and adapted to fit a fraternity and sorority community,” says Fred Dobry, Sigma Nu’s director of health and safety. “And our conclusion at that time was it didn’t seem like any of the programs could meet what we were hoping to accomplish.”

We evaluated what programs were being used for college students related to sexual misconduct, and whether or not they could be easily scaled up and adapted to fit a fraternity and sorority community.

What the programs lacked was a focus on the realities of Greek life that spoke directly to fraternity members who could step in before an assault occurred. Working with a consultant, Aaron Boe, Sigma Nu developed a program that addressed high-risk, college-specific scenarios (“You notice a person is passed out at a party”; “A brother or friend shares an attitude that all this sexual assault talk is B.S.”).

To implement the program, Sigma Nu partnered with a national sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, to train staff to lead chapter workshops on campuses. Soon, eight more fraternities and sororities signed on to share resources and hold workshops. By 2017, a year after the program was implemented, nearly all Sigma Nu chapters had hosted a workshop. Participants reported being better able to recognize the need for interventions and understood tools to use in a variety of situations.

Now, Dobry says, the plan is to expand the program’s reach. Sigma Nu is exploring training volunteers and perhaps the students themselves to lead the workshops. Expansion is important not just because the program’s content is valuable but because the message is reinforced when multiple fraternities and sororities share similar information.

“One of the hidden benefits of having a large partnership is that our members on a certain campus are carrying on a topic of conversation and message while their peers within their community are hearing a similar message,” says Drew Logsdon, Sigma Nu’s director of communications. “So when they go to a social function and they’re with friends from a different organization, when they talk about these things, it makes sense and it clicks.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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