Virtual VAWA Roundtable 2015: Four Expert Approaches to Changing Campus Culture

VAWA | Campus Violence

Posted on 16 March 2015 |

vawa panelWhen several bills on sexual assault reporting recently surfaced at the state level, violence prevention experts sounded an alert. In last month’s open letter to legislators, advocates from the National Association of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) urged lawmakers to consider how legislation mandating reporting conflicts with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Those running violence prevention programs know precisely how policy changes impact campuses, and they propose alternative approaches; for example, diversity training to teach students about the detrimental role played by heteronormativity. For non-experts, heteronormativity is the term for the set of values and behaviors that promote heterosexual norms, while marginalizing other experiences and identities.

We talked to four violence prevention educators on dealing with policy changes. Our experts, who are panelists on the subject of violence prevention programs at a March 2015 conference, share what they are seeing on college campuses in 2015 (both the good, and the challenging). Read their responses, and learn more about the upcoming NASPA conference below.

1. It seems in the work to change culture, you also have to promote a new understanding of what culture is. Do you have a way of explaining culture to the groups you work with?

Alison Kiss, executive director of The Clery Center: Culture will be different depending on the campus or institution. This is why a climate survey is valuable as a method to understand any cultural norms or biases that may exist on your campus and can lend itself to creating a comprehensive and strategic prevention program aimed at systems and behavior change.

Silvia Ramos, director of equal employment opportunity at Winston-Salem State University: I ask all my audiences, “What kind of community are we?” Usually there are answers that define culture and community based on our stated values and how we wish to engage with one another in shared spaces. 

From there I can point out that there is some disconnection between what we say we want and what we are currently experiencing in different parts of our campus community.  Often we arrive at rich discussions about strategies for achieving the type of culture or community that we want; safe, welcoming, encouraging, nurturing.

Tremayne Robertson, violence prevention health educator at Virginia Commonwealth University: I approach culture from a social justice framework that considers privileged identities and marginalized identities. While working with male students we discuss the dominant culture of Western manhood that emphasizes material and economic wealth, sexual conquest of females, and physical ability.

To be counterculture would manifest as a male being uninterested in sexual domination of others, namely females, being domestic (e.g., cooking and cleaning), and being emotional or sensitive, among other things. Males, all people, should define their own culture within and outside the norm. Unfortunately, the dominant ideas often drive behavior.

Ashley Hinton-Moncer, director of health and wellness at Transylvania University:  I have tried multiple approaches to help clarify this new culture: everything from small groups, to large group presentations, to the creation of websites, social media, bystander intervention training, and online training. There is not a one-fits-all approach when it comes to accomplishing this, but I feel strongly the multidisciplinary approach has allowed me to meet the individuals where they are in understanding Title IX, and to help guide them to a greater understanding. 

In many ways the recent legislation, the office of civil rights, and the media have helped redefine Title IX on college campuses. My job has been to try to educate the campus community of the changes [in legislation and] and how it impacts us.

2. Does heteronormative culture create challenges for violence prevention programs? If so, what kinds of challenges?

Silvia Ramos: The heteronormative challenge in this work exists, in some ways, much like the heteronormative challenge in other educational programs. That is, starting with the people who are leading the work. If the majority of the people leading this work only represent the heterosexual experience, human bias tells us that other experiences will be left out. What we know is that the issue of violence plagues all communities. It is not just an issue that exists within heterosexual relationships, so we must be aware of how we initiate the work.

We have to pay attention to how we present the dynamic of relationship violence because it is easy to always present it as “victim: female,” and “accused: male.” In doing our work in that way we not only exclude a significant part of our campus population because we send the message that “this is not for you,” but we also lose a great opportunity to help people understand the variety of ways that we can learn to be more engaged and proactive bystanders.

Alison Kiss: [The challenges created by heteronormative culture] will be different on every campus. Generally speaking, there is research identifying that someone is more likely to come forward to report a sexual assault if they are a part of a marginalized community. It is so important to understand challenges on your campus ranging from student groups to other biases or stereotypes that may exist.

Tremayne Robertson: Any dominant or normative culture creates problems for violence prevention: racism, classism, ableism, etc.Some sports teams (collegiate and professional) use “kiss cameras” that capture images of fans and display them on the jumbotron during basketball games. The kiss images in my experience were always of a male and female vs. two people of the same gender.

Needless to say, none of the parties had to be romantically involved regardless of sex, but the assumption was clear that a worthy and celebrated kiss was between heterosexuals. This was a seemingly harmless and cute idea that had real consequences for hetero and lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer-intersex-ally (LGBTQIA) people alike. The practice was heteronormative and made it clear that love outside of hetero folks should not be publicly celebrated. Stereotypical heteronormative culture makes building relationships among certain students difficult, given rigid gender roles.

Ashley Hinton-Moncer: Working at a liberal arts college helps when it comes to having a progressive way of thinking, but there are some ongoing challenges…For example, many individuals either have preconceived ideas or complete lack of understanding about the LGBTQ community. For Title IX coordinators, this continued need for diversity training becomes a primary responsibility.

Not only are we charged with getting the campus community to understand this new way of thinking, we also need to help alumni, the board of directors, and community stakeholders to understand how their actions and statements impact our efforts at violence prevention training.

3. In working with campus populations, what's a hopeful change you've recently witnessed?

Alison Kiss: We are starting to have a comprehensive dialogue. Seeing presidents and student activists really engage on this issue is something new. I hope that we continue to see these conversations. There are so many people coming at this issue from different directions, and there is a need to navigate these conversations.

Silvia Ramos: I hear more conversations about consent.  I actually hear the students using that word. That may seem small to some, but that word is critical for the type of culture change that we are striving for. The language that we give to our students is important as they consider different ways of creating safe spaces on university campuses.

Tremayne Robertson: Our reporting numbers [at Virginia Commonwealth University] are up, which means that we are making more students aware of our services and they are getting the assistance they need. More male students are coming in for advocacy services, albeit still a small number.

Ashley Hinton-Moncer: Every time I meet with other Title IX coordinators I am reassured that no one has this completely figured out but our hearts remain in the right place.  I see this through the listservs I am on and at the conferences I attend...we have gone from a place of “What does this mean?” to more specific questions asking, “How can we do this better?”  Some of my beginning battles of trying to get others on my campus to understand have now turned into those same individuals becoming partners in the process.

Details on the NASPA Panel:

Hear more about violence prevention training from our expert panelists in New Orleans on March 24 at the NASPA Annual Conference. Campus Answers’ own Sondra Solovay, J.D., who has recently spoken on the importance of VAWA, will be moderating the panel “VAWA Ongoing Awareness: Changing Campus Culture.” The panel convenes from 1:15 to 2:05 p.m. in room number 212 at the Morial Convention Center.

Meet our Panel:

Ashley Hinton MoncerAshley Hinton-Moncer is the director of health and wellness and Title IX coordinator at Transylvania University. Since 2002, she has taught fitness courses at Transylvania and is the director of the Transylvania Fit-iquette camp that provides school-age children with education in fitness and service learning. She is a also an intervention alcohol trainer and a hazing prevention specialist. Hinton-Moncer holds degrees from University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.





 Tremayne RobertsonTremayne Robertsonis the violence prevention health educator at the Wellness Resource Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. He provides education, training, and advocacy services for victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking. He is also advisor to the peer education groups, Students Advocating Violence Education and Support (SAVES) and Men Against Violence (MAV). Tremayne holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Syracuse University, where he is completing doctoral study.




Alison KissAlison Kiss is the executive director of The Clery Center for Security on Campus. She has developed and implemented curriculum for peer education programs and for victim support services. She has served as an instructor for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and University of Pennsylvania, teaching seminars on the Clery Act. Alison previously served as director of wellness, alcohol, and drug education at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She holds degrees from  Catholic University of America and Saint Joseph’s University, and is pursuing doctoral study at Northeastern University




Silvia Ramos .Silvia Ramosis the Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EEO/AA) & diversity officer at Winston-Salem State University, one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in North Carolina. She develops diversity education programs and promotes inclusive excellence throughout campus. Silvia previously was associate director for diversity education at Virginia Tech, and diversity administrator at California State University, Channel Islands. She holds degrees from Florida Gulf Coast University and Radford University.

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