Title IX Programming Revamped in Fundamentals for First Year Presentation

by ROSE BRENNAN & GILLIAN PUMA, A&E Editor & Staff Writer

StAs a mandatory component of Manhattan College’s Opening Weekend, on Saturday, Aug. 25, freshman students gathered to discuss spreading awareness of sexual assault on campuses.  

With the help of Title IX as well as the Zero Shades of Gray program, students were able to interact with each other on the importance of consensual sexual relationships. 

This year’s incoming class received a very different presentation than the previous year, in which comedic skits surrounding the topic of consent were performed.  While the skits were originally perceived to give a fresh take on the issue, many believed that they were inappropriate and made light of a very serious matter.

“We have made adjustments to the training for first-year students, faculty, administration and staff utilizing feedback from the MC community,” said Vicki Cowan, assistant vice president for human resources and Title IX.  “We have added [additional] resources to provide [a] better online training and in-person training experience for the Manhattan College community.”

Part of this “revamping” of the sexual assault prevention training included partnering with EverFi to provide a comprehensive online training for returning students, as well as the mandatory sexual assault prevention training for freshmen.

According to Cowan, the decision to switch to EverFi for this training was in order to comply with New York State Law 129B, which is also known as “Enough is Enough.”

“We have transitioned from Workplace Answers and continue to provide a robust training experience for the Manhattan College community as a whole,” Cowan said.

In addition to the EverFi online program for returning students, incoming first-year students also attend a Fundamentals for First Years presentation in which sexual assault and its prevention is discussed.  This year, the college partnered with the group Zero Shades of Gray for the annual presentation.

Zero Shades of Gray is a nonprofit organization under Collegiate Empowerment. The program uses the name Zero Shades of Gray to express that sexual assault is black and white. In other words, there are no disclaimers, no clauses, and no fine print when it comes to how people feel about being sexually assaulted.

Landon Woodson of Zero Shades of Gray introduced himself to the audience energetically as he made the students count down to introduce the first video segment of the presentation. 

“I’m not going to make this a grueling lecture,” Woodson stated. “You’re going to be talking to me and you’re going to be talking to each other. And I know what you’re thinking ‘this is awkward’. Just thinking of this is uncomfortable,” he continued as he explained that sexual assault is not just a women’s issue, but a men’s issue as well and needs to be discussed at any time. 

Woodson had the students participate in many activities that included a sock puppet reenactment on how to ask for consent, having students read consensual lines as if they were talking to someone, and giving the students a specific word and discuss what they think of when they heard that word. 

After the students participated in these activities, they concluded the meeting with the “Tea Video”, in which sexual assault was compared to shoving hot tea down someone’s throat who had not asked for it.

While some students found that the meeting was well done and got the point across, others felt the ‘positive energy’ took away the seriousness of the topic. 

“I think there was a good message behind it, but I feel that he took it too jokingly. My row wasn’t taking it seriously,” freshman Cristina Valladares said. 

Olivia Bak, another freshman who attended the assembly, stated her opinion as well. 

“I think the parts he tried to make interactive should have been a little more serious. It’s not like a joking matter,” Bak said. 

Bak also believed that the tea video was inappropriate.

Christof Chukuma, another freshman said, “Even though he had a comedic perspective, he did say it shouldn’t happen. Because he got everyone’s attention, people were willing to ask questions and be more social on why this is an important topic.”

According to Cowan, the training first year students receive during opening weekend is absolutely crucial.

“If sexual assault, sexual harassment, etc. does happen, students need to know how to get immediate help and support,” she said.  “Students should know their rights.  We want our community to be a safe place to learn, teach and work, and we all have to work together to achieve that goal.”