SCOPE Thought Piece, Question #3: What are the cutting-edge prevention best practices that you would recommend?

Brett A. Sokolow, Esq.

Once you launch the four-year strategy that I have talked about already in my other responses, you will need to begin to assess the programs, and should design that capacity in from the inception of the strategy. Assess whether students like the programmatic elements, but also survey to find out what students take from them. There are lots of funny, hip, emotional or scare-tactic messages that connect with students and that they rate highly. But, the educational content is secondary to the gimmick. Not only do students need to be engaged by the topic, assessment needs to show that your learning objectives are being attained. If they are not, modifications to the strategy will be needed. Viewing the strategic plan as a flexible framework, rather than as a fixed requirement, will help you to adjust as you progress. With each incoming class or generation of students, you may need to alter the strategy to address changing mores or times.

So, maybe you have designed a progressive, consistent programmatic strategy on sexual violence.  Perhaps another committee or the same one will be doing the same thing with other prioritized issues, including hazing, bullying, targeted violence, civility, stalking, AOD, etc.  The same prevention philosophy and methodology may undergird all efforts, or it may vary by topic.  The spectrum of prevention may inform several pieces, while environmental management will be the hallmark of others.  Social norms may be the cornerstone of some, and bystander intervention the central theme of others.  Once those curricula are in place, it will be necessary to coordinate them, use them to mutually reinforce each other, boost each others’ messages, and assess for incongruity of message or messages that may cause cognitive dissonance for overlapping audiences.  You will also want to be sure that you reinforce messages in new and different ways that avoid causing the audience to tune out or fatigue from overload.

Using these ideas as the kernel of a strategic prevention initiative can help to assure that by the time your students graduate, they will have built competencies on a large number of health and safety issues by regular attendance at worthwhile events (and exposure to passive campaigns) that are part of the campus culture of caring.  You should make this strategy transparent to your community, and invite support from off-campus resources as well as your own campus experts, activists, peer educators and programmers. Our job is not just to provide the educational opportunity to students—we have moral, legal and ethical obligations to make sure that our message connects with our students and affects their behavior.  Doing so can change their lives and transform our campuses.

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