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Thursday, August 18, 2022 — Houston, TX

Orientation Week SAFE talk prompts discussion, concern

By Savannah Kuchar     9/3/19 9:47pm

Some students expressed concern regarding Project SAFE (Sexual Assault Free Environment), a campuswide presentation during Orientation Week that addresses consent and interpersonal violence.  

Mason Reece, who advised this past O-Week, said that at times it seemed like the atmosphere of the talk did not match the subject material being discussed.

“I think some aspects of the talk were maybe a little lighthearted in what is a very serious topic,” Reece, a Hanszen College sophomore, said. “I think I and other students understood that it was a late-night talk after a long day, but still trying to maintain a level of professionalism and seriousness around something as important as this is still essential.”

Helena Leal, an advisor and liaison for Students Transforming Rice Into a Violence-Free Environment at Baker College, said that she thinks the lighter tone was part of an attempt to make the environment more comfortable for students, but she recognized the possible consequences of this.

“Topics are definitely still heavy, but this lightheartedness demonstrates that it’s okay and important to talk about and engage in these conversations,” Leal, a sophomore, said. “If any student is a victim of any of the situations discussed during the SAFE presentation it may feel bad to hear people being so lighthearted about it.”

According to Leal, another concern during this year’s presentation was the sign-in form passed around at the beginning, which asked attendants to give their name, gender identity and email address.

“I think asking for gender identity is unnecessary and could make some individuals feel uncomfortable,” Leal said.

According to Saralyn McMorris, the associate director of wellbeing programs and education, the form was for the Houston Area Women’s Center and was a requirement for one of their grantors.

Reece said that he spoke to presenters from both the SAFE Office and the Houston Area Women’s Center after the presentation and was informed about the reasoning for the forms.  However, he said that he was still concerned about the lack of privacy afforded by the form.

“I certainly understood their reasons, they talked to us about needing it for grants to get federal money for their program,” Reece said. “But I think there was a concern on my part at least about it being a public sheet being passed around that you could write down your gender identity, whatever that might be, and then the person next to you has the opportunity to look at that and how that might be concerning for some students.”

Karen Qi, an advisor and former O-Week coordinator for Hanszen, said that there have been problems in the past with the presentation’s content being too lighthearted and problematic. 

“[For several years] there was a video comparing getting consent in relationships or hookups with drinking tea,” Qi, a senior, said. “I guess it’s meant to shed light on how consent is used in everyday interactions, but I think comparing it to drinking tea and the jokes made in that video was minimizing what it meant to get consent.”

Gabrielle Falcon, one of two student directors for O-Week this year, said that she too had issues with the content shown during the 2016 O-Week SAFE presentation.

“As a New Student, I remember being a bit unimpressed with the presentation,” Falcon, a Martel College senior, said. “They had the ‘Consent: It’s Simple as Tea’ video which I found to be a bit too casual and too humorous for such a serious topic.”

Qi said that although the content has improved with time, she is still concerned with the delivery of the presentations.

“Project SAFE is one of those talks where it’s about a serious topic and the tone and the delivery of that talk really matters,” Qi said. “I think there’s a different time and place for joking and having fun.”

McMorris, one of the presenters this year, said that students concerned about the tone should give this feedback to the SAFE office and others involved.

“Anybody who’s concerned about the presentation should share that concern with the SAFE Office or any of the presenters,” McMorris said. “In the six years that I’ve been at Rice, we’ve regularly changed the presentation based on concerns and ideas from students as well as current research and advancements in the field of interpersonal violence.”

McMorris said she thought that the presentation was a success.

“They were answering questions and asking questions of their own,” McMorris said. “Throughout the presentation, I noticed that many of the students were nodding their heads as though they [agreed] with what they were hearing.”

McMorris said that the SAFE Office is receptive to feedback about the presentation and that it is improved each year based on this feedback.

“The SAFE Office spent some time over the summer talking with the O-Week [coordinators] about this presentation,” McMorris said. “The coordinators and the advisors see the presentation before the New Students and they’re encouraged to offer the SAFE Office feedback.”

During her year as an O-Week coordinator, Qi said that the coordinators had little say over the Project SAFE presentation.

“The [coordinators] have this wellbeing committee and I think that’s probably the most relevant committee for the Project SAFE talk,” Qi said. “But when I was on the wellbeing committee, it mostly was about what would the alcohol talk look like or what would the healthy relationships talk look like. We focused mostly on those two things and Project SAFE was mostly organized by the Title IX office.”

Qi and Falcon both matriculated in 2016 as part of the last matriculating class not required to take Critical Thinking in Sexuality workshop during the first five weeks of school. According to Qi, who has been a teaching assistant for CTIS for the past two years, these classes are better able to facilitate discussions than the one-hour Project SAFE presentation.

“I noticed that a lot of the conversations went more in-depth and so Project SAFE didn’t have to be all those details crammed into a presentation where people who are attending the presentation were already really tired from O-Week,” Qi said. “I think that CTIS kind of shapes the tone better than the stand-alone Project SAFE talk.”

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