It’s finally May, and that can mean only one thing in the world of sexual assault preventionists: you made it through Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and are still standing! Or, at least, still reading.
[Wild applause breaks out in the blog post]
Take a bow–you’ve earned it. If you’re like me, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (known to others as April) rolls in every year on a tidal wave of anticipatory energy and excitement (student events, marches, media campaigns, proclamations, speakers, tabling) and washes out thirty days later with a mix of accomplishment and dissatisfaction laced into an ocean of exhaustion. I have heard more than one campus prevention colleague bemoan something like: “Your sexual assault awareness month is seriously hampering my sexual assault awareness life.”
It is tough enough to be non-stop speaking, planning, marching, writing, tweeting, and tabling without also pulling double-duty in responding to inaccurate or unhelpful messages and efforts that also tend to poke their heads up out of the ground during this month right along with the daffodils. My particular challenge during this time is contending with the imbalance of how much energy and effort is put into sexual assault prevention efforts on campus, and how little exposure or even support those efforts may receive.
I’m not the only one who is bugged by this trend. Public health media analysis superheroes, the Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG), have researched and written extensively about this issue for years, and have boiled down their messaging guidance in this blog post. It’s worth the full read.
Of the four core “building blocks” that BMSG lays out to develop the prevention message’s “frame”, I want to focus specifically on one element–elevating your values. As BMSG notes, “voicing shared values helps people connect with prevention and recognize its importance. Ultimately, values are what motivate people to act.”
Here at EVERFI, we’re all in on the power of connecting with a person’s values; in fact, one of the core foundations for all of our sexual assault prevention online courses is a framework of values clarification and reflection. It works when it comes to shaping the beliefs and possibly behaviors of individuals, and it works for driving institutional beliefs and behaviors as well. Connecting to shared values is so fundamental to effective messaging that BMSG media scholars place it at the bottom of their pyramid–forming the foundation of all media messaging work.
If you’ve been hanging out here at the Campus Prevention Network for any length of time, you’ll recognize that this conceptualization closely aligns with CPN’s Framework of Comprehensive Prevention.
The synergy here makes total sense. As we know, when institutional leaders understand the connection between sexual assault prevention and an institution’s core mission and critical priorities, sexual assault prevention is more likely to get the resources needed to be effective. In fact, when we have analyzed the findings from the 100+ campuses that have completed the Sexual Assault Diagnostic Inventory, we have identified that campuses that score in the upper quartile for institutionalization are more likely to also score in the upper quartile for programming. So it is no surprise that message framing that begins with a connections to values (the why) is more likely to effectively deliver on the strategies and interventions (the what).
The BMSG identifies a number of values that may connect to the message of sexual assault prevention:
- cultivating the next generation
- importance of education
- building community
How do these foundational values align with your institution’s mission and vision? What about others, such as:
- creating new knowledge
- empowering students to achieve academic excellence
- solving issues of global concern
- preventing harm
- developing new leaders
If your institution is faith-based, there’s another rich opportunity to connect sexual assault prevention to core faith tenets as well.
So, how do you make that critical connection between the values of your institution and the importance of sexual assault prevention? This publication shares some best practice insights from campuses that have achieved prevention excellence across each of the domains of comprehensive prevention outlined above.
If you’re struggling to get support for more investment in sexual assault prevention on your campus, start with framing your work around widely held and shared institutional values. Make your case in the “why” first before you talk about the “what”.