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A Cultural Intervention in Campus Sexual Misconduct Prevention: Developing Campus-Based Sexual Assault Prevention Programming

Description of research project​:

Roughly one in five U.S. women are sexually assaulted while in college. Sexual assault is associated with a range of psychological ailments, from depression to social withdrawal and sleep disturbances, that hinder students’ ability to learn and fully participate in college. Mitigating this gender inequality in higher education has recently become a national priority; the federal government now mandates that colleges provide first-year anti–sexual misconduct trainings. However, psychological and public health research indicates the limited potential of existing anti–sexual misconduct trainings to mitigate sexually violent attitudes and behavior. This project relies on interview and focus group data to develop insights into factors that may be limiting the effectiveness of sexual misconduct prevention efforts.

A sociological approach to peer culture and gender can provide insight into the ineffectiveness of first-year anti—sexual misconduct trainings. We take seriously the notion that students’ interactions with their peers may shape their interpretation of training curricula. Research on preschool peer cultures, for example, finds that groups transform and creatively reproduce educators’ words and body language. Through “activities, routines, artifacts, [and] values,” peers make meaning of curricula and thereby gain control of their lives. The process through which peer cultures filter educators’ curricula is called “interpretive reproduction.” While interpretive reproduction has framed research on peer groups in early childhood, young adolescence, and high school, the theory has yet to be applied in a college context. Our singleand mixed-gender focus group data begins a conversation on the role peer cultures play in the limited efficacy of anti—sexual misconduct curricula on relevant attitudes and behaviors.

Prevention education research could also benefit from analysis of gender. Same-gender peer groups (e.g. sororities, sport teams, etc.) teach one another about masculinity, femininity, and sexuality. These peer groups thus offer a key site for analyzing the (re)production of sexual attitudes and behaviors. The dynamics of same-gender peer cultures may shape students’ interpretation of anti—sexual violence curricula. Interviews with rising U of M sophomore students extends the theory of “interpretive reproduction” to college-aged students and anti--sexual violence education.

In addition to its theoretical contributions, this project is actively engaged with in interdisciplinarity and reciprocal research. We will analyze and interpret qualitative data collected from rising U of M sophomores to identify common risk factors and strategies for preventing sexual assault on campus. This information will subsequently be used to inform the preliminary development of a campus sexual assault prevention program. The findings from this work will be instrumental in developing effective sexual assault programming that is responsive to the needs of our students, with the ultimate goal of further reducing sexual violence on our campus.

Description of work that will be assigned to research assistants​:

The undergraduate research assistant (RA) will assist with analyzing and interpreting qualitative data as well as developing intervention content and possibly preparing an IRB application for future research projects.
Depending on the student’s interests, additional opportunities are available to help with additional data collection, management, and analysis, such as supervised recruitment of study participants and developing Qualtrics surveys.

Supervising Faculty Member​: Elizabeth Armstrong

Graduate Student:​ Miriam Gleckman-Krut

Contact information​: Miriam:; Erin:; Meredith:

Average hours of work per week​: 6

Range of credit hours students can earn​: 2-3

Number of positions available​: 2