Because the youth are the future of our society, we must do what is necessary to ensure that they are not experiencing undue violence in relationships.
Authored by Jason Thompson, Fahrenheit Creative Group
According to data from EducationData.org, more than four out of ten college students are 19 or younger. Since more than 40 percent of Americans believe college is an opportunity for students to grow personally and intellectually, we must seriously examine the role and responsibility of colleges to encourage and support personal growth among the students it serves. There is no better time to do that than during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Most of the focus during the month centers on high school students, and rightly so. About one out of ten adolescents has experienced physical violence from an intimate partner. High schools are a great place to start when addressing dating violence with teens. But we can’t stop there.
Nearly half of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 are enrolled in college or graduate school, while more than a third of young men of the same age are enrolled in postsecondary programs at colleges or universities. Between 2000 and 2017, there was an almost 76 percent increase in the number of 18-24 year old students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions.
In short, there are more teenagers on college campuses than ever before. Some of those teenagers are arriving on campuses with previous trauma, and, unfortunately, some will experience some type of dating violence while they are in college. Nearly 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men experience relationship violence for the first time between the ages of 18 and 24, who participated in the AAU Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.
Understanding what students may have experienced before they set foot on a college campus is a fundamental step in creating an environment and system that is responsive to their diverse needs. Research indicates that adolescents who have been in abusive relationships often carry these unhealthy patterns of violence into future relationships, which means teenagers who have experienced (or perpetrated) dating violence while in high school may fall into similar patterns during their college years.
Colleges and universities seeking to respond to the specific education and support needs of the teenagers they serve, can draw from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s steps to address public health problems like dating violence:
- Step 1: Define the problem. Before dating violence can be prevented, campuses have to understand the scope and scale of the problem among the students they serve. Gathering data about student’s experiences while they are on campus and what they might have experienced prior to enrollment will help colleges develop more comprehensive and responsive support programs.
- Step 2: Identify risk and protective factors. Quantitative data is extremely valuable in assessing how widespread (or controlled) issues like dating violence are. However, colleges should also seek to understand the factors that place certain students more at risk and that keep students safe. This information can be collected through interviews and focus groups with students.
- Step 3: Develop and test prevention strategies. The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture has a wealth of resources colleges can use to establish and implement effective prevention campaigns and programs. College leaders must ensure that resources and services are culturally appropriate and accessible for all students, which is why testing the efficacy of efforts (and adjusting as needed) is vital to an effective prevention program.
- Step 4: Ensure widespread adoption. Prevention and support efforts should be integrated into all aspects of programming, and students should know they will receive adequate and compassionate support if they need it.