Content Warning: Contains references to sexual violence and harassment.

Before the pandemic, 13 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students were likely to experienced rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. With that, the Department of Education is planning to roll out overhauls in Title IX policies, particularly with new regulations on how to handle campus sexual assault cases, prompting colleges and universities to rethink sexual assault through research and education. 

As April marks the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, UC Santa Cruz held its first-ever Sexual Violence and Sexual Harrassment (SVSH) research symposium on April 2, featuring nine different panelists, three Q&A sessions, and statements from department leaders. The event spotlighted SVSH-related research efforts by UCSC faculty and graduate students.

Associate Dean of Students and Co-Chair of Coordinated Community Review Team (CCRT) Brian Arao spoke about the importance of sharing research. 

“I self-identify as a nerd, and that’s a point of pride for me, and thus you won’t be surprised to hear that research has often helped me to better understand, address, and work to prevent SVSH,” Arao said. “And when I reflect critically on my efforts, I see ways in which theory and scholarship needs to evolve, I think of new questions that could be explored through research.”

The research symposium was proposed and organized by Sona Kaur, a doctoral candidate in social psychology who has served as a graduate intern with the campus Title IX office since September 2019. 

Kaur shared some preliminary findings from her dissertation study, where she examined women’s perceptions of stalking and cyberstalking. She discussed the differing perceptions of these behaviors in women, and raised questions about why these variances occur.

“We are finding that the relationship context in which stalking and cyber stalking behaviors occur really does shape how women assess these situations in terms of safety and reporting, and even whether they’ll identify these situations as stalking or cyberstalking in the first place,” Kaur said. “And if they do, how do they make sense of those situations?”

The symposium was sponsored by the CCRT for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Misconduct at UCSC. It was the CCRT’s first event for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual nationally-recognized campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and to teach how to prevent sexual violence on campus.

The CCRT is a collaboration of UCSC students, staff, faculty, and Santa Cruz community members overseeing a collaborative approach to prevent and address sexual violence and misconduct.

Kaur and eight other panelists spoke on subjects like affirmative consent, prevention of sexual assault in fieldwork settings, romanticized stalking, and gendered experiences, and sexual harassment of STEM graduate students. The presentations were divided into three panels, with Q&A’s at the end of each. Presentations in the first panel examined the nature of different ideologies that underpin beliefs about sexual violence, while also proposing interventions.

Brenda Guttierez, a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology, presented a meta analysis of the attitudes and behaviors that circumscribe violence against women and the concept of “ambivalent sexism.” Ambivalent sexism, Gutierrez said, describes the relationship between two different kinds of sexism — benevolent and hostile — that work together to maintain gender inequality.

Hostile sexism reflects overtly negative evaluations and stereotypes about a gender (for example, the idea that women are incompetent and inferior to men).

Benevolent sexism refers to evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive, but are actually damaging to people and gender equality more broadly (for example, the idea that women need to be protected by men).

“Although not explicitly about violence, ambivalent sexism reflects and perpetuates a culture of violence against women,” Guttierez said. “Acknowledging these attitudes and the way that we think about appropriate roles or gender and how they might contribute to the climate about women is important.“

Similarly, Melissa Cronin, a doctoral candidate in evolutionary biology and ecology led “Building a Better Fieldwork Future: An Evaluation of Scenario-Based Bystander Training to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Assault in Field Settings,” a program in the ecology department that also applies to fieldwork across disciplines. It provides a set of guidelines for people in the field to follow, like requiring proper hygiene, alcohol protocols, and setting up a confidential reporting channel.

”We hope that this will contribute to a culture shift toward prevention,” Cronin said. “So that we can avoid [sexual harassment and assaults] from happening in the first place.”

CCRT is hosting a “Sexual Assault, Consent and Bystander Intervention” on April 14, 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. This workshop provides education on sexual assault and how you can be an ally to survivors of sexual violence. To read about other events the CCRT is sponsoring, visit its sexual assault month website.