University Health Services showed a pre-screening of a revamped violence prevention program targeted at first-year students in an effort to involve faculty and staff working with the freshman class.

Spearheaded by the End Violence on Campus (EVOC) Coordinating Council and the Division of Student Life, the online program, ‘Tonight,’ is an interactive instructive video that aims to provide further understanding and prevention of dating violence and sexual assault. 

According to UHS Violence Prevention Specialist Carmen Hotvedt, the program, which screened Aug. 22, replaced a three-year-old one in an effort to meet more of the students’ demands and feedback.

“Students after three years really said we want it shorter, we want it more interactive and we want it to look more like campus,” Hotvedt said. “It was all about getting data that looked and felt like UW-Madison to make a program.”

After these three years of feedback, the council took a semester to develop the program with focus groups, student polling and multiple forums to create the current 45-minute video series, Hotvedt said.

According to the new program, the scenario-oriented videos, which were filmed by Wisconsin Public Television, demonstrate the types of relationships that occur on a college campus, demonstrating signs of dating violence through ‘red flag’ situations and providing possible bystander responses.

The program, although not mandatory, is expected for all first-year students and will be promoted throughout welcome week, UHS Violence Prevention Specialist Shira Phelps said.

“The program will be encouraged from many directions, like with an email from Lori Berquam,” Phelps said.

According to Phelps, EVOC is also encouraging teachers to incorporate the program into certain class curricula.

The program, which is also available to all non-first year students online, will be run through [email protected] for first-year students. Its completion can be tracked for classroom usage, Phelps said.

However, several of the screening attendees, including a gender and women’s studies professor, questioned the representation of relationships shown in the videos.

The program, which only presents situations with straight couples and depicts females as the victims, is not meant to minimize or discredit the experience of male or LGBT victims, but only to reinforce the ways sexual assault and dating violence are predominantly perpetrated on college campuses, Hotvedt said.

“I think this program really does address the vast reality and epidemic of violence against women as larger perpetrated by men and the attitudes that are put in place by all of us that make that possible,” Hotvedt said.

Hotvedt also said that the lack of diversity in sexual orientation shown through the program was a conscious decision so as not to confuse the message targeted at first year students.

After careful review of other university programs, such as Ohio State’s, which follows a lesbian couple, the committee found the relationship depicted to be unrealistic and complicated. It also raised concerns that the depiction might reinforce homophobic beliefs rather than understanding and empathy, Hotvedt said.

“If you are 18 and you are walking into a campus, you have your own junk about homophobia and in a 20-45 minute program, if we are trying to challenge some of those norms, it throws most straight 18-year-old students off,” Hotvedt said. “That doesn’t mean its not important, it just means for the purposes of this school, the other examples we saw really confused the issues.”

Ultimately, both Phelps and Hotvedt hope the video will allow students to see past who is or is not a potential victim, but rather spur conversation about being a “good bystander.”

In addition to this program on sexual harassment prevention, ASM also hosted a campus safety nighttime walking tour as part of its Sexual Assault Awareness campaign in order to identify unsafe areas on and off campus.

Although the safety walk was neither in collaboration or in result of the ‘Tonight’ program, ASM hopes to continue educating students on how to be situationally aware of campus safety and sexual harassment, ASM’s University Affairs Chair Becca Buell said in an email to The Badger Herald.

“We are currently looking into cosponsoring with organizations on campus, particularly with UHS in helping increase awareness of ways to be safe on campus and what help is available for victims of sexual assault,” Buell said.

Editor’s note: Badger Herald employees Sigrid Hubertz and Ryan Rainey participated in the filming of Tonight as paid extras.