Student interns work to prevent sexual assault, discrimination

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Title IX Office student interns conduct many of the university’s prevention trainings. Pictured left to right: Ike Minton, graduate student in Music, Sona Kaur, graduate student in psychology, Mia Buak, undergraduate student in legal studies, and Alea Evans, undergraduate student in psychology.
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The interns presented information to new students in the Quarry Ampitheater.

For the first time, the UC Santa Cruz Title IX Office has student interns who are working to prevent sexual assault and discrimination on campus.

The paid internships were created to increase student engagement with and by the Title IX Office. The Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor’s Office provided the financial support for the program.

This year, the office hired two undergraduates and two graduate students. They will be working throughout the year—between five to 20 hours a week—doing peer-led workshops and education and devising their own projects.

“We’re going to see what ideas the students come up with,” said Laura Young-Hinck, the response coordinator for the Title IX Office. “We want the students to develop the internship program.”

According to the Title IX website, the office is “committed to fostering a campus climate in which members of our community are protected from all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender-based harassment and discrimination.”

Approved in 1972, Title IX prohibits educational institutions receiving federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex.

Sexual abuse in college is rampant across the country. Recent studies have found that one in 16 male-identified students and one in four women-identified students are sexually assaulted in college, Young-Hinck said.

She said she hopes the interns will help eliminate barriers to reporting or getting help and increase communication and conversation between the Title IX Office and students.

Read on to learn more about each intern:

Alea Evans

A fourth-year student studying psychology, Alea Evans is glad to do anything she can to help make the campus safer for everyone.

Growing up in Oakland, she found that sexual violence was prevalent but tolerated in the community. She finds that with people of color, incidents are less likely to be reported. “It’s really important to me as a person of color on campus that my face is seen so (sexual violence) doesn’t just seem like a problem for non-people of color,” she said.

Among the jobs she has taken on as a Title IX intern is reaching out to resident assistants in dorms to let them know about the Title IX office and what it does and to let them know that the interns and staff are available to participate in workshops or give talks.

She hopes to let people know that the office does not just deal with crimes but also gender discrimination. She wants students who are non-binary or trans to know that if they feel discriminated because of gender identity, they can report it to the Title IX office.

Evans is also interested in helping people think of ways they can make the campus safer. As an inspiring example, Evans pointed to a story shared by one of her fellow interns. The intern was at a party and saw people dancing with a girl who they were trying to convince to come home with them. The intern didn’t think the girl had the ability at that time to give consent so the intern found the party host, who then found the girl’s friends, who took care of the problem.

It’s important to speak up when you see something wrong, Evans said. “If you don’t feel comfortable, you can delegate to someone who knows what they’re doing,” like an authority figure, she said.

Mia Buak

Mia Buak, a third-year legal studies major, is passionate about women’s rights and has volunteered at Santa Cruz’s Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center which assists victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment.

The Santa Cruz native said she is interested in empowering women to have a voice and say no to unwanted attention. It’s a tough road because most females learn from a young age to not say no strongly, she said. “People try to be nice and say ‘not right now.’” Buak believes there should be more education about assertiveness and the freedom everyone has to say no.

Buak said it is often hard for victims of abuse to report what happened because there is still a lot of shame about it. When she interned at the probation department, she found that people would often recant their accusations and say that they didn’t want to pursue any prosecution.

To in some way combat that attitude, the Title IX interns emphasized to new students at trainings this year that even if drugs or alcohol were involved, students may still report abusive behavior. The interns tried to be clear that use of substance should never hold someone back from addressing abuse.

She hopes that in her internship she can help raise more awareness about the campus’s Title IX office. She thinks the office is more known for investigating abuse than for its role in prevention and education. She hopes that through the interns’ work, students will feel the office is more approachable to get information or ask questions.

Sona Kaur

Sona Kaur, a doctoral student studying social psychology, is focusing on raising awareness of emotional and psychological abuse in intimate partner relationships. This aspect of abuse is often overlooked because you can’t see it as easily, she said.

She believes students are aware in general of what unhealthy relationships look like and what sexual violence looks like, but at times it can be difficult to label certain behaviors as such. They sometimes have trouble addressing these issues with their partners because there is so much else to take into account- like their feelings about the person and the time they’ve invested in the relationship. “There are just so many things that cloud the experience,” she said. “It can be difficult to do something about it.”

Like her fellow Title IX intern Ike Minton, she is interested in how pop culture conveys relationships. “I’m really interested in looking at how different media forms romanticize violence and unhealthy relationships,” she said. For instance, she is intrigued that movies like the Twilight series and 50 Shades of Gray and more recently, the Netflix series You are so popular while depicting abusive relationships. She also examined Bollywood movies that romanticize abusive practices.

She wants to focus on the tricky role graduate students find themselves in navigating Title IX. On one hand, as teachers, they must be able to provide support and resources to undergraduates affected by harassment and violence. On the other hand, as students themselves, they may experience an abuse of power by faculty and professors who serve as their advisors.

Kaur is also beginning to work on a campaign to promote sexual violence awareness month in April and to create some kind of workshop or event that will bring together different people on campus who are researching or working on ways to keep all students and faculty safe from abuse and harassment.

Ike Minton

Ike Minton, a composer, keyboardist, oboist, and doctoral student in music, was inspired to become an intern because of his own experiences with friends and family facing harassment.

He is keenly aware of the responsibility members of a university community have to students. Many times, students put a lot of trust in the university system and its people. When that trust is broken, it can scar students, he said. “If we’re going to place responsibility on teachers for helping guide our next generation, we need to make sure those relationships are cultivated to help people grow, not scare them away,” he said.

Minton is particularly interested in how popular culture affects relationships. He is doing his own research to find songs that give examples of affirmative consent—where someone asks for a yes before moving a relationship into romantic contact. There are some but they are hard to find, he said. He asked incoming students if they knew of any such songs during his presentations about Title IX in the beginning of the year. After surveying about 5,000 students, one student came up with one example: “Get a Yes” by Sad 13.

His goal is to get more people talking about what affirmative consent means. He likes when he gets students talking about this issue, even if they disagree or aren’t sure what it means. “It’s OK to have boundaries, it’s OK to say ‘no,’ to some things and ‘yes’ to others,” he said.

He believes the situation would be much improved for everyone if the culture shifted from putting the emphasis only on someone to disagree (a “no means no” model) to ideas around affirmative consent (all parties working through a more conversational approach to dialogue).