Most of us feel strongly that sexual violence is wrong, but the messages from popular culture about sex, gender, relationships–and especially consent–are confusing. Stories can help us sort through the mixed messages and connect our language and behavior to our beliefs. From the time we are children, it is the stories we are told that teach us what our culture believes and what behavior is acceptable. This is why We End Violence chose a narrative format for the online prevention program, Agent of Change.
Yale University agrees.
Yale is now using fictional encounters to explain disciplinary policies on sexual misconduct. Thomas Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, told the New York Times that “scholarly research and the experience of other schools like Duke University indicated they were an effective tool for communication.”
According to the article, the Yale scenarios describe fictional students in a variety of situations which are meant to help clarify the meaning of non-consensual sex. A member of Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale said her group wants to work with Yale administrators to develop more of them.
Narrative is effective for teaching because it is engaging. This is particularly important for topics laden with emotional and cultural baggage. A lecture about sexual violence statistics, or the damage sexual violence does to individuals, will not engage those who believe it only happens to other people and therefore does not concern them. But a story about characters who are grappling with these hard issues from different points of view will create involvement. A story can mirror reality, model behavior and language, and allow us to explore alternatives.
Students in the first-year experience class at the University of California at Santa Barbara played Agent of Change last spring. Here are a couple of their comments about the use of narrative:
“Compared to other trainings, this course provides social interaction about relevant problems in our college society, while
other programs do not. I enjoy the real life examples because it allows me to immerse myself into the situation and use
problem solving skills. Other courses are easy to bypass through the information and not take it seriously, but this training
makes sure you listen and soak in the information that is being presented to you.”
“Instead of just stating facts about rape, stalking, and violence the characters talked about them in normal conversations that
were extremely realistic.”
The majority of the students said the program was helpful. Many of them said they learned new ways to deal with difficult situations.
Agent of Change accomplishes this by illustrating to students that their actions can and do make a difference and have an impact (motivation); that effective actions can be simple and safe (ability); and that there are numerous common opportunities in everyday situations to take action (trigger). Compelling the student to make a choice reinforces the lesson that each individual has an effect which can be positive or negative. Their choice is embedded within the narrative so they are shown a model of how and where their action can occur.
To read more about the theories used to develop Agent of Change, click here.
To see the independent evaluation that found Agent of Change is successful in challenging students to re-evaluate preconceived ideas surrounding sexual violence, click here.
If you would like to experience the program for yourself, send us an info request form here.
Director, We End Violence