Why Chatham should not force students to take EverFi’s Haven

Several weeks ago the Office of Student Affairs sent out an email informing students that there was an additional requirement that needed to be completed by juniors, seniors, and graduate students before they would be permitted to register for the Fall of 2015. This involved a 30-45 minute online course called Haven, powered by a company known as EverFi and was intended to arm students with information regarding sexual assault and abusive relationships in order for students to be, “engaged bystanders and community members dedicated to preventing sexual assault and violence.”

The program overall is an excellent source of information, particularly for first year and sophomore students. Additionally it provides fantastic resources for people who are in dangerous situations or have recently been exposed to a harmful circumstance. As a former RA here at Chatham, I know first hand how crucial it is to have an informed community because it enables us to protect one another from dangerous situations.

When  the course began, there was a quick little statement about how the material might be ‘disturbing’ to some people and, if a student felt the need, to look at the resource page for help. As someone who has been through an abusive relationship, I took note of it but since I had put off the course until the last minute–ironically because I had no desire to read about relationship safety and to be reminded of my own former relationship–I just wanted to get the thing over with so I could register for my final semester. So I began the course.

Unfortunately that trigger-warning label was real. It took about five minutes for me to come across material that started me down the path of panic attacks and flashbacks. However, being the rule follower that I am, I kept going because I really just wanted to register for my classes. I quickly clicked through, skipping as much as I could just to make the thing go away.

I was near the end, my heart racing, and one armed wrapped around my golden retriever, when I remembered that the program had mentioned a resource toolbar if students needed help. Figuring that clicking on the thing was hardly going to make the situation worse,  I clicked and was taken to a list that–while it did have wonderful resources for finding help while in a toxic relationship–there was nothing there to help students who had been triggered by the test. I finished the program, shut down the computer, and spent the next 24-hours trying to pull myself back together.

Chatham needs to be aware that the world is not comprised solely of people just waiting to be informed about these topics. There are a number of people on our campus who have been victims of sexual assault and relationship abuse and have moved on from these events. We’ve worked hard to get over these experiences, gone to therapy, relied on friends for support, and learned what triggers us. Chatham needs to remember us, sympathize with us, and give us another option besides a program that comes with a clear trigger warning label.

Additionally, it is not enough just to provide the option as something students need to inquire about. People avoid things that are going to cause them harm. When I read over the email several weeks ago, I chose to put it off until the last possible moment because I really did not care to think about the subject any more than I needed to, and it did not occur to me to petition to get out of it. An opt-out should be stated clearly in the introductory material sent out from the University.

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