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From Dateline (September 30, 2004)

Itís All About Being Informed and Aware

Cal State Fullerton alumna Susan Leavy (B.A. psychology ’74, M.S. counseling ’81) has found a new home at an old haunt – a little more than a year ago she returned to her alma mater as the new community educator in the Women’s Center.

The new position is partially funded by a donation from another alumna, Kathy Allred-Blake (B.A. business administration-management ’83). Leavy, a licensed marriage family therapist with about 25 years of experience in rape prevention/survivor services, was tasked with designing, developing and implementing educational programs and outreach efforts related to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, sexual harassment and stalking.


Q: What does your job entail?

My primary charge is to ultimately keep our students as aware and prepared as possible so violent assaults don’t occur. State and federal education codes mandate that we educate not only students, but administrators, students and staff about sexual assault and sexual assault prevention. So I find myself talking to coaches and staff members who deal with sororities and fraternities. We work with University Police, as well as with athletics, housing, student health services and other offices that work with students.

Our university community can create a fairly comprehensive program to keep students informed and aware. It’s really important that we connect and work together.


Q: How do you reach students to educate them about domestic and dating violence, sexual harassment and assault?

I reach most students through our Gender Alliance Program, but I also do presentations in University 100, a Freshman Programs class that teaches incoming students study habits and other fundamentals. The class includes sexual self-protection and I use the Gender Alliance Program to create a vitaldialogue between women and men. I also lead one of the noon programs put on at the Women’s Center each semester, and different professors will ask me to give presentations in their classroom. Truly wherever I can get in, I’m there.


Q: What is the Gender Alliance Program?

It’s a program established to improve communication between women and men by challenging students’ stereotypes. We go into the classroom and divide the students by gender and then ask them four questions about their gender socialization and expectations.

What we found is that men and women want the same things: good communication, love and trust, but they have been socialized to seek them in different ways. Asking these questions helps students begin a dialogue about real stuff and hopefuly will help them feel more com-fortable about discussing what they want and don’t want – on their first date, the fifth date, in a relationship, etc. We definitely have made enormous headway with this program.



What’s your biggest challenge?


Cal State Fullerton is a commuter college, so being able to educate students is a little more challenging because they can get in their cars and go home. That’s why I want to work more closely with athletics, the fraternities and sororities – to try and reach populations we haven’t reached that well yet.


Q: What do you find are female students’ biggest misperceptions about sexual assault?

Their misperceptions are pretty much the same as women in the general popu-lation. One of the biggest: sexual assault is perpetrated by a stranger, someone that jumps out and drags the victim into the bushes – or kidnaps them. Yet, research has shown that 90 percent of sexual assault is by someone known by the victim.

Also, 75 percent of campus rape in Orange County involves alcohol. We’re talking about the age group of 15- to 19-year-old women, and dealing with the combination of college freshmen free from their parents and drugs or alcohol – it’s a volatile combination. I encourage them to make wise choices and to remember that drugs and alcohol can make for an unsafe atmosphere. Many think sexual assault is not going to happen to them, and then when it does – by a friend or a roommate’s boyfriend that takes advantage because they have been drinking or doing drugs – they don’t call it sexual assault. They think it’s their fault because it was someone they knew.

Part of my job is encouraging former victims to talk about the assault, to get over an acquaintance rape by placing the responsibility on the person responsible for it – and then to move on. I give two messages to students: This is what sexual assault is, and this is how you can stay safe. The number one best rape prevention is communication – stating what is OK and not OK.


Q: You’ve been in this position for a year now – how well has it gone?

I’ve worked my whole life for this job and have received great support from the campus community. Campus members believe that our efforts are important and are willing to participate. That says a lot about Cal State Fullerton and its commitment to students holistically.