Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Cougar Health Services amber.morczek

Violence prevention for graduate students

Violence prevention for graduate students

As a graduate student, you can take an active role to stop violence from happening on our campus. By knowing what your barriers are and what you can do about them, you’ll be ready to make WSU a safer place to live, work, and learn.

Violence prevention for a graduate student will probably be different than it would for an undergraduate. Conversations about violence sometimes focus on social settings like parties where people are drinking, but maybe you’ve seen someone in a professional or academic setting do something hurtful. This could be a faculty member, fellow graduate student, or one of your students.

Gender-based violence and other harmful behavior like harassment and discrimination can come in many different forms and can happen regardless of education or position.

We all experience barriers to taking action when we see something that concerns us. As a graduate or professional student you might’ve felt:

  • Scared of professional retaliation
  • Hesitant because it’s not your business
  • Worried about what others in your department will think if you spoke up
  • Uncertain about who you can talk to
  • Concerned about power dynamics in a relationship (for example, committee chair and student, supervising faculty member and TA or RA, lab partner and you)

So how can you work around these barriers? The answer is to direct, delegate, or distract.

Direct. Do something yourself. If you’re concerned about someone, ask them directly how they’re doing and if you can help. If a lab mate or a student appear to be struggling, ask questions like, “Hey, is everything going okay?” or, “Do you need anything?”

Delegate. Ask someone else for help. Sometimes you aren’t the best person to intervene in a given situation. Asking someone else for help is always an option. Talk with your department chair, a faculty member you trust, or a fellow student.

Concerned about a student under your supervision? Contact the AWARE Network. The AWARE Network allows you to share concerns about a student’s emotional or psychological wellbeing, physical health, or academic performance with colleagues who can help.

Distract. Diffuse the situation by diverting people’s attention. For example, if you see someone treating another person in a way that’s not okay, try to distract from what’s happening. For example, you could chime in and start a conversation about an unrelated topic.

If you or someone you know experiences harassment, discrimination or gender-based violence there are resources available to help.

Want to learn more about how you can prevent violence? Check out our toolkit for faculty and staff and sign up for updates on violence prevention.

Cultural norms about sexual assault

The culture we live in shapes how we view issues like sex- and gender-based violence. Cultural norms can perpetuate myths about what violence is, who perpetrates it, and how we respond.

Rape culture is a term used to describe the various ways sexual violence is normalized, condoned, excused, and encouraged by prevailing social practices, attitudes, and behaviors. Examples include:

  • Seeing gender roles as rigid and unchanging. We often see this play out in popular music and movies. Women are often treated like sexual objects, and men are often portrayed as dominant and aggressive.
  • Refusing to believe victims of sexual violence when they come forward
  • Excusing and minimizing men’s violence toward women – and other men – with words like, “boys will be boys”

Because we’re constantly surrounded by these ideas, they can influence our views in ways we may not even realize. But there are small, manageable things everyone can do to help reduce the effects of rape culture.

Examine the media you consume. This doesn’t mean avoiding movies or TV shows that normalize violence (though that is an option). This simply means you can be more aware of the messages they send and think about how they contribute to a culture that supports violence.

Stay informed. Learn more about cultural norms surrounding rape culture by watching documentaries. Start with Miss Representation, a documentary about how women are represented in media. Another good one is The Mask You Live In, which talks about how boys and men navigate a culture with narrow views on masculinity.

Speak your mind. If someone makes a comment that makes you feel uncomfortable or concerned, you have options for responding to that person.

Support victims and survivors. If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, believe them and let them know they have options.

Small actions make a difference. Sometimes issues like this seem overwhelming, but remember: No one has to do everything, but everyone can do something.

To learn more, request a presentation for your student group on the topic of rape culture.

Get the facts! Violence myths vs. reality

Inaccurate beliefs about sex- and gender-based violence are common. Let’s talk about some of these myths, and more importantly – let’s find out what’s really going on.

Myth: Violence like sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking doesn’t happen that often.

Reality: College students across the country experience violence every day, and many will experience violence before they even get to college.  

Myth: People make bad decisions and put themselves in situations where sexual assault might happen.

Reality: Someone is making a choice to harm another person who is vulnerable (if they’ve been drinking, for example). If you or someone you know experiences sex- and gender-based violence, know it’s not your fault and there are people on this campus and in our community who can help.

Myth: You can’t be victimized by your partner.

Reality: Sexual assault can happen within any relationship, whether people have been together for years or if they’ve just started seeing each other. Sex without consent is sexual assault, even if two people have had consensual sex in the past.

Myth: It’s unlikely that anyone I know would sexually assault someone.

Reality: Anyone, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, or other characteristics, can perpetrate violence. Sometimes they’re our friends, our family, or the people we sit next to in class.

Myth: Most people are sexually assaulted by strangers.

Reality: Sexual assault most often occurs between people who know each other. Situations involving strangers committing sexual assault do happen, but they’re rare on college campuses. Most of the time, sexual assault occurs between people who know each other, and in situations where people feel like they are safe (apartments, residence halls, houses, parties, etc.)

Myth: Violence is inevitable, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.

Reality: Everyone can do something to prevent violence! For example, you can:

Stay tuned this semester to learn more about how you can make our community safer. You can also subscribe to receive email updates about our collaborative prevention efforts.

Identifying abusive relationships

Identifying abusive relationships

We’re often in a good position to spot abusive behaviors in our friends’ relationships. But some of the signs of unhealthy relationships can look a lot like normal couple interactions. How can you tell the difference?

It can be hard to know for sure whether someone else is in a healthy relationship, but having a foundational understanding of abusive behaviors will help you notice potential warning signs and take action to help your friend if they need it.

First, let’s look at some examples of what normal couples experience.

Jealousy. It’s totally normal to feel a little upset it we see someone else flirting with our partner.

Conflict. It’s true – every relationship has conflict. We all have different perspectives and life experiences, and sometimes we clash.

Spending less time with friends. This is especially common early on in a relationship when you want to spend every waking minute together.

While these are often normal behaviors in a relationship, at what point might they be signs of abuse? Take a closer look. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do those feelings of jealousy pass after both people talk about how they’re feeling? Or do they lead one person to act possessive and controlling over their partner?
  • When conflict arises, do both people have an equal say, and do they both feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel? Or does one person hold back their feelings for fear of upsetting their partner?
  • Do both partners seem happy when they see each other? Do they both light up when they get millions of texts from their partner, or do they get frustrated, or even scared, when they get these messages?
  • Are partners spending all of their time together because they both want to? Or because one person demands it of the other?

Close friends are often in the best position to spot abusive behaviors in someone else’s relationship. The key is to pay attention and if you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable – it’s time to check in. Start by just asking your friend, “How are things going in your relationship?”

Try and put yourself in your friend’s position. You would probably want someone to step in, offer support, and help you identify potential resources and options. You can be that person for your friend.

Sexual assault within relationships

Sex should always be a positive, healthy and consensual experience for everyone involved. Remember: sex without consent is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is common on college campuses. In most instances, the two people involved know each other. Victims may even be in a relationship with the person who is taking advantage of them.

It’s not always easy to identify sexual assault within the context of a relationship. When we think about sexual assault, we tend to think about behaviors that are obviously violent or forceful. But sexual assault in a relationship doesn’t always appear this way. Plus, it’s hard to imagine our partner would hurt us.

So what does sexual assault within a relationship look like? Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether this might be happening to you or someone you care about.

Has your partner ever…

  • Pressured you to engage in sexual acts you weren’t comfortable with?
  • Had sex with you when you were unable to voluntarily consent after drinking?
  • Made you watch or imitate pornography without your consent?
  • Asked repeatedly to have sex even when you’ve told them no?
  • Acted annoyed or whiny when you turn down sex?
  • Called you selfish or made you feel guilty for not wanting sex?
  • Threatened to cheat on you if you refuse sex?
  • Become verbally or physically abusive if you don’t want to have sex?
  • Refused to use condoms, or blocked access to contraception?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be seeing signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Keep in mind that sexual assault is prohibited at WSU, and there are many resources available to help if you or someone you know needs them.

Remember, consent must be present every time sexual activity occurs, even in relationships.

You should never feel obligated or pressured to engage in any sexual activity. It’s not your fault if someone hurts you. It’s normal to feel betrayed, hurt, angry and confused.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and supported in a relationship. For more information on creating and maintaining healthy relationships, request a workshop for your group.

Tips for a healthy relationship

Tips for a healthy relationship

Did you know that in a one-year period, 8 percent of Cougs experienced physical or emotional abuse in their relationship (ACHA-NCHA, 2016)? Dating violence impacts individuals and communities.

As members of the WSU community, we care about the wellbeing of Cougs. It’s important to talk not only about what violence looks like, but also what a healthy relationship looks like.

October is Domestic Violence Action Month. In honor of this month, here are some healthy relationship tips you can try.

  1. Talk about personal boundaries. Having a shared understanding of your physical and emotional wants, needs and expectations is crucial for a healthy relationship.
  2. Respect boundaries. What feels comfortable and normal for you might be totally different than your partner. Make sure to listen to and respect their needs.
  3. Talk openly and often. Honest communication about how you are feeling is an essential trait of a healthy relationship. Take some time out of a weekend together to chat about how things are going and talk about areas of your relationship you want to improve.
  4. Hear what your partner has to say. You should be able to listen to one another without judgment, anger or fear of retaliation.
  5. Build each other up. Mutual support is crucial for a healthy relationship. If it seems like your partner is feeling insecure about something or doubting themselves, offer some words of encouragement or reassurance.
  6. Don’t be afraid of conflict. You will disagree with each other at various points in your relationship. That’s normal. Constant conflict, or making your partner feel guilty about how they feel, is not.
  7. Take time apart. Your partner shouldn’t pressure you to hang out 24/7. It’s both normal and healthy to need space. Being together doesn’t mean being together all the time.
  8. Recognize feelings of discomfort. You should feel safe in your relationship and trust your partner. Feelings of insecurity are normal, but they shouldn’t take over your relationship or turn into controlling behaviors (like looking at your partner’s cell phone to see who they are texting or dictating who they can or can’t hang out with).

Remember, relationships have natural highs and lows. If you ever feel unsafe in a relationship, know support is available. If you’re having trouble assessing if your relationship is healthy, try this quiz.

Want to learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics? Attend one of our workshops.