The decline of universities serving in loco parentis (in the place of parents) began in 1961 with the Dixon versus Alabama case that propelled due process for students into the limelight. Since then, universities have sought to keep parents at arm’s length. Orientation programs are designed to separate students from parents and ensure that parents leave their children as soon as possible so that the process of becoming a college student can begin. And universities use FERPA as a tool for keeping communication solely with the student and the university, despite parents’ objections to the contrary. But recently, parents have emerged as a focal point again for universities who see the value in partnering with them on a variety of strategies: for better 4-year graduation rates; for meeting university deadlines, policies, and procedures; for additional funding opportunities; and for helping their students succeed overall.
Rather than parents hesitating to send their students to college for fear of sexual assault, let’s invite them into the dialogue, and discuss ways they can help us change the culture together. Recent studies have shown that parents can have an effect on reducing not only binge drinking, but also non consensual sexual activity related to binge drinking.
In “Do Parents Still Matter? Parent and Peer Influences on Alcohol Involvement among Recent High School Graduates” published in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the authors found that perceived parent involvement leads to weaker peer influence and related alcohol use and associated problems. And in “Preventing College Women’s Sexual Victimization through Parent Based Intervention: A Randomized Control Trial,” authors Maria Testa, Joseph Hoffman, Jennifer Livingston, and Rob Turris designed a Parent Based Intervention (PBI) to reduce the incidence of alcohol-involved sexual victimization among first-year college students. Students who had conversations with mothers that received the PBI (an educational handbook) saw lower incidences of incapacitated rape.
With the enormous responsibilities and pressure that colleges are facing, it might be daunting to consider adding yet another subset to training and education around sexual assault. Some states, like New York, are even requiring that parents become a part of the college’s educational platform. Asking parents to be a part of your institution’s sexual assault prevention program, however, can be an important part in your prevention toolkit, and it can serve the dual purpose of helping to communicate your institution’s commitment to the issue. With myriad ways for universities to include parents (from admission events to orientation programs, and even a simple letter with resources and guides), the changing culture around parent involvement just might help us also change the culture on sexual assault.
For more resources and our webinar on getting parents involved click here.