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Students criticize Northwestern's sexual health orientation programming – Daily Northwestern

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman
Members of the class of 2025 and transfers sit with their peer advisers during Wildcat Welcome.The Office for Student Transition Experiences will work with peer advisers to revise the sexual health True Northwestern Dialogue after student criticisms.
Nicole Markus, Senior Staffer

The Office of Student Transition Experiences is re-evaluating Wildcat Welcome amid student criticism of the True Northwestern Dialogue centered on sexual health programming. 
Some students have expressed that the 30-minute YouTube video serving as the foundation of the sexual health TND lacks nuance. Director for Student Transition Experiences Josh McKenzie said the office plans to re-examine this programming, along with other aspects of Wildcat Welcome.
Each year … we revisit the previous year’s programs and review what worked, what didn’t and what additionally needs to be considered for this upcoming population,” McKenzie said. “Regardless of how well any one program did, tweaks are always planned.”
The video features students acting out a skit on Zoom, as they discuss sexual assault, health and wellness. 
The skit features a student making jokes about the COVID-19 pandemic. Other students join him on the Zoom call and discuss various aspects of sexual wellness.
“Many of you might be thinking, it’s strange to be talking about sexual violence prevention during a global pandemic,’” the student says in the video. “Maybe you can’t imagine being closer than six feet with your fellow Wildcats, much less being sexual with them in-person right now.”
The Office of Student Transition Experiences worked with NU’s Center for Awareness, Response and Education, Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators and Masculinity, Allyship, Reflection, Solidarity to produce the TND video.
The “Student Body” TND is one of three orientation modules shown annually during the weeklong Wildcat Welcome orientation programming in September. Along with sexual health, TNDs cover diversity and inclusion and mental health. 
To measure TND’s efficacy, students completed a survey at the end of Wildcat Welcome, McKenzie said, and about 95% of students successfully identified the five key components of consent. 
But some students and peer advisers said the TND did not succeed in its stated goals. Medill freshman Erin Palmero called the TND “disgraceful.”
After watching the video, Palmero said her PA group’s discussion focused on critiquing the video’s structure.
“The video on Youtube, that could be really damaging,” Palmero said. “It was pretty disgusting to watch sexual assault … become a joke.”
During Medill junior Vaibhavi Hemasundar’s freshman year, the Student Body TND was performed as an in-person musical. Hemasundar said the presentation was “engaging” and led to important discussions. 
To adapt to pandemic restrictions implemented in the months leading up September’s WIldcat Welcome, McKenzie said the office worked to decrease the large, indoor gatherings — which led to keeping the TNDs in mostly video format.
Hemasundar, who was a PA for the past two years, said the current issues surrounding the TND arose from the pandemic-related change in format to a Zoom-based skit. While the follow-up discussion was in-person this year, the skit was still shown as a video, rather than convening the entire freshman class for a performance.
“Part of the reason that the reformatted TND was not received well was because it came across as not being taken seriously by administration,” Hemasundar said.
McKenzie said there will be additional spaces for this year’s PAs, many of whom were freshmen during Wildcat Welcome 2021, to share their feedback as the University navigates bringing the TND back to a fully in-person format.
“What we found from student feedback, such as the post-Wildcat Welcome surveys, was that change in format from in-person to virtual meant nuance of messaging and content was lost in delivery and was not received as it had been when in person,” McKenzie said.
Hemasundar said changing the TND back to an in-person space could alleviate some of the criticisms associated with the messaging. 
Palmero said the virtual format of the TND was not conducive to learning.
“I think the TND should be run by PAs and should not be accompanied by a video,” Palmero said. “The video, as it is now, creates (a) conversation of critique.”
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @nicolejmarkus
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