By Vanessa Smith
A new sexual assualt course will not only give students class credits, it will give them the opportunity to help others in need of sexual assault counseling.
The class, taught by Laura Weiss, Northeastern’s sexual assualt counselor, informs students of the misconceptions surrounding sexual assualt and qualifies them to work at the sexual assualt hotline scheduled to open spring semester.
“It’s been a great experience thus far,” Weiss said.
The class, titled Sexual Assault Training: Counseling and Education, is designed to “provide an in-depth examination of sexual violence, its effects and the resources available to assist survivors,” stated the course syllabus.
“Even if students don’t use the hotline, these students will have such rich knowledge of sexual assault,” Weiss said. “Our goal is to train students to be peer educators.”
The Massachusetts Depart-ment of Public Health determines what material is to be covered in the class. The curriculum teaches peer counseling as well as sexual assault prevention methods, Weiss said. Weiss stresses listening skills by engaging the class in different listening and paraphrasing activities, she said.
Later in the semester, she intends to practice role-playing with the students and to have several speakers from both Northeastern and the Boston community. Speakers will include officials from the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, North-eastern Police Department officials and nurses from local hospitals.
“It’s important that students have an in-depth knowledge of their resources,” Weiss said.
For now, the class is limited to 15 people in order to maintain a lively, interactive environment. There are no men in the class, but Weiss said she thinks both men and women could benefit from the information. The class is open to anyone, and is being offered as a general elective in special topics in Human Services. Only one text is currently used in the class — “Lucky,” a memoir by Alice Sebold that details her own experience with sexual assault and rape.
Sexual assault training is another step Northeastern has taken to reform its counseling centers. Weiss was added as a counselor specializing in sexual assault last year after Michael Romano, former Student Government Association (SGA) president, and the Res-ident Student Association (RSA) pushed for better resources for victims of sexual assault.
The issue was first brought to Romano’s attention when he was vice president for student affairs. During his term as vice president, three students told him they had been sexually assaulted on campus, he said.
“It really wasn’t a small issue,” Romano said. He recalled one student saying, “The sexual assault resources aren’t bad; they’re non-existent.”
After learning two previous attempts several years ago pushing for a coordinatior had failed to get results, Romano decided to make a change. The student organizations SGA and RSA united to compose a joint resolution stating the “irrefutable need for the creation of a sexual assault counselor on campus.” After the push by both student groups, Weiss was hired.
Although Weiss specializes in sexual assault, she is also available for other types of counseling.
“Just because someone sees me doesn’t mean they’ve been assaulted,” Weiss said.
Nicole Martino, SGA vice president for student services and a member of the class, said it is a great service to offer students.
“The class is fascinating,” said the middler criminal justice major. “It’s really interesting to find out the truth, and almost scary to a point.”
Laura Weiss’ office is in the Center for Counseling and Student Development at 301 Ell Hall. She can also be reached by phone at (617) 373-2142.