By Amber Baillie, Academy Public Affairs / Published April 11, 2014
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) --
Academy football players recently participated in a new training initiative intended to help them become better leaders on and off the field and to take a stand against sexual assault.
Approximately 60 cadets, football coaches and staff participated in the Mentor in Violence Prevention program here April 3-4 where MVP facilitators allowed participants to share personal stories and dialogue on key issues concerning rape, battery and sexual harassment.
"We selected the football team to receive the training because football is our largest and most recognizable program," said Dr. Hans Mueh, the Academy's athletic director. "We hope they will continue to be leaders in the Cadet Wing with this training and be an example for other programs and cadets to follow. We want to take a very aggressive approach to help prevent violent actions and reactions, and using our most recognizable program seemed to be a great place to start. In addition, we're really pushing respect for others in the athletic department and this training is a great complement to that initiative."
Duane de Four, an MVP facilitator, said cadets were very honest with their questions, doubts and concerns.
"Everyone was very receptive to everything that was shared," de Four said. "We had quite a few individuals disclose personal experiences of abuse and (who knew) others close to them who had experienced sexual assault."
Facilitators encouraged the team to use their influence here in a proactive way by motivating others and being active bystanders by interrupting, confronting, and preventing violence by their peers and others.
"I recently presented this program on another college campus," said Josh Jasper, an MVP facilitator. "A student came up to me about a week after the training and said, 'Josh I was there this past weekend. One of my buddies was trying to take a drunk girl home and I felt I could go and say something. The student felt encouraged that he had stopped a potential sexual assault."
De Four said sometimes people don't intervene in uncomfortable situations because they think they only have two options: to do nothing or step in and fight someone.
"We try to get them to think of different ways they can get involved and be active bystanders," he said. "Whatever method of intervention is most comfortable to them is the best method. As long as they do something, we've been successful."
We want to leave athletes feeling empowered and knowing that they are in fact leaders here, Jasper said.
"The next step is being an empowered bystander in an incident of harassment, abuse or violence," he said. "We hope that if they're in a situation where they can respond or alter the situation in a positive way that they would, and will share this information with their peers."
Facilitators talked openly with cadets about party culture, pressures around sex and practical options in response to incidents of harassment, abuse, or violence before, during, or after the fact.
"A simple activity we do to get a conversation started is to present a statement to students and ask them to tell us if they agree or disagree with it," de Four said. "It's an opportunity to dialogue back and forth or even debate with each other. It also gives us (the facilitators) an opportunity to see where they're at and that helps guide us as we do the rest of the training."
The MVP program was created in 1993 and cofounded by Dr. Jackson Katz, one of the architects of the Defense Department's bystander intervention training approach to sexual assault prevention. The program encourages high school and college students, and professional athletes to join the fight against all forms of men's violence against women.
"Football players here are culture influencers," said Teresa Beasley, the Academy's sexual assault response coordinator. "They're looked up to, and we want them to use their talent to encourage and mentor people. The purpose of training is to help reduce risk and prevent bad things from happening such as sexual assault, sexual harassment or even DUIs."
The hope is that the training isn't just for the weekend but for the long-term, Beasley said.
"We want to bring all Academy athletes into it because they're cultural shifters," she said. "The MVP facilitators are to revisit the Academy in August. We hope to grow this training and get everyone here to embrace it."
Jasper said he looks forward to a sustained initiative, already in the Academy's plans.
"Sexual assault is a major public health issue, and the language that is used here sets the climate," he said. "We're glad we've been able to spark these initial conversations and look forward to coming back and having an opportunity to do more of this at the Academy."