University of Michigan researchers are working closely with faculty and students in Ghana to create a sexual violence prevention and education program at the University of Cape Coast.
SAPAC is working with the U-M Injury Center to create an adaptation of Relationship Remix that can be used by other schools and colleges to develop their own prevention programming. So far more than a dozen U.S colleges and universities are interested. The programming is in the early stages and is expected to be available in fall 2018.
Together they discuss gender-based violence and what it means to give consent to help create a culturally appropriate spin-off of U-M’s Relationship Remix.
“We are trying to understand the phenomenon of sexual violence within Ghana and how students talk about consent, and what sexual violence and sexual harassment even mean to them,” says Michelle Munro-Kramer, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and one of the researchers on the project.
“For many of the students, it is the first time the topics are being addressed so openly among men and women in a conservative culture that experiences a high rate of gender inequality,” she adds.
Munro-Kramer is collaborating with another U-M researcher whose focus also is reproductive health in Ghana, Sarah Rominski of Global REACH, the Medical School’s international initiative. Combined, the two have traveled to Ghana more than 20 times since 2009, and have been specifically focusing on this project since 2015.
The model program
Relationship Remix — offered each fall to first-year students in U-M residence halls, and to incoming graduate students and international students — focuses on key components surrounding communication, consent and healthy relationships.
It’s delivered to students by students through more than 140 volunteers from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and University Health Services’ Wolverine Wellness program.
“Relationship Remix is an effective, evidence-based program that opens the door for students to gain valuable life skills that not only apply in creating healthy and respectful relationships now but also in the future,” says Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of SAPAC.
“Knowing how to ask for consent in sexual activity, knowing how to ask for what you want and need in a relationship are skills students will use throughout their lives.”
Students talk through different scenarios to highlight healthy relationships and increase awareness of the many support resources available to the U-M community. They discuss what constitutes sexual assault, practice communicating how to give and receive consent, and include situations where alcohol is a factor.
As a former volunteer with SAPAC, Munro-Kramer was a part of the student team that delivered an earlier version of the workshop in 2011 when Relationship Remix was first developed.
Adapting the program
There are many differences between the students at U-M and those attending the University of Cape Coast. For one, at Cape Coast approximately two times more male students than female students make up the 56,000 full- and part-time students. About 8,000 students live in gender-segregated halls while the remaining commute. Students tend to be older, and alcohol does not play as big of a role in their culture regarding consent.
“A large difference between the U.S. and Ghana is a lot of the content in Relationship Remix focuses on alcohol and its role in sexual violence, and that’s not something they relate to at all in Ghana. Their programming is more focused on cultural expectations for certain actions,” says Munro-Kramer.
She says Ghanaian students don’t receive a lot of information or opportunity to discuss gender equality and there is high acceptance of rape myths and victim blaming.
“We were trying to figure out what we were going to do in Ghana and then we realized we have this great primary prevention program here at U-M, so we talked to SAPAC about trying to adapt it, recognizing it was developed for U-M students.”
Munro-Kramer and Rominski are using focus groups to inform changes to the program, followed by evaluation by expert reviewers and theater testing with Ghanaian students.
Some of the cultural adaptions in Relationship Tidbits, the name the students at Cape Coast gave the program, include:
• Use of the term sexual harassment to encompass both physical and verbal sexual abuse.
• Inclusion of information on gender equality.
• Debunking rape myths and victim blaming.
• Managing expectations for consent and better defining the term.
“If we have a curriculum that is culturally appropriate, and that students identify with and are interacting with, and we are seeing changes in gender equality and rape myth acceptance, that would be success to me,” says Munro-Kramer.
The work will continue into the next year as SAPAC and Wolverine Wellness student volunteers accompany the researchers to Ghana in the spring to roll out the program and help train Ghanaian students as peer educators. The goal is to expand the program for use at other sub-Saharan African colleges and universities.
Munro-Kramer developed the first U-M course focused on the roots of gender-based violence and the impact it has in societies. She’s currently working on developing a web-based app to pilot next fall focused on reinforcing the knowledge and life skills related to preventing sexual violence.