An Otterbein University program is aiming to help decrease campus assaults by educating students on the topic, and it is starting with the school's student athletes.

"Fair Play: Sexual Violence Prevention for Athletes" began as a pilot program last winter. It is continuing this fall with 60 Otterbein student athletes, including members of the football team and the women's golf, tennis and softball teams.

The 10-hour series of lectures aims to educate students on topics like consent, rape culture in sports, sex education, bystander intervention and broader sexuality.

The program was developed by Kristy McCray, an Otterbein assistant professor in sport management and a former rape-crisis center director.

McCray said she hopes the program will show enough promise to be expanded beyond a small group in future years.

"I'm hoping that students are learning more about sexual violence and how to prevent it, specifically the students who are in the program itself," she said. "I'm also hoping they're able to take that knowledge and share it, because this is a small program and not all athletes are receiving it. I'm hoping it can influence the broader campus culture."

Otterbein President John Comerford said the program matches Otterbein's mission.

"Otterbein is preparing students for life experiences, not just future jobs," he said. "Dr. McCray's program will educate students to respect others according to a set of humane values. It will teach them to advocate for themselves and others in difficult situations they may face."

McCray said the program is geared toward athletes for a couple reasons.

First, she said, athletes offer more visibility on campus, making them a good place to start.

"They're often leaders and a very visible and important part of a campus community, and not just at a campus like Otterbein," she said. "You can small-scale it to a high school and large-scale it to somewhere like Ohio State."

The other reason, she said, is because some studies -- she's quick to specify not all studies conclude the same -- have shown that athletes may be more likely to accept rape myths and have a poor attitude toward women or be sexually aggressive toward women.

But while she said it "makes logical sense that you would want to work with a population that may have a greater propensity for sexual aggression," McCray also doesn't want it to seem like she's singling out athletes.

"Instead of seeing it as a proactively changing the culture, it's (incorrectly) seen as, 'Athletes are bad and we have to change them,' " she said. "This is very much, 'Sexual assault is bad. We don't want it happening. What are we going to do to stop it?' "

McCray said it's been rewarding to watch the students involved in the program learn about topics they didn't even realize they needed to learn about.

She said each session ends with questions, and those questions result in good conversations.

"I do think that students show up because their coach told them to, and initially I was very reticent to say that," she said. "But my mindset has changed a little bit. If a coach is valuing this and making you show up, that's a really important prioritization from a leadership approach. But most students, when they get inside the room and start learning more, they actively engage."

The first two presentations of the program have been funded by a $9,447 grant from the Ohio Department of Education, and McCray said she is hoping to secure longer-term funding that would allow the program to expand and continue.

In the meantime, she said she's been keeping records of everything along the way, and hopes it can serve as a template for use at schools around the country.

"I would like to turn this into a program that can be packaged up and sent to Iowa or California or wherever," she said.

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