Emory students and staff from the Respect Program and the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life (OSFL) will launch their collaborative Greek Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative in February.

The initiative brings together students from Greek life and others interested in sexual assault prevention to design a curriculum of workshops that is meant for new Greek members. The idea hatched last spring, but students began meeting this semester. The workshops are set to launch in the spring.

The Respect Program – a branch of the Office of Health Promotion – advises Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) and Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) members, supports survivors of assault and works on prevention efforts across campus.

Greek community members interested in addressing and ending sexual violence approached members of the Respect Program this March. Eight undergraduate students, including members of SAPA and ASAP, helped form the Greek Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative team, according to Office of Health Promotion specialist Drew Rizzo, the initiative’s coordinator.

“The students got involved mainly through self-selection,” Rizzo said. He added that any interested students should contact him, as the initiative maintains an “open policy.”

Rizzo and Lisa Sthreshley, senior graduate assistant for the Respect Program and student at the Rollins School of Public Health, will advise the group of students.

Last spring, Rizzo, Sthreshley and other students discussed sexual assault topics with chapter members, gave exploratory presentations to chapter presidents and gathered student responses.

They also held question-and-answer discussions with two focus groups – one consisting of 11 fraternity members and the other consisting of 11 sorority members, all of whom attended voluntarily by open invitation.

After conducting the bulk of their research, Rizzo, Sthreshley and the students began designing the project’s workshops, which will target new members of the Greek community next spring, according to Rizzo.

“How do we as a community value violence prevention in our everyday lives? What are the practical implications of that value?” Rizzo asked. “We’ll address positive sexual communication and language, and basically how to live out sexual violence prevention at Emory.”

Rizzo gave the example of someone “making light of the word ‘rape'” as an example of what the initiative would address in its workshops with new members of the Greek community. He also stressed the importance of peers educating each other on preventing assault.

“It’s crucial that we have the combination of both peer facilitators and staff,” Rizzo said. “Having students teaching students will have so much more of an impact than staff just lecturing to a group of students.”

Like the program itself, the initiative’s creation has been hands-on for the students involved.

“Everyone at the working table has an equal voice,” Rizzo said, who joined the Respect Program on Oct. 1. “The best part for me is that I’ve only been here for a year and a half, but these students are so motivated and ready to carry this out, it makes my job a whole lot easier.”

Rizzo said he plans to start holding workshops in February, allowing the group to properly train and prepare. He also noted the importance of waiting until after recruitment ends to fully launch the Greek Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative to target incoming sorority and fraternity members.Sophie Cemaj, a College freshman who plans to participate in recruitment this spring, said that though she does not look forward to attending these events, she thinks they are necessary for members of the Greek community.

“I think it’s an important message,” Cemaj said of the initiative’s focus on addressing sexual assault in daily life, in addition to more serious incidents.

She added that she feels the workshops will help her not only gain a better understanding of sexual assault prevention but also better learn “how to approach it.”

Next summer, according to Rizzo, the group will look back on their progress and make changes to what he plans to make a permanent program on campus.

– By Lydia O’Neal