The SPARC Program: A Poor Way To Teach Sexual Harassment

Between spring and fall 2018, CUNY and SUNY launched an online sexual harassment training called Sexual and Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Response Course (SPARC), but the program seems less effective than in-person training.

At Baruch College, all first-year and some transfer students participate in a seminar over the course of the fall and spring semesters, during which they learn about opportunities offered on campus and become familiar with school processes and university policies.

CUNY and its individual colleges prohibit “sexual harassment, gender-based harassment and sexual violence,” and, in addition to the expressed policy, SPARC is one of the ways the university system and SUNY combat sexual harassment.

The training program takes about 30 minutes to complete and has hypothetical scenarios and video explanations that point to examples of physical and verbal harassment. SPARC offers students the chance to identify harassment in various scenarios.

Once the student makes a selection, a video or an written explanation of each individual scenario pops up. With each scenario, students cannot rapidly click through; they have to spend a certain amount of time reading and clicking through each option before the system allows them to progress into the next section. This, it seems, is to ensure that students do not breeze through the program and spend time learning the information.

But this is an ineffective strategy to teach students about harassment because there is no way to ensure that students will read all of the information before progressing. In some not-so-improbable cases, students may proceed once the option to continue becomes available, forgoing the rest of the information that they have not read just to get through the course as quickly as possible.

In-person seminars are a better way to disseminate information about harassment. While students may not pay attention during an in-person seminar, there is more of a chance that the instructor in the classroom would notice and say something to get any distracted student back on board with the topic.

It’s difficult to get students to pay attention — even to important issues like harassment on campus. SPARC is a good effort, but it’s not a huge improvement from previous online sexual harassment trainings at CUNY, like last year’s Haven.

September 4, 2018

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