Scripps Advocates, first-years speak out about ‘needlessly traumatizing’ orientation content

The second floor balcony of Malott Commons at sunset.
The sensitive topics of sexual assault covered by Speak About It’s presentation caused upset among some Scripps first years. (Florence Pun • The Student Life)

CW: sexual violence

Several Scripps College students walked out of a Aug. 22 orientation session held for first year students, citing graphic stories during a presentation that covered sexual assault and consent. Held by the nonprofit education group Speak About It, reactions to the session prompted Scripps Advocates to solicit feedback from students to send to administration.

Speak About It, which partners with schools and communities nationwide, aims to “promote awareness of healthy sexual choices, advocate consent, and prevent sexual violence through inclusive performance-based education, discussion facilitation and provision of resources,” according to its website

During the programming at Scripps, one section describing first-hand accounts of sexual assault resulted in collective distress, according to Julia Cox SC ’23, head of Scripps Advocates.

“[The stories] didn’t really mince any words or leave anything to be guessed. They were pretty detailed,” Cox said. “… From what I heard, it was very upsetting and just needlessly traumatizing.”

While Cox said she thought highly of the rest of Speak About It’s programming, she did not understand the rationale behind the section that upset students.

Advocates were asked to attend a separate Speak About It training for student leaders, go to the orientation event and lead small group discussions afterwards. Less than a minute into the segment on sexual assault, Cox said that she and a fellow advocate left the theater to offer support to the “significant number of people” that exited the orientation session. 

While broad trigger warnings were given, the intense content was unnecessarily overwhelming for students, first-year attendee Annika Lindbergh SC ’26 told TSL.

“They compiled a lot of hard issues and stories into a very short amount of time,” Lindbergh said. “I think they could have gone about talking about negative experiences without explicitly saying what happened to people.”

Students also expressed grievances surrounding the lack of specific guidance for dealing with cases of sexual assualt on Scripps’ campus.  

“Because [Speak About It] performs at a lot of college campuses, it wasn’t very specific to Scripps,” Lindbergh said. “I felt that if something happened to me at the 5Cs, Speak About It would not have educated me on what I should do and where I should go.”

As such, Hannah McKie SC ’26 thinks an alternative, Scripps-based educational approach would be helpful.

“Maybe people working in the Title IX office should instead come and speak about this,” McKie said. “They are the best resource; that’s who you would go to.”

Cox suggested explaining the differences between different resources at Scripps, such as the Advocates, the Title IX Coordinator and the EMPOWER center, since understanding who is and isn’t a mandated reporter can be difficult.

Overall, several students felt a sense of disappointment when the session came to an end, according to McKie. 

“I didn’t take anything away that taught me more about consent, sexual health or healthy relationships,” McKie said.

In an Advocates leadership meeting with Miller, who was present for the Speak About It programming, Cox raised the issue about the presentation, noting that students had seemed quite upset.

“We were all surprised and dismayed at how the sexual assault section was presented,” Cox said.

Miller noted students’ reactions as well, Cox said, which prompted the creation of a survey to receive student input on the programming in order to prevent similarly upsetting presentations in the future.

“Scripps appreciates student feedback that helps us develop our programming to best meet our students’ needs,” Miller said in an email to TSL. “I also very much appreciate the partnership of our amazing Scripps Advocates who do such meaningful work in our community.”

Cox emphasized the need to provide students with an opportunity to give feedback after the negative experiences they had with Speak About It. Following significant delays to the original survey that was initially meant to be sent by the Dean of Students’ office, Cox and Miller decided that the Advocates should send out their own survey.

Cox sent the survey through the Scripps Advocates Instagram and Scripps Associated Students weekly newsletter, embedding resource options and Miller’s contact information.

“With the consent of commenters, [the Advocates] are facilitating sharing some of that feedback with me,” Miller said. “We take student feedback very seriously, and if the impact of our programming has not matched the intent, we will use that feedback to shape programming choices in the future.”

Anyone who wants to give feedback to the orientation team directly, Miller said, is encouraged to email her.

As for the future, the college has yet to make decisions about programming for next year’s orientation, according to Miller.

Pitzer also used Speak About It for consent and relationship education at its in-person orientation, while Harvey Mudd College utilized a recorded version of the programming. Both colleges’ Title IX coordinators told TSL they had not received negative feedback about the program from students. 

Establishing ideal practices for consent and healthy sexual relationship education can be challenging, though, Pitzer’s Title IX Coordinator Alyssa-Rae McGinn said in reference to the Speak About It session at Pitzer.

“You’ve got many different constituents in the audience,” McGinn said. “But in particular, you might be reaching survivors of their own forms of sexual trauma, and then, on the kind of complete opposite side, you have people who really truly need the education, in knowing what they shouldn’t do to others.”

The variation in education concerning sex and relationships across the United States further complicates this.

“Sometimes hearing stories is really good for reaching those who might not be taking it as seriously as an issue,” McGinn said. 

Cox raised the need for such sensitive topics as sexual assault training to be taken seriously as a possible rationale for Speak About It’s inclusion of the first-hand accounts of assault, but still didn’t see it as the most logical choice.

“I don’t know how effective that is,” she said, “especially when the people listening [at Scripps], statistically speaking, are more likely to be survivors than other audiences that they typically speak to [due to their gender].” 

The Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault are a student-run confidential resource for members of the 7C community. The Scripps Advocates’ warm line can be accessed at (909) 214-2138 from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. when classes are in session. Drop-in hours are held at the EmPOWER Center Tuesdays 1-2 p.m., Wednesdays 4-5 p.m. and Fridays 11-12 p.m.

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