A series of student-led workshops this month represents growing efforts to educate international students about sexual violence.
The Council of International Graduate Students is organizing the Sexual Violence Prevention series, which is catered to the University of Minnesota's community of international students. The group's first workshop was last Friday, with another session planned later this month.
"We organized the [SVP] series in light of the various sexual harassment [and] assault reports and incidents published in the news outlets involving University of Minnesota international students or students traveling abroad," said Ericka Lara Ovares, president of CIGS and second-year master’s student of public health policy and administration.
In August, a 21-year-old University student from China was allegedly sexually assaulted by billionaire Richard Liu while he was attending a program at the Carlson School of Management.
As a student organization catering to international students, Lara Ovares said the group feels responsible for providing adequate resources to prevent further cases. The group hopes educators will be more involved in creating awareness about new concepts that might not be common or available in a student’s home country.
"We believe that we should provide an opportunity to increase international students’ understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities, as well as provide a safe space to talk about this sensitive issue,” said Jackie Liu, co-director of programming in CIGS and fourth-year Ph.D. student of human resources development.
Last Friday’s workshop featured panelists who discussed sexual violence specific to international students, including a University alumna survivor of sexual assault who shared her experience.
Some topics included affirmative consent, how to report sexual harassment and legal protections available to international students regarding sexual harassment. Their next workshop is March 30 and will focus on self-defense and de-escalation.
Organizers acknowledged cultural differences and collaborated to make the SVP workshops accessible.
“Depending on different cultures and countries, each international student may have a different understanding regarding sexual misconduct,” said Hanna Sun, representative to external organizations for CIGS and third-year master’s student of comparative and international development education.
To address cultural differences, the group prepared a visual presentation catered to international students. By request, the Aurora Center — a professional organization dedicated to sexual assault and relationship violence advocacy and education — designed the lecture.
"We are aware that for some students of different cultural backgrounds, sometimes even the word ‘sex’ is too taboo to mention in a conversation," said Seyni Mbaye, co-director of programming for CIGS and second-year master’s student of development practice.
The Aurora Center also collaborated with Viivncaus, a campus Hmong women's group, to discuss sexual assault in the Hmong community at a workshop last Thursday.
"In the Hmong community, sexual assault is an extremely taboo topic that often gets swept under the rug," said Nouchee Vang, president intern of Viivncaus, event host and third-year psychology student.
Conversations revolved around what sexual assault looks like in the Hmong community and what this experience is like for Hmong women.
"Many times, when victims and survivors come forward with their stories, our culture dismisses them,” Vang said. “We wanted to dismantle and change the ways we as a Hmong community think, talk and treat sexual assault survivors.”
During the workshop, they defined terminology such as sexual assault and affirmative consent. They also taught participants the skills they need to support survivors seeking help.
"This kind of workshop ... is educating and bringing awareness to issues that are not being addressed, especially in the Hmong community," said Leng Vang, a second-year physiology and pre-medicine student. "It is to educate the new generations and bring change to our culture. People are afraid to change because they fear to lose their heritage, but it is us that created our culture in the first place.”