STUDENT-ATHLETES CREATING SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS, PREVENTION PROGRAM
by Corey LeBlanc
A pair of StFX student-athletes is providing a championship performance – off the ice – when it comes to the prevention of sexual violence in sports.
Patti-Anne Tracey and Amy Graham, veteran stalwarts with the defending Atlantic University Sport (AUS) champion X-Women hockey team, have created a training package that they hope will become a mainstay with sport programs across Canada.
"It is a work-in-progress, but we are really excited about where we are headed," Graham said in a recent interview from her home in Nepean, Ont.
As part of their initiative, the research team has launched TEAM in SVP (Together Everyone Achieves More in Sexual Violence Prevention) – https://x2017tet.wixsite.com/teaminsvp – which is designed for coaches, athletic directors, educators, sport administrators, mentors and leaders.
As described on the website, the program aims to educate coaches and their local sport associations on sexual education and prevention. Its 'Teach the Coach' model helps coaches "prepare their teams for success, both on and off the field."
A centerpiece of the highly-informative site is a three-video training workshop package that opens with an introduction to sexual violence in sport, followed by educational topics and having meaningful conversations with your athletes (two-parts) and then one dealing with consent.
The site also offers stories, along with a blog penned by Tracey and Graham. There is a section that provides resource information for provincial and territorial sport bodies across Canada.
Another section offers answers to frequently asked questions from coaches, while there is also an opportunity to provide feedback.
Speaking of feedback, Tracey and Graham said the early response to the website has been positive and encouraging, including an endorsement from the Canadian Association of Coaches, which they have "really taken to heart."
Needed to do something
The seeds for their ground-breaking effort started to take root last fall during a StFX Athletics' leadership summit, where student-athletes, coaches and staff members brainstormed on a variety of topics, including sexual violence.
After the session, Tracey and Graham approached Leo MacPherson – StFX Director of Athletics and Recreation – with the idea of developing an initiative geared towards "reducing and mitigating sexual violence."
He embraced the plan, and from there the pair started laying the groundwork for what has become a game-changing research project.
"We have seen – first-hand – the impact that sexual violence has on someone," Tracey, an Antigonish native, said.
Although they have received tools – such as bystander training – during their time with StFX Athletics, the pair recognized the benefit to athletes of receiving education on sexual health earlier in their careers.
"We want to provide people with the tools," Tracey noted.
Given the startling rate of student-athletes involved in sexual violence at universities – they perpetrate one-third of the cases, a key piece of information unearthed during their research – they have focused their platform on educating coaches and providing them with the essential information to pass along to their athletes before they reach that level.
When they arrive at the university stage, they will not only be better prepared to recognize but also assist in dealing with sexual violence.
Graham described delivering the program at that stage as "crucial."
Both noted they were "never educated" about sexual violence – areas such as appropriate locker room behavior – when they played sports growing up.
"It wasn't a topic anyone talked about," Tracey said.
The path to establishing their education program involved an extensive research process, one buoyed by a funding boost to assist in their effort. Tracey, a student in the Schwartz School of Business, and Graham – who studies in StFX's human kinetics' program – were amongst the most recent recipients of the prestigious Wallace Family Entrepreneurship Fund internship, which provides $6,000 to individuals or $10,000 to teams. Those monies helped provide full-time employment for 12 weeks as recipients work on their projects.
With that support, Tracey and Graham were able to focus on their project – titled An Intervention on Sexual Violence in Sport - ramping up their research in the health, leadership and policy fields, as part of the development of a prevention and awareness package.
During that four-month span, they studied policies across the country, while also leading and participating in group discussions and workshops.
Fittingly, considering it is an endeavor that places sports in the spotlight, the X-Women stressed it has been a team effort, crediting other StFX student-athletes and the athletic department for their contributions.
As part of the Wallace Internship, Tracey and Graham also received mentorship from StFXhuman kinetics professor Dr. Angie Kolen and Heather Blackburn, StFX's Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Advocate for the Health, Counseling and Accessible Learning Departments.
Both described having the help and guidance of their mentors as "incredible."
Tracey and Graham agreed the ongoing effort taking place at StFX when it comes to sexual violence education and prevention, including by the athletic department and other student-athletes, has been a source of inspiration.
"People are doing some great stuff," Tracey said.
Graham credited StFX Athletics – and the broader university community – for providing a "platform for change."
"It is a sensitive topic, but have to have these conversations," Graham said of sexual violence.
"They have really done a good job."
Tracey added it is about the importance of – more and more – "bringing the topic to light."
"We have to continue to make it a priority," she said of providing athletes with a safe and friendly environment, where they will always feel comfortable and confident.
Tracey added student-athletes have great power; they can use the "privilege" they enjoy as a driver to make change when it comes to sexual violence.
'Platform for change'
To use a sport analogy, the game is far from over for Tracey and Graham, who said they will continue to work in this area.
"Sports should be used a platform for change," Tracey offered.
As they describe in an outline of their research project, they look forward to the innovation helping create "critical sexual violence policy changes" in Canadian sport associations, as well as "provide a foundation of educational awareness to create safer environments for athletes. "
Describing their time as student-athletes as "one of the best self-development processes" of their lives, Tracey and Graham stressed their goal is not to demonize sports. Nevertheless, they said work needs to be done, when it comes to sexual violence in sports, one illustrated by the alarming rate of perpetrators in university who are student-athletes.
"Our goal is to make sport a positive platform, an avenue for change and a healthier, safer, supportive environment for all participants," they said.
Celebrating the AUS championship victory (L to R): Terese Tracey, Amy Graham, Father Stanley MacDonald, Ron Graham, Patti-Anne Tracey