• Lily Boland

Reflection of a Six-Part Interview Series: "Veterans on SA Training in the Military"

Graphic by Jas Modelo

Interviews were conducted by Hikari Hida and Lily Boland.

The full interviews can be found up on Uprizine’s website.

Welcome to the final piece in our series, “Veterans on SA Training in the Military.” So far, we have published six individual interviews with current veteran students at TUJ: Savon Crisp, Lorelei Vandergriend, Teddy Lee, Grace Bellamy, Juniper Alexander, and Bobby Maxwell. We asked them each 10 questions, via email or in person, on the kind of sexual assault (SA) and harassment training they received while in the military. We wanted to know the extent of their training, frequency, takeaways, and opinion on TUJ’s efforts to raise awareness on campus. We have been publishing raw, unedited interviews over the weeks. Now, I will reflect upon what I have learned and what I still want to know.

First, let me start by correcting our prior terminology. Following the first two interviews, I realised that they were so much more than just ‘interviews.’ What we have compiled and published, have been six brutally honest, inspiring testimonies. We got far more than initially expected, and are eternally grateful to our interviewees for opening up to us so sincerely. We hope TUJ reads their comments and suggestions.

Let me expand on our initial intent with this series. The interviews were prompted by a recent, mandatory university-wide sexual assault and harassment awareness module we took last November. Some of us at Uprizine had received complaints on said module; mainly on its ineffectiveness and redundancy from regular students. But some of those complaints caught our attention when we heard them from veterans who hadreceived similar training previously. It got us interested in what sort of training they received and their thoughts on it.

We have been working with TUJ to raise awareness on harassment and assault (if you’ve noticed the fairly new bathroom signs), and wanted to expand this more by seeing how other institutions have conducted such training and their impact. We honestly thought these interviews would provide really interesting insight given that the veterans were formally given training prior to entering TUJ, repeatedly. In the end, we were not wrong.

Our first interview with Savon exposed so much more than I thought I knew. Honestly speaking, I was expecting to be told that the training would all be a sorts of “death by PowerPoint.” A situation where the trainees learned nothing they “did not already know” and instead, largely ignored the blasé training. This would explain negative preconceptions some of us might have had about veterans and their reception/retention of SA training. Sure, they experienced round after round of death by PowerPoint, but Savon’s description of his plays he wrote and acted in, shocked me. I had no idea this would be part of the training. Clearly more active involvement in learning how SA cases can play out; how serious and emotional they are, would serve students well.

Jun’s comment on how they were trained to intervene, to not be bystanders was also new information. I did not think that the training would focus on what to do when you see an incident. It is reassuring to know that military attempts to instruct its personnel on how to act immediately.

If you read all six interviews, you might be able to see a common issue (person) in regards to retention. It seems as though the training was as comprehensive, forceful and intense as how the military actually handles SA cases. Why do veterans seem to have a problem with retention? Why is SA and harassment so prominent of an issue in the military and also outside of it? Why do we have specific students who lack the ability to understand what is harassment and what is not, time after time?

All of our interviewees pointed out the same flaw in their training; despite it being repetitive it was redundant, and not all of their peers seemed to care. Lorelei’s testimony exposes how repetition of rules without the presence of personal-level sympathy, cannot actually do much to remedy crises when they occur. This is especially true in a military setting, as explained by Bobby, who informed us that both the victim and perpetrator just disappeared. Although the reasoning is rational, it is still a bit shocking to hear. Savon’s statement “there’s no honor in harassing or assaulting someone” rings loud and clear to me. But it doesn’t for everyone.

Our six interviewees expose the core issue: the effectiveness of such serious training really depends on the person who takes it. Legitimate, institutional reinforcement of accountability measures is clearly necessary to combat SA and harassment. We ask the same question as Teddy: “what does training do to you besides give you some information that you don’t care about? It’ll bring awareness to the situation, but I don’t think it changes the person.” Grace put my next thought on TUJ’s module well: “the training becomes more of a task that needs to be done, and less of a lesson to be learned for the bene t of oneself and others.” I think this resounds with fellow students after November.

How can TUJ, then, improve their SA awareness? Whether through other modules, bathroom signs, or other efforts to make it more effective- or just plain retainable? Clearly, TUJ has a harassment problem; all institutions do, TUJ is just plagued by such a small space for its student population. Hallways are too narrow and classrooms suffocating for too many victims; will the move to Showa Women’s University circulate more of this “honor” and basic respect that’s needed to air out TUJ’s stuffy toxicity?

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