2008 NASPA Conference: Building a Dynamic, Award-Winning Sexual Assault Web site: A Collaboration of Student Affairs Professionals

The second program I attended at this year’s NASPA conference was presented by several people from the College of William & Mary. The program was entitled “Building a Dynamic, Award-Winning Sexual Assault Web site: A Collaboration of Student Affairs Professionals” and it focused on their Sexual Assault Resources & Education Web page. There were several people involved in the presentation (four are listed on the NASPA Web site; six are listed in the printed program guide) from the institution who all participated in developing the Web site in various capacities.

The College of William & Mary has a long history with providing, developing, and supporting sexual assault education. In response to a series of related incidents, the institution recently embarked on further enhancing their efforts by developing a model sexual assault response program and plan. Key among these new efforts was the creation of a Web site aimed at multiple audiences with comprehensive sexual assault information.

The staff at William & Mary faced many challenges in creating this Web site: adhering to a tight time frame, figuring out the necessary level of funding, defining the project, assembling the right team, defining the “comprehensive” nature of the site (resources AND education was how it was eventually defined), involving others, and resolving the ambiguity and evolution of the project and its scope. As a theoretical framework, they decided to focus on the theory of planned behavior and focus on promoting healthy behavior and choices. The primary assessment and evaluation tool used to target the content of the Web site was the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale; although this tool has some limitations, it is tested and generally regarded and reliable and valid. Importantly, positive findings from the results of the surveys were also used in creating the Web site.

Humorous videos were used as the anchors for each of the five main sections of the Web site. One of the presenters shared that he had significant hesitation in attempting to use humor to discuss and address sexual assault. However, the videos the presenters showed seemed to be in good taste and used humor to good effect in discussing this serious topic. One audience member congratulated the presenters on being able to use humor while retaining respect for the topic and its gravity.

The Web site itself is used as the foundation for other educational efforts and media. Evaluating the effectiveness of the Web site, however, has been very difficult. In particular, isolating the effect of the Web site is difficult.

In general, the program was quite good. The content was detailed and it was very well-presented and rehearsed. However, the program did not seem to quite match its title as it did not seem to focus on the process of building the Web site as much as it did on the theoretical foundation and the content of the Web site. Perhaps I am simply too biased given my background in (light weight) Web site development and maintenance but there simply weren’t many details about how they arrived at much of the design and structure of the Web site. The presenter explained how some of the design came about and why it was designed in that manner but much of it remained unexplained. In all fairness, the amount of information that can be presented in a conference presentation is limited by the amount of time available. The time available was well-used and the level of detail was very appropriate for the audience so it’s likely that my criticism is off the mark.