Parents and Families

As you help your student prepare for the upcoming semester, summer is often a time to have important conversations about life skills. As you offer wisdom on money management and how to do laundry, Holly Rider-Milkovich says, don’t forget to talk to your student about healthy relationships.

“Parents can have a significant impact on students’ choices. Talk to your son or daughter about healthy relationships over the life course, consent, and sexual decision-making.  These skills are not just about upholding the law but are also lifelong relationship and intimacy skills,” says Rider-Milkovich, director of the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, or SAPAC.

SAPAC has a dual mission – to support survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, and stalking, and also to educate the campus community about these issues. While both parts of the mission are important, Rider-Milkovich explains, SAPAC’s goal to educate means that its work is directly relevant to all students.

Through peer education, networking and publicity and men’s activism programs, SAPAC seeks to both prevent violence on campus and equip students with important life skills. Every year, nearly 300 students actively volunteer with SAPAC or participate in its programs, and the center’s website features a student-authored blog about sexual violence prevention.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Justice recognized SAPAC as one of the nation’s top 12 university organizations providing programs and services related to sexual and intimate partner violence.

New Director Rider-Milkovich was previously Director of Student Wellness at New York City College of Technology and has significant experience in higher education and survivor non-profit work. She also earned her undergraduate degree at U-M, and brings a strong focus on prevention as she returns to her alma mater.

For parents trying to find the right words to talk about healthy relationships and dating violence, Rider-Milkovich offers some tips to help your family get started:

  • It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, but you don’t have to allow your own embarrassment to stop you from talking about these important issues with your son or daughter.
  • Try starting the conversation by talking about your own relationship values. Who are relationship role models for you, and why? SAPAC emphasizes that healthy relationships include mutual respect; open communication about needs, desires and interests; and shared responsibility and trust.
  • If your student chooses to be sexually active, she or he should understand the importance of both giving and receiving affirmative, verbal and sober consent for all sexual activity. This is important for students to understand throughout their lives, in new and ongoing relationships. Try asking these questions:
    • How do you let a partner know what you do and don’t want?
    • How do you know if you have received consent?
    • What do you do if you’ve been drinking and are considering having sex?

Supporting healthy relationships and working to end sexual and intimate partner violence is everyone’s responsibility, Rider-Milkovich says. It’s an important part of any young adult’s development to learn how to recognize and build healthy relationships, and understand what to do if a relationship doesn’t support his or her well-being.

Want more conversation starters?

All incoming first-year students are required to complete Community Matters, an online course on alcohol and sexual assault awareness.  The university requires completion of the course to encourage thoughtful conversations, inspire the intentional pursuit of healthy community norms, and highlight a campus culture that values healthy choices. 

Community Matters includes topics such as:  how media, family, and social expectations shape behaviors and the potential risks associated with problem drinking such as violence, drinking and driving, and impacts on academic performance and relationships.  You can also visit SAPAC’s Student Affairs information page or its blog, or explore University Health Service Resources for Sexual Health.