AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
These allegations against Donald Trump and the video of him boasting about groping and kissing women are also reverberating on college campuses. There, activists worry they may undermine efforts to combat sexual assault. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, students and advocates are trying to seize what they see as a teachable moment.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: One staple in just about every sexual assault prevention program is the video vignette. It's usually a play-acted scenario used to teach students what crosses the line. Now the Trump tape is quickly becoming the classic real-life case study.
HARRY BROD: Oh, yeah. Count on it. This will be used.
SMITH: Professor Harry Brod teaches a course on men and masculinities and sexual ethics at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. Ironically Brod says, what's most offensive about the recording may actually be the least useful as a teaching tool.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD")
DONALD TRUMP: You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab them by the [expletive].
SMITH: The kind of behavior that Trump boasted about and now denies so clearly crosses the line, Brod says, it'd be obvious to most students. But he says there are many more nuanced lessons on the tape.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD")
TRUMP: Whoa, whoa.
BUSH: Yes. The Donald is good.
SMITH: For example, Brod says, how then-co-host Billy Bush eggs Trump on and then takes it a step further, pressing actress Arianne Zucker for a hug.
BUSH: How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.
ARIANNE ZUCKER: Would you like a little hug, darling?
TRUMP: OK, absolutely.
BROD: At that moment, he is not only enabling Trump, but he is pushing him from words into action.
BUSH: Here we go. Here we go.
BROD: We know what's right, and we need to be strong enough to stand up.
LORI HODIN: So this is the training package, and as Caleigh said, were fired up. We've got work to do.
SMITH: At the Lincoln-Sudbury High School in Massachusetts, teacher Lori Hodin is training a coed group of students to train others to be what they call up-standers. Senior Caleigh Simons says the Trump video drives home how hard it can be to call out someone more powerful, whether a celebrity at work or an upper classman at school.
CALEIGH SIMONS: It's always really hard to be that person, to stand up and say those words. You need to stop doing this. That's not OK. So we teach that there's, like, other little things that you can do. Like, you can just, like, break up the conversation in general and just be like, oh, I have to go to the bathroom.
SMITH: Students say they're also using the tape as a study in consent. In recent years, the rules have evolved from the old no-means-no to only-yes-means-yes. But students say the video is a textbook example of how even a yes might not really count as a yes. That's the case when someone's drunk and, Megan Chunias and Simons say, also when there's an imbalance of power.
MEGAN CHUNIAS: Billy Bush was, like, putting her in a position where she, like, had to hug him even if she didn't want to. It's just disgusting.
SIMONS: Yeah, even though he phrased it as a question, it wasn't really an option for her. Like, there was just no choice in the matter.
CHUNIAS: Yeah, yeah.
SMITH: Students say it's now more critical than ever to counter those Trump supporters who are diminishing what Trump said as just boys will be boys.
SAM RYAN: They're trying to just normalize it and push it off and say that it's, like - it's nothing. It's just locker room talk. Like, it's not a big deal.
SMITH: Sam Ryan, captain of the boys' soccer team, says if that ever happened in his locker room, he'd immediately shut it down.
RYAN: Our job is to then expose that and say that, like, it really is a big deal, especially, like, he crossed a line where it's not something to be joked about.
SMITH: Those jokes create a culture that encourages more and more serious offenses, says senior Jack Sutherland, as he tells younger kids, even up to murder.
JACK SUTHERLAND: I think after we can talk to them for an entire day, and then they'll realize, whoa, it needs to be stopped at the start.
SMITH: Students also worry this whole episode could discourage survivors from coming forward, but ultimately they see it as an opportunity for a crash course in consent, bystander intervention and, as they call it, rape culture. Tovia Smith, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.