Critically Acclaimed & Critically Accused: How the response to The Hunting Ground perpetuates rape culture
Posted by On Tuesday, November 24, 2015

This weekend, The Hunting Ground premiered on CNN.  This is the first time that the film has been broadcasted for a large public audience. The Hunting Ground is a documentary that shares the stories of sexual assault survivors from universities across the country. It not only focuses on the incidents themselves, but the aftermath of the assaults in which their institutions did little to nothing to remediate the situation, and oftentimes retraumatized the survivor by insinuating blame or not believing the survivor’s story.

The Hunting Ground connects the dots to show that campus rape is an epidemic, and that focusing on one individual story, or even one individual institution, isn’t doing justice to the issue. It also frankly discusses the corporatization of higher education and doesn’t shy away from the industrial components that interplay with campus sexual assault.

The film portrays much of what we know to be true about campus sexual assault. Many of the survivors who are featured discuss that the person who assaulted them was someone they knew. Many of the survivors also disclosed that they were hesitant to report through their campus and that they have yet to tell their families. Many survivors shared that the incident involved either members of athletics or Greek life. And sadly, nearly every survivor shared that their school’s response was lacking, harmful, and insufficient.

Unfortunately, the film also shows us something else that we know to be true: people are unwilling to believe survivors. Despite having a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, the media response to the film has been highly critical, with journals and newspapers staunchly attempting to disprove the stories of survivors, and by calling the film “inaccurate and incomplete,” “poorly substantiated,” and as “spreading myths.”

As found in the Association of American Universities climate survey results, less than a quarter of incidents are reported. The most common reason for not reporting sexual assault was that it was “not considered serious enough,” with high numbers also in feeling “embarrassed or ashamed” and “did not think anything would be done.”

When much of the public discourse around a film about campus sexual assault is disbelief and contention, what is to encourage survivors to report their assault? The Hunting Ground attempts – and succeeds – in showing the epidemic of campus rape, but ironically it is the response to it that succeeds in showing a broader rape culture that permeates beyond college campuses to our entire society.

Instead of discussing the broader implications of the vast amount of evidence and personal stories that The Hunting Ground presents, critics have narrowly focused on trying to disprove two of the most high-profile incidents presented. The acute simplification of focusing on these two cases, one involving a prominent college football quarterback and one involving an elite law school, does a few things. First, it misses the point of the film. By focusing on a couple cases, the representation of campus sexual assault as an epidemic is overlooked. By attempting to prove that the stories presented are inaccurate or incomplete, critics are perpetuating the societal problem of the overestimation of false rape reports. For those who are interested, the actual percentage of false reporting of rape tends to fall between 2 and 8%, which aligns with the rate of false accusations for other felonies.

Second, the narrow focus on challenging the two most high-profile cases replicates some of the main institutional problems that the film details. Even though there seems to be strong public support for the film itself – as displayed by the acclaim from Sundance, Entertainment Weekly, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes – media and public discourse have tried to coopt the story by focusing on a sliver of what is truly an epidemic. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the majority of attention has been focused on these two cases; the two where the American society has the most to lose. There seems to be a willful ignorance that is reinforcing the sense that when the accused institution or individual is high-profile, with high societal regard and yielding high profits, the public is predisposed to doubt the survivor. Not only is the survivor unlikely to be believed, but there is a heavy investment in advocating for the innocence of the accused, even going as far as to blaming and shaming the accuser. When the fault in a sexual assault case lands upon a person or institution that is highly funded, positively regarded, a national symbol of success, etc., there is little chance that the survivor will come out on top.

But maybe there is hope. Is any attention good attention when it comes to these issues? The survivors who present their stories in The Hunting Ground have decided to put the cause before themselves. They have become activists and have sacrificed their personal well-being to do so. The individuals seen in the film have received threats, are constantly being questioned and challenged, and in many cases are being portrayed in negative light. However, they have also forced the issue of campus rape into the national headlines. They have put the rape epidemic on the map and are forcing the media and public to take note. As campus administrators, invested community members, and social justice educators, we owe something to these, and all, survivors. An easy way to remember how to support survivors is through the acronym HEAL: Honor, Empower, Accept, and Listen. The following screen shots from Think About It are a good baseline for how to respond when someone discloses sexual assault. If you hear people challenging the stories of the survivors in The Hunting Ground, remind them of these suggestions.


Campus Climate Surveys: A tool for creating anti-racist policies and procedures
Posted by On Thursday, November 12, 2015

This past month has been ripe with conversation around race and racism on campus. Articles in the Chronicle, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and many others have detailed racism at colleges and universities. Student Activism has put racial microaggressions, incidents of blatant racism, and institutionalized racism into the media and in many cases has already led to action by administration.

Two years ago, the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan started the #BBUM, or Being Black at U of M, campaign to bring awareness to the experiences of students of color on campus. This campaign received national attention and coincided with a list of demands to administration for improving the campus climate for students of color, and specifically Black and African American students, on campus.

Similar events have taken place at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and Yale over the past few weeks and student solidarity seems to be spreading to campuses around the country. While the situations at Mizzou and Yale have played out differently, the student activists are responding to similar frustrations with ongoing racism that has been left unaddressed by the school. Students are getting fed up with their institutions claiming “diversity” and “inclusivity” when their lived experiences tell them otherwise. Students are getting fed up with leaders not taking racism on campus seriously. And students are getting fed up with acts of blatant racism receiving no repercussion.

What does campus racism have to do with the campus climate around sexual assault? A lot. Campus climate is holistic in that it defines how students experience their time at a school. However, it has many different facets. Lately, we have been focusing on campus climate and how it relates to sexual assault (including sexual violence, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and dating/relationship violence). The racial climate on campuses definitely plays into how students perceive the climate around sexual assault.

If a student does not feel included, safe, or welcomed on campus, if a student does not feel supported by administrators, if a student does not feel a sense of community, if a student does not see faces who look like them in positions that matter, if a student is struggling every day just to survive in a space that is stacked against them, what is to make them want to report? Or even if they want to, what is to make them feel safe reporting?

Similarly, if the perpetrator of an assault was a student of color, reporting can be an especially complicated decision. If reporting means giving another reason for people of color to look like criminals or perpetrators of violence, survivors might be hesitant to report due to the potential harm to their community – perhaps the only community they feel a part of on campus.

So what does all of this mean? Sexual assault education, response, and policies are not one-size-fits-all. A survivor-centered approach needs to take into consideration the unique experiences of each survivor, including how their culture, community, and identities intersect with that experience. The Department of Justice suggests that a “culturally relevant, survivor centered approach” needs to have the following components:

  • Is grounded in the experiences of all survivors on campus. This requires the campus to understand not only the dynamics of the crimes, but the nuances that each crime presents and how these crimes are experienced by diverse groups of survivors on campus.
  • Takes into account cultural contexts in order to better understand the survivor’s experience and how this may affect such actions like a survivor’s decision not to report or seek services.
  • Is flexible and adaptable to the needs of survivors so they are not re-traumatized by the campus’s efforts.
  • Prevents the creation of processes, protocols and systems that support institutional interests over survivor’s needs.

We’ve previously written how race and ethnicity are depicted in Think About It, but this is just the beginning of thinking about how sexual assault prevention and response work can be anti-racist. Last year at NASPA, a session titled “Considering Students of Color in Sexual Assault Prevention” by Luoluo Hong, Mark Houlemard, Ross Wantland, and Patricia Nguyen discussed using a social justice framework when thinking about sexual assault on college campuses. To do this, it is imperative that administrators recognize that racism and sexism are “interlocking systems of oppression” and doing anti-sexism work also means doing anti-racism work. One of my main takeaways from this session was when Hong suggested replacing the word “students” in your sexual assault policies with “students of color.” And then ask yourself: Does the policy still apply? Is it realistic and comprehensive? Are students of color actually considered in the voices of victims and perpetrators? Most importantly, how is your sexual assault prevention work anti-racist?

How does this relate to Climate Surveys? As we previously wrote, Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are being considered a “best practice response to campus sexual assault.” One of the most beneficial usages for climate survey data is being able to sort and filter it based on demographics like class standing, gender, sexual orientation, and race. When you administer your campus climate survey, pay special attention to the perceptions and experiences of students of color. Compare the experiences of white students and students of color for questions about reporting sexual assaults, perceptions of campus safety, and bystander behaviors. Reporting numbers have been low across campuses (2-5%) when participants were asked if they reported the assault through official school systems. This data needs to be cross-tabulated with different demographics to isolate data about how race impacts perceptions and experiences with sexual assault. Climate surveys are a great tool to gauge racial disparities on your campus and can lead to creating policies and procedures that are anti-racist.

Accessible e-Learning: Developing WCAG2.0 Compliant Courses
Posted by On Thursday, October 29, 2015

Education about sexual violence, alcohol and other drugs, and healthy relationships is an important part of creating safe and healthy college campuses. Some schools have chosen to develop in-person training for this education, whereas others have chosen to use e-courses like CampusClarity’s Think About It. No matter what the method of delivery, it is important that all students, regardless of ability, have access to this vital information.

Accessibility for prevention programs is not specifically addressed by VAWA or the Campus SaVE Act. However, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights enforces accessibility compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for public and private colleges and universities.

Accessibility standards are evolving to keep pace with emerging technologies. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are currently the favored standard. All of CampusClarity’s online student trainings meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA specifications.

What does this mean?

The main principles of WCAG 2.0 are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. There are specific guidelines that exist within each of these principles to ensure that accessibility is more than just about the text on screen but also about the experience of the user.

There are three levels of conformance. Level AA is the intermediate level of specifications, which deals with the biggest and most common barriers for disabled users. Level AA is the standard the government is using as a benchmark for accessibility.

What does CampusClarity actually do to ensure accessibility?

Here are some examples of ways that we are maintaining our Level AA compliance with the WCAG 2.0;

  • Always provide text alternatives for non-text content (1.1.1)
  • Provide captions for videos and animations (1.2.2, 1.2.4)
  • Present content in a logical order to enable index ordered tabbing through the course (1.3.1)
  • Maintain contrast ratio minimums to ensure sufficient contrast (1.4.3)
  • Provide a “skip to content” links throughout the courses (2.4.1)
  • Offers different ways to navigate between pages (2.4.5)
  • Always provide clear headers for tabular data,  and descriptive labels for all content (2.4.6)

Our courses are all built using an in-house tool that enforces compliance of accessibility standards as part of course design.  For CampusClarity, accessibility is not an afterthought but is core to our whole system of course development. Accessibility is an ongoing concern and implementation of best standards and practices is a continuing process. If there is ever a concern with accessibility in one of our courses, we would love to hear from you!

Campus SaVE Compliance: Continuing, On-Going Education & Prevention
Posted by On Tuesday, October 20, 2015

You administered Think About It on your campus… now what?  The Campus SaVE Act requires schools provide “primary prevention and awareness programs” for new students and employees, as well as ongoing education, which refers to campaigns that are sustained over time, occur at different levels, utilize a wide range of strategies, have appropriate content for the audience, and provide ways for individuals to get involved.

Think About It, our flagship course, and its follow-ups, Part II and Part III, and the future release of Think About It: Continuing Students provide schools with options for ongoing education. However, there are many complimentary things that you can be doing on your campus throughout the school year! They fall into three categories of prevention and education. The different categories of prevention originated out of the health field with a focus on disease and illness. The goal of preventative actions is to stop further progression of the condition. In this case, the condition is sexual violence and the goal is for prevention efforts to stop 100% of sexual violence incidents before they occur. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of the work, and so there are other forms of programming, resourcing, and education that can supplement prevention. For our purposes, we have added a fourth and fifth category to the type of work happening on campus to remediate the impacts of sexual violence. We categorize these as Risk Reduction and Awareness Education.

Primary Prevention: Efforts that address sexual violence before it happens

Secondary Prevention: Efforts that deal with immediate effects of sexual violence

Tertiary Prevention: Efforts that manage long-term effects of sexual violence

Risk Reduction: Efforts that give potential victims tools that could minimize risk of sexual violence

  • Personal safety apps (Livesafe, Companion)
  • Responsible partying tips
  • Bystander Intervention
  • Self-defense classes

Awareness Education: Efforts that build awareness of the sexual violence among the target population (These can often fall into the categories of secondary or tertiary prevention, but it is important to remember that on its own, awareness is not preventative)

Your on-campus and online efforts to eliminate the incidences and impacts of sexual violence have the ability to make culture change far beyond that of just your campus. College age men and women are at the highest risk for sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean the problems stop when they leave campus. The education and programming they receive during their years in college will impact them long after they leave, creating a healthier and safer world for us all to live in. CampusClarity is intentional about including components of each type of prevention and education in Think About It to best arm campuses with the tools needed to make lasting change.

  • Primary Prevention: Think About It uses social norming by asking students “insights” questions that gauge their perspective and then tell them how their peers responded. Often students think that their beliefs make them outliers, when really most of their peers have the same concern as well as the same belief.
  • Secondary Prevention: Throughout Think About It, there are links to hotlines like RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) and allow for administrators to include on-campus and off-campus resources for students to counseling centers, hospitals, or other crisis interventions.
  • Tertiary Prevention: Think About It can be used as a tool to educate peers about how to best assist those who are struggling with abusive relationships, have experienced sexual assault, or overuse alcohol/drugs.
  • Risk Reduction: In Think About It, there is a focus on bystander intervention to encourage friends and peers to intervene in situations of risk. We also provide tips on partying safer. By acknowledging that students will still engage in these activities, we give them the resources needed to do it in the least risky way.
  • Awareness Education: When campuses use Think About It, they also gain access to Talk About It, our online resources that include posters and white papers about topics like sexual assault, dating violence, and alcohol use. We also link to reporting policies so that students gain the knowledge needed to report sexual violence or misconduct.

While CampusClarity provides as many resources as possible, we are definitely not able to do this alone. It is important that campuses also enlist the help of our partners in this fight to end sexual/dating violence. Check out the links above for some options.

Is there programming on your campus that you’re especially proud of? We’d love to hear your success stories at our Annual Summit this March. Please email for more information.

When Civil Liberties Collide With Civil Rights
Posted by On Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The First Amendment protects the free exchange of ideas in public schools at every level of education, and Title IX protects a student’s right to learn in a hostile-free environment at all federally-funded schools. When Title IX collides with the First Amendment, it requires schools “to mediate the tension created by the collision of rights.”

One former college administrator framed the issue this way: “Academic freedom is about education. When hostile behavior gets in the way of the educational process, academic freedom must give way to equal opportunity.”

In this post, we’ll explore the difficult balancing act required to protect these two fundamental values in an educational environment. School policies play an important role in these cases. As we’ll see, legally sound sexual harassment policies are critical to mediating this tension and avoiding lawsuits.

OCR and SCOTUS on Title IX and Free Speech

When Title IX complaints involve First Amendment issues they enter the realm of academic freedom, which the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has deemed a matter of national interest. In two landmark decisions, the SCOTUS ruled that state laws violated the First Amendment because they prohibited teaching any subject except in English [Meyer v. State of Nebraska (1923) 262 U.S. 390], and required professors of public universities to sign a certificate that they were not Communists [Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967) 385 U.S. 589].

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist. (1969) 393 U.S. 503, 511), the SCOTUS famously said that students in the public schools do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” (Tinker at 506). Since no substantial disruption of school activities was reasonably expected or actually occurred, adopting a school policy to prohibit students from wearing symbolic black armbands to protest the Vietnam War violated the students’ First Amendment rights.

However, the SCOTUS also concluded that high school educators did not violate students’ First Amendment rights when they refused to publish the students’ articles in the school newspaper—one describing students’ experiences with pregnancy and another discussing the impact that parents getting divorced has on students—based on “legitimate pedagogical concerns” [Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) 484 U.S. 260].

In 1992, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia explained that government restrictions on speech are not absolutely prohibited. And he noted that sexually derogatory “fighting words” in the workplace are not protected by the First Amendment:

Thus, for example, sexually derogatory “fighting words,” among other words, may produce a violation of Title VII’s general prohibition against sexual discrimination in employment practices. [citations omitted] Where the government does not target conduct on the basis of its expressive content, acts are not shielded from regulation merely because they express a discriminatory idea or philosophy. [RAV v. City of St. Paul (1992) 505 U.S. 377, 389-390]

In 2003, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Dear Colleague Letter to confirm that “There is no conflict between the civil rights laws that this Office enforces and the civil liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.” In other words, Title IX prohibits harassment that is serious enough to limit or deny a student’s educational opportunities, not speech that is protected under the First Amendment.

In its 1997 Sexual Harassment Guidance, the OCR describes the balance between a school’s Title IX obligations and the protection of academic freedom, which does not involve bright lines:

Overall, the Guidance illustrates that in addressing allegations of sexual harassment, the judgment and common sense of teachers and school administrators are important elements of a response that meets the requirements of Title IX . . . the resolution of cases involving potential First Amendment issues is highly fact-and context-dependent. Thus, hard and fast rules are not appropriate.

Since schools must address these issues on a case-by-case basis, next we’ll look at faculty and student conduct to illustrate some of the factors that help schools determine when civil liberties must give way to civil rights.

Unpopular and Offensive Content

A recent case made headlines when Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis complained about her institution’s sexual harassment policies and found herself in the middle of what she called “My Title IX Inquisition.” Two students had filed a Title IX complaint for retaliation based on Professor Kipnis’s essay, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she wrote that the new sexual harassment policies “aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen.”

After an investigation, Northwestern found Professor Kipnis had not violated Title IX. As pointed out by Erin Buzuvis of the Title IX Blog, a Title IX violation requires severe or pervasive conduct that “would have to rise to the level of retaliatory harassment.” Additionally, Kipnis wrote about a matter of public concern. Without more, unpopular and offensive content about a matter of public concern does not violate Title IX.

In another case involving allegations of faculty-on-student harassment, Professor Silva used this example to gain his students’ attention: “Belly dancing is like jello on a plate with a vibrator under the plate.” Professor Silva said he was illustrating how to define concepts in a technical report by using a general classification and a simple metaphor. He was suspended from teaching a technical writing class.

However, the court found that Professor Silva was disciplined “simply because six adult students found his choice of words to be outrageous,” even though his example was used for a valid educational objective and was part of a college class lecture, and these were adult college students. Thus, the court concluded that using the school’s sexual harassment policy to discipline Silva’s classroom speech violated the First Amendment [Silva v. University of New Hampshire (USDC NH 1994) 888 F.Supp. 293].

A federal court found the definition of Temple University’s sexual harassment policy too broad because harassment was not qualified with a severe or pervasive requirement. Therefore, it could prohibit speech protected by the First Amendment [DeJohn v. Temple University (3d Cir. 2008) 537 F.3d 301]. The policy definition also prohibited “gender-motivated” conduct, which focused on the actor’s intent rather than the actual effect of creating a hostile environment that interferes with a person’s educational opportunities.

Another federal court rejected a student’s claim that Oakland University’s conduct code was too broad because the court concluded that the student did not engage in constitutionally-protected speech. The adult male student wrote “lascivious entries” in a Daybook assignment, expressing lust for his female English professor, which the court found this was not “pure speech,” as in Tinker. Nor was the student expressing his views on matters of public concern. The court concluded that “speech protected in other settings is not necessarily protected when made in response to a classroom assignment and when directed at one’s professor” [Corlett v. Oakland University (USDC ED MI 2013) no. 13-11145].

In summary, legally sound sexual harassment policies define the prohibited conduct consistent with the First Amendment and OCR’s sexual harassment guidance. The cases also provide these factors to help determine if a professor’s statements were protected speech, including: (1) the age and sophistication of the students, (2) the relationship between the teaching method and a valid educational objective, and (3) the context and manner of presentation.
And, finally, OCR also advises schools to seize a teachable moment:

[W]hile the First Amendment may prohibit a school from restricting the right of students to express opinions about one sex that may be considered derogatory, the school can take steps to denounce those opinions and ensure that competing views are heard.

Campus Climate Surveys: Data Collection as Prevention & Risk-Reduction
Posted by On

Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are a hot topic for student affairs administrators around the country. Some schools have administered internal climate surveys, some have utilized prepared climate surveys from the AAU or HEDS, and others are in the process of developing and implementing climate surveys. While climate surveys are not yet federally required (although some states are now mandating them and the OCR has required them of schools under investigation), the government has urged schools to adequately assess the climate on their campuses through climate surveys.

At CampusClarity, we do more than just help reach Title IX & Campus SaVE compliance. We strive to eliminate sexual and dating violence on college campuses and beyond. Because climate surveys are considered a best practice for gauging campus climate, we have developed a tool that will help campus administrators tackle the huge task of building climate surveys.

Over the past few months, our product development team has dedicated countless hours to learning from others, developing best practices, and engineering a platform that will allow administrators to simply and swiftly build campus climate surveys. Our platform has many unique features made specifically for campus climate surveys, such as built in content/trigger warnings, a landing page for IRB approval, and default settings that will help increase completion rates. Perhaps most useful is that all data collected will go into the same LMS with data from Think About It and our other courses. Data can be cross tabulated by demographic, and will be delivered with sample size protection as to not out students with underrepresented identities.

We partnered with Callisto, a sexual assault reporting tool for colleges, to host a webinar revealing our climate survey platform. Callisto allows schools to collect data all year round about incidence and prevalence of sexual assault. When partnered with climate surveys, Callisto can provide administrators the information they need to provide prevention, risk reduction, and awareness education on campus. View the below webinar to learn more about climate survey best practices, Callisto, and CampusClarity’s new product.

Climate Survey Webinar

Race and Representation in Think About It
Posted by On Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CampusClarity strives to go beyond compliance to create widespread culture change.  We think that the laws, articles, and concepts presented in our courses are an important part of creating that change. We also understand that unconscious conditioning has a strong influence on each person’s decision-making, and instruction that singly addresses conscious choices doesn’t go far enough. Culturally transmitted conditioning tells us through a deluge of suggestive images that some people are inherently worth more than others because of their gender, the color of their skin, or their wealth, even though we know that this is not true.

Changing these assumptions requires, among other things, a massive overhaul of the kinds of visual messages that we create and consume. As a training company, this includes depicting non-white characters and narratives in ways that are complex, relatable, and un-caricatured. While on the face of it a straightforward idea, creating nuanced characters within the constraints of online training is not a simple task. Therefore, our student harm-reduction program Think About It is always a work in progress. We hope to improve our stories with every iteration by listening to the valuable input from our users. Some considerations we keep in mind when writing our courses include empathy, race perception, and othering.

Inducing empathy is a powerful tool for social change. It is important that students can empathize with the characters we present in our courses so that they can imagine themselves performing the modeled behavior. In his iconic book Understanding Comics, cartoonist Scott McCloud puts forward the idea that as visual animals, we empathize better with characters that are drawn with less detail, so that we can project our own selves onto them more easily.

This idea has since been backed up by research, and is one of the reasons we have historically chosen to silhouette the characters in our courses. Silhouetting characters removes a great deal of detail about coloring, clothing, and even gender. But what does this choice mean in a culture in which the default identity is “white male,” and any deviation from that model is considered by many to be a “distracting” detail?

Our audience is diverse. College students from across the country use Think About It and have a reasonable expectation of seeing themselves represented in our courses. Campus Clarity is further dedicated to multifaceted representations of people of different races, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. Our writers and illustrators spend a lot of time thinking about the ways to accurately reflect our audience without devolving into tokenization. After all, race and ethnicity reach far beyond just the way someone looks, and extends into culture, lifestyle, and values. For example, not all authority figures are white males, and we hope our courses reflect this reality.

However, we must balance the desire for complexity with the desire to minimize character specificity. When we made the decision to silhouette our characters in pale blue, an unfortunate side effect was the erasure of diverse sociocultural markers. This in turn made all the characters appear ethnically white to some users, when in reality many of the models and voice actors we employed were non-white. This feedback from our users prompted our development team to take a deeper look at the way formal design elements affect our learning goals. In the graduate version of the course, the characters are silhouetted in dark gray, and this issue has been largely eliminated.

Another way we tried to indicate a character’s ethnicity is by directly stating it in the course. This was noted and appreciated by many users. However, due to the aforementioned “white default mode”, this also had the effect of only pointing out when a character’s identity has veered from the “norm,” effectively othering the character and reducing empathy in the user. We plan to address these and other issues in the upcoming version of Think About It.

The vast range of opinions we receive on our courses highlight that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach when discussing sensitive topics. However, it is clear that there is a general consensus about the right direction to move in, and that an inclusive outlook provides the forward momentum for online courses to have maximum impact.



Campus Climate Survey Results: AAU Releases Aggregate Data about Sexual Assault
Posted by On Monday, September 21, 2015

Today, the Association of American Universities released aggregate data from the climate survey it conducted at 27 of its member campuses. The results reinforced some of the findings from other campus climate surveys, but also revealed startling new information about how students respond that could inform campus’s prevention programs.

The AAU report says that “the primary goal of the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct was to provide…information to inform policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.” They survey assessed the incidence and prevalence of sexual assault, the perceptions of risk, the knowledge of resources, and the likelihood of action.

Just over 150,000 students participated in the survey, giving a response rate of around 19%. When students were offered a $5 Amazon gift card, their response rate was 9.3% higher than when they were offered drawing entry or no incentive.  The response rate for females was 7.3% higher than for males. Results varied across the 27 campuses who administered the AAU survey, and it is expected that many schools will release their individual data as well. Although the response rate was lower than desired, this survey gives us one of the largest data pools of its kind.

Overall, there are some findings that are consistent across all campuses.

  • Results confirmed the widely cited statistic that “one in five” women will experience sexual assault while at college.
  • Transgender, Genderqueer, and Gender Nonconforming students are more likely to experience sexual assault or misconduct across all categories.
  • About one quarter of students reported feeling very or extremely knowledgeable about where to report sexual assault.
  • More than 75% of sexual assault cases were never reported using official systems of reporting.
  • Males are more optimistic than females that someone who reports a sexual assault will be supported by their peers.
  • The most common reason for not reporting sexual assault was that it was “not considered serious enough,” with high numbers also in feeling “embarrassed or ashamed” and “did not think anything would be done.”
  • Over a quarter of senior females reported experiencing sexual contact by force or incapacitation since entering college.

Some of the most interesting results of the findings related to perception of risk and bystander behaviors. Around 20% believe that sexual assault is very or extremely problematic on their campus, but only 5% thought that it was very likely that they would experience it. Over half of students who had witnessed someone acting sexually violent or harassing said they did nothing to intervene. Over three quarters of students who had witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter said they did nothing to intervene.

What does this mean for student affairs professionals and college administrators? There are a number of action-steps that can be taken from the information gathered through this survey.

  • Sexual assault and misconduct are massive problems on college campuses, and not isolated to individual institutions who are in the media.
  • Even when people believe sexual assault is a rampant problem on their campus, they are unlikely to believe it could happen to them. Students need to be given a realistic understanding about the context of sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Although very few students reported through official means, most students told a friend. Students need the resources and tools to be able to help friends who have experienced sexual assault or misconduct.
  • Students didn’t report for a number of reasons, but most frequently because they did not consider it serious enough. If schools want accurate reporting numbers, they need to send a clear message of what is included in sexual assault or misconduct policies.
  • Most students did not intervene even when they noticed a potential sexual assault. Bystander intervention efforts need to focus both on recognizing what constitutes sexual assault or misconduct and also build motivation for intervention, give students the tools they need, and develop the skills and confidence to intervene.

If you’d like to learn more about climate surveys and discuss ways that you can develop your own or use the aggregate data from the AAU survey to inform your campus programming, join us on Tuesday, October 13th for a webinar with Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations and Peter Novak from the University of San Francisco. Register at

To view the entire 288-page report, go here.

To view the survey tool developed by Westat, go here.

To view the fact-sheet summary, go here.



Are Climate Surveys Part of Title IX/Clery Act Compliance?
Posted by On Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On April 29, 2014, the White House Task Force issued its “Not Alone” report with an overview of how to plan and conduct a campus sexual assault climate survey, as well as a sample survey based on best practices. The report urges “schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year.”

In a May 2015 article, “Climate Surveys Are Coming,” readers were told, “The task force’s suggestion that schools conduct climate surveys is one of several signals that surveys soon will be required as part of a Title IX/Clery Act compliance program.”

On the same day that the White House report came out, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued the guidance document, “Questions & Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,” which listed conducting climate surveys as one of the ways to “limit the effects of the alleged sexual violence and prevent its recurrence,” if a victim requests confidentiality and does not want formal action taken against the alleged perpetrator.

Other signals that campus climate surveys soon may be mandated include OCR agreements resulting from Title IX investigations and compliance reviews that require schools to conduct surveys, including: Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Montana, Southern Methodist University, Lehigh University, Harvard Law School, Lyon College, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, University of Dayton, Cedarville University, Glenville State College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, State University of New York, and Rockford University.

Instead of waiting for federal laws or Title IX guidance that mandate climate surveys, some states have already enacted laws requiring them:

  • Maryland House Bill 571 requires institutions of higher education to “DEVELOP AN APPROPRIATE SEXUAL ASSAULT CAMPUS CLIMATE SURVEY, USING NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BEST PRACTICES FOR RESEARCH AND CLIMATE SURVEYS,” and submit to the Maryland Higher Education Commission on or before June 1, 2016 (and every two years thereafter), a report aggregating the data collected by the survey, including:
  • The New YorkEnough is Enough” law signed on July 7, 2015, requires all New York colleges and universities to conduct campus climate surveys at least every other year. The survey requirement goes into effect on July 7, 2016.
  • The State of Washington passed a new law (SSB 5518.SL), requiring state universities, the regional universities, The Evergreen State College, the community colleges, and the technical colleges to conduct a campus climate survey and report their findings to the governor and legislature by December 31, 2016.
  • Louisiana passed a new law (SB 255) which provides, “When funding is made available, each public postsecondary education institution shall administer an annual, anonymous sexual assault climate survey to its students.”
  • In addition, the Massachusetts legislature is considering Bill S. 650, which would create a task force to develop a sexual assault climate survey to be administered by colleges and universities selected by the task force.

Meanwhile, Boston University launched a student survey in March 2015 (see FAQs about BU’s survey) and, while not required by law, the University of California conducted a campus climate survey on its campuses in Spring 2013 (see results and FAQs). Previously, we’ve reported on published data from other climate surveys, what experts say, and how to get started.

With Congress back in session, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act may have gained some momentum from the July 29th hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Testimony received at that hearing included strong support from the Association of American Universities for campus climate surveys, pointing out that it is important that schools directly or indirectly control survey administration so that it addresses the unique circumstances of individual campuses.

We will continue to watch this closely as the patchwork quilt of climate survey requirements continues to unfold. We will also be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, October 13th with Peter Novak from University of San Francisco and Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations about climate surveys and data.  Follow our twitter account @CampusClarity for the link to register as the date gets closer.

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 4, 2015

In this weeks roundup: studies explore the smoking habits of college students, Harvard attempts to create a more inclusive campus for trans* students, and Michigan State University was found to have violated Title IX.

College Students Smoke More Marijuana than Cigarettes

While cigarette use amongst college students is declining, marijuana use is on the rise. It has, for the first time, surpassed tobacco as the primary substance to smoke for college students. University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research compiled survey data showing that around 5% of students say they smoke tobacco heavily, whereas 6% smoke marijuana heavily. The Associated Press reports that “the percentage of daily pot users… was the highest ever recorded… [and] twenty-one percent of college students said they had used marijuana at least once during the previous month, and 34% said they had used it in the past year.” There have been many studies lately about the impacts of marijuana use, exploring everything from its correlation with depression to its impact on brain size and shape. Some studies have designated marijuana as a treatment option for anxiety and other mental health concerns. However, marijuana isn’t the only treatment for anxiety and depression students have been seeking in recent years – students are utilizing campus mental health services on campus more than ever.

Harvard Allows Students to Pick Gender Pronoun

At Harvard, students will now be able to write in their preferred gender pronoun when they register for classes, according to The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper. Harvard hopes that this option will help students feel more comfortable with their gender identity and prevent professors from misgendering students in the classroom or in communications. Van Bailey, the director of Harvard’s Office of BGLTQ Student Life, explained to the Boston Globe, “With this change we are being proactive about allowing students to control how they are addressed or seen based on how they identify or see themselves…We hope this creates classroom spaces that foster inclusion and equity for all students.” Harvard will still classify all students as male or female, regardless of the pronoun they choose.

OCR Completes Michigan State Investigation

On September 1, 2015, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released its letter of findings, concluding that Michigan State University violated Title IX because it failed to:

  • promptly respond to sexual harassment complaints, which caused or contributed to a sexually hostile environment for students and staff on campus
  • comply with Title IX requirements for informing students and staff about grievance procedures, what constitutes sexual harassment, and how to contact its Title IX coordinator

For example, the results of a survey of MSU freshman and transfer students conducted in Spring 2014 found: “Only 7.4% of students were able to correctly identify the name of the University’s Title IX Coordinator. In contrast, 71.5% of the students surveyed correctly identified the University’s head basketball coach.”

The MSU Resolution Agreement requires mandatory training for students on how to identify and report sexual harassment and sexual assault, available student resources, as well as the University’s grievance procedures and possible sanctions for conduct violations. The MSU letter of findings also identified best practices, which include:

  • maintaining documentation of investigation and grievance proceedings
  • determining whether harassment occurred or whether conduct was welcome based on the totality of the circumstances
  • taking prompt interim measures to protect the complainant as soon as the school has notice of a harassment allegation
  • making sure that the school community is aware of what type of conduct constitute sexual harassment, including sexual violence
  • not allowing mediation of sexual assault complaints or the parties to personally cross-examine each other during hearings
  • not allowing those handling grievance procedures to have a real or perceived conflict of interest

Meanwhile, 130 schools are currently under investigation by the OCR and the number continues to grow. Read our discussion of the University of Montana’s Resolution Agreement and our discussion of standards of proof in campus hearings based on that Resolution Agreement.