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.

Companion: New Personal Safety App
Posted by On

Students at the University of Michigan have developed a new phone application called Companion, which allows you to be virtually “walked home” by friends. Companion, which was originally created for students on college campuses, enables someone to request a companion to keep them company and also track them via GPS. Your companion does not need to have the app installed on their phones to be able to escort someone home. They will receive a text message letting them know that someone has requested their companionship with a link to a interactive map showing the route home. If the user leaves their path, starts running, has their headphones removed from their phone, or falls, the application asks the user if they’re alright. The user then has 15 seconds to respond and if they do not, the app projects an alarm noise, gives the option to instantly phone police, and notifies the escort so that they can choose to call the police or the user.


Tens of thousands of people around the world have downloaded Companion, which is free for both iOS and Android. If campuses choose to partner with Companion, their campus police or safety departments are also incorporated into the app’s options. The application also has an “I’m nervous” option that allows users to track where and why they feel uncomfortable so that schools are able to use this data for improving campus safety.

The creators of the app say that many people from outside of the US have downloaded the application and that they’ve had requests from parents who want to use the app for their children as well as from folks who want to use the app for their elderly parents or grandparents. Companion is one of many new phone applications being used to improve safety on campuses. Circle of 6 and LiveSafe are two other applications students are using to stay safe on campus. As a post on Companion’s blog says, “…while we cannot erase all the “bad guys” from our planet, we can take a step in the right direction by refusing to walk home alone. Take a cab, walk with a friend, or walk with Companion. Just don’t walk alone.” While campus programming is trending toward primary prevention education, the importance of – and necessity for – risk reduction tools unfortunately remains.


Five Resources for Getting to Know Your Students
Posted by On Thursday, September 3, 2015

It is useful to understand the attitudes and behaviors of today’s young adults to prepare your campus for the academic year. Here are a few things we learned from recent surveys and studies about today’s students and five resources to help you learn more about your students.

The good news is that recent surveys suggest that today’s students are in many ways more responsible than those in the past. Monitoring the Future (MTF), a national survey of secondary and post-secondary students’ attitudes and behaviors, found that in 2014 both alcohol and cigarette use among teens were at their lowest points since the survey began in 1975.

Though in many ways young adults are drinking more responsibly, they are still drinking: According to MTF, in 2014 “27% of 8th graders, 49% of 10th graders, 66% of 12th graders, 79% of college students” tried alcohol.

And students do still have some unhealthy habits. In 2014, about 1 in 5 of high-school seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) in the past two weeks. We also know that while college-bound seniors report binging less than their non-college bound peers, they overtake their peers once they’re in college.

The data on drug use is less clear cut than the data on drinking. In general, drug use among teens remains relatively stable with some small declines. Worth noting, however, are significant declines in the use of prescription narcotics like Vicodin, codeine, and OxyContin.

While the data on students’ drug and alcohol use is promising, there are some suggestions that college students’ mental health is declining.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), in 2014 college first-years reported the lowest emotional health since the survey began. 9.5% of students reported feeling frequently depressed. Directors of counseling centers are also reporting increases in anxiety disorders and crises requiring immediate response, according to the National Survey of College Counseling Centers.

The rise in self-reported mental health issues, however, may not be due to college students’ deteriorating mental health. At least some of the change may be related to increased awareness around mental health, which may be leading more students to reach out for help.

The Chronicle of Higher Education just released a series of articles covering the rise in self-reported mental health issues on college campuses. You can also read our discussion of the college mental health crisis here.

These national surveys, however, only show us one side of today’s undergraduate population. Here are some stories and websites that reveal other valuable aspects of students to help paint a broader picture.

What’s it like Being 18?

Ninna Gaensler-Debs of KALW, a Bay Area public radio, asked a group of high school seniors to tell her what it’s like being 18 today. The 2-3 minute vignettes span a variety of topics from battling depression to applying to college as an undocumented teen. This excellent series lets young adults speak for themselves.

‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors Know

This video and accompanying article explore ways to make LGBTQ students more welcome on campus and in the classroom. The Chronicle interviewed over a dozen students, who shared the challenges and safety issues they faced as LGBTQ students. The students talk about gender identity, pronouns, name changes, and housing concerns.

Helping Homeless Students

The Chronicle ran two articles on the plight of homeless students and how some colleges and universities are reaching out to them. The articles shed light on the struggles and challenges these students face trying to stay in school and the programs that have helped them. While there is little research on homeless students, students can identify as “unaccompanied homeless youth” on their federal financial aid forms. Nationwide, close to 60,000 students have chosen that designation, according to the Chronicle.

Beloit Mindset List

If you haven’t already seen it in a chain email or heard about in your president’s welcome address, you should definitely check out the Beloit College Mindset List. Released every year, this not-very-scientific list chronicles the popular culture of this year’s incoming class. Of particular note this year: “Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.”

Data from Campus Climate Surveys

More and more schools are administering climate surveys on their campuses to gauge the well-being and safety of their students. Many schools are also making the data from these surveys public. While the information is particular to the schools, it does provide one more glimpse into student life. We’ve written about getting started with climate surveys, and we’ve also provided a useful rundown of what experts are saying about campus climate surveys.

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 28, 2015

In this week’s roundup: double standards for sexual activity may begin as early as middle school, the University of Michigan tries out a new policy to discourage underage drinking, and a new study reveals that students are most likely to try certain drugs at specific times during the year.

Double Standard for Early Adolescent Sexual Activity

A team of sociologists and researches has released a new study showing that adolescent girls and boys – as early as the 6th grade – experience the social impacts of sexual activity differently.  “In our sample of early adolescents, girls’ friendship networks shrink significantly after they have sex, whereas boys’ friendship networks expand significantly,” said Derek A. Kreager, the lead researcher and a faculty member at Pennsylvania State University. The study found that early adolescent girls gain friends for making out without having sex, whereas boys of the same age lose friends for making out without having sex, enforcing a double standard about sexual freedom and promiscuity at a very early age. The researchers posit that early social norming around gender and sexual activity will have a lasting impact on “later sexual adjustment.” The paper, “The Double Standard at Sexual Debut: Gender, Sexual Behavior and Early Adolescent Peer Acceptance,” was presented Tuesday at the American Sociological Association’s 110th Annual Meeting.

University of Michigan Notifies Parents About Conduct Violations 

The University of Michigan announced that they will be going an unconventional route to discourage underage drinking this year. When students repeatedly violate alcohol and other drug (AOTD) policies, their parents will be notified of their behavior.  This is legal under FERPA Section 952, which allows – but not requires – schools to contact parents if their child is under 21 and committing AOTD violations. “We will notify parents of first-year students when a student under the age of 21 has had a second alcohol or drug violation or when a first-year student has committed a violation accompanied by other serious behavior such as needing medical attention, significant property damage or driving under the influence,” E. Royster Harper, Michigan’s Vice President for Student Life, wrote in a campus-wide email. This initiative is being promoted as a harm-reduction strategy for student safety.  Official communication from the University has not addressed any potential concerns, discrepancies, or downfalls to this policy. However, commentors on the article have brought up that AOTD legal violations seem to be taken seriously for a school who is under Title IX investigation for its mishandling of a sexual assault committed by a star athlete.

Study finds students start taking painkillers in winter, start drinking alcohol and smoking pot in the summer

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a new study on Thursday that looks at the months when college students are most likely to experiment with new drugs. The study is the first of its kind, breaking down first time use by month for various substances, including alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, “study drugs,” prescription painkillers, and cocaine. First time use of alcohol, for instance, peaks in June, July, September, and December, according to the report. Similarly, college students tend to use marijuana for the first time in June and July. First time non-medical use of prescription painkillers, on the other hand, peaks in December. The study is based on data collected between 2002 and 2013 from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The information can help administrators target monthly programming to address the substances students are most likely to experiment with. Read the full study.


No Union for Northwestern Football Players
Posted by On Thursday, August 27, 2015

For a moment in college football history, student football players at Northwestern University (NU) were deemed “employees” with the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). But that moment is over — at least for now.

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) previously ruled that football players at NU were employees eligible to vote on whether to form a union. However, after the election but before the votes could be counted, the full NLRB in Washington D.C. impounded the ballots to consider an appeal by NU.

Rather than decide whether the football players are employees with union rights, the NLRB made an end-run around the question by declining to assert jurisdiction — a decision effectively denying the players the right to unionize under the NLRA. “Our decision,” the NLRB explained, “is primarily premised on a finding that … it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction.”

Observing that since the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sets and enforces common rules and standards of practice and competition over NU and other member teams, as well as individual players, “a symbiotic relationship” exists among them.

“As a result,” the Board reasoned, “labor issues directly involving only an individual team and its players would also affect the NCAA … and the other member institutions. Many terms applied to one team therefore would likely have ramifications for other teams. Consequently, it would be difficult to imagine any degree of stability in labor relations if we were to assert jurisdiction in this single-team case.”

Additionally, the Board noted that although NU is a private university covered by the NLRA, the Act does not cover state-run educational institutions, which means the NLRB cannot exercise jurisdictions over sports teams at these other NCAA-member schools.

“In particular, of the roughly 125 colleges and universities that participate in FBS [Division I Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA], all but 17 are state-run institutions. As a result, the Board cannot assert jurisdiction over the vast majority of FBS teams …. More starkly, Northwestern is the only private school that is a member of the Big Ten [Conference of the NCAA], and thus the Board cannot assert jurisdiction over any of Northwestern’s primary competitors.”

Still, the NLRB left the door open to revisit the issue for players’ groups larger than a single team, or under different circumstances: “[W]e are declining jurisdiction only in this case involving the football players at Northwestern University … The Board’s decision not to assert jurisdiction does not preclude a reconsideration of this issue in the future.” [Northwestern University v. College Athletes Players Association (2015) 362 NLRB No. 167]

For more information on students and work, see our earlier posts on unpaid internships and the Fox Searchlight lawsuit.

A Parent’s Perspective on Campus Sexual Assault
Posted by On Monday, August 24, 2015

This piece is a guest post by Sheri Heitker Dixon, the founder of Keep Her Safe, an organization that helps parents and prospective students assess an institution’s attitudes and programs aimed at preventing sexual violence: “Our strategy is to make ‘safe from sexual assault’ a significant college selection criterion for parents and students, just like location, curriculum, cost, and other considerations.” Following on our recent webinar on involving parents in campus prevention efforts and Dr. Novak’s follow up post, “Why Parents Matter,” Heitker Dixon offers a parent’s perspective on what she is looking for in a school and what she would like to hear from campus leaders.

A Huffington Post headline forced me to think differently about sending my daughter to college. In February 2014, the college search was just beginning to show up on our radar. Most of the talk about college came from her high school guidance counselor and teachers with a focus on grades and encouragement to be involved in activities. We had talked casually about where she might go. A close friend promoted his alma mater, Duke. Her Florida Prepaid Tuition account assured a public Florida school would be completely paid for. There was the allure of urban schools in Boston and New York. We talked about her interests: neuroscience and theater. Even as a high school freshman, she was adamant that her hometown schools were not under consideration.

There are lots of questions to explore when making this decision. The question I wasn’t prepared for was the one asked in that Huffington Post headline: Why Are So Many Boys Leaving High School Thinking Rape Is Funny? The headline was jarring enough but the content of the article was horrifying to this mother of a teenage girl. The frequently cited, “1 in 5 college women will be assaulted” statistic was accompanied by a litany of incidents which were deeply misogynistic and dehumanizing in their objectification of female students.

I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of sending my daughter into this environment. I worried some of these boys were already in her circle. While the issue of campus sexual assault gained much traction with the White House Task Force, Congress, student groups and national sexual assault organizations creating solutions and demanding change, I couldn’t find support for parents. All the groups indicated that parents need to be involved but there was no vehicle to support that.

So I created my own protocol and founded Keep Her Safe to mobilize parents to press college and university administrations to make their campuses safe from sexual assault. Our family is looking at one of our largest purchases ever with a 4-year degree ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. I insist that my daughter’s safety be offered as part of the college package. Other parents are joining me in leveraging our purchasing power by using the Keep Her Safe Parent Toolkit to guide us through the process of assessing a school and then communicating to its administration that safe from sexual assault is a major selection criterion we are considering when choosing a school with our children.

Over the past couple of years this issue is gaining momentum, and rarely a day passes without some piece of campus sexual assault news. Much of the emphasis is on how schools handle sexual assault complaints. But as a parent, I’m much more concerned about what is being done to prevent sexual violence on campus. If my daughter is filing a complaint with a Title IX coordinator, that is a massive failure on the part of her school.

Of course, it’s important that complaints are handled effectively, perpetrators are punished, and victims services are available. But, media reports make clear that dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault is messy and difficult so it makes sense to devote resources to prevention.

I and the parents I work with want an environment where sexual assault is prevented. We also want to know administrators take our concerns seriously. I recently, have been heartened that some administrators are working to involve parents in prevention efforts. I attended the Campus Clarity webinar “Involving Parents in Sexual Assault Prevention” and read the follow-up article by Dr. Peter Novak “Why Parents Matter: New Partners in Sexual Assault Prevention.” The discussion included research to bolster the impact parents can have and provided ideas for getting them involved.

Just as the administrations are looking for parents to exert their influence on students, we are looking to the colleges and universities where we send our children to maximize their resources. The schools are uniquely poised to address this issue with education and training. We are looking for programs that:

  • Effectively conduct bystander training using processes with research based efficacy
  • Deliver the training in a variety of ways that may include combinations of online training, games and videos
  • Reinforce teachings with in-person sessions
  • Make training mandatory to all students
  • Discuss alcohol and drug use
  • Educate about affirmative consent
  • Deliver ongoing training throughout the year and to all levels
  • Have specific programs targeting the groups which are disproportionately involved in incidents of sexual violence—fraternities and athletes

Almost daily, postcards with photos of gorgeous campuses and happy, engaged students arrive for my daughter. She is getting excited. I’m feeling dread wondering about the dark side of the beautiful buildings and lush landscaping.

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 21, 2015

In this week’s roundup, confusion and guidance around confidentiality and the University of Texas system launches a study of campus sexual assault across all 13 of its campues.

Department of Education Seeks Input on Protecting Student’s Medical Records

On Tuesday, August 18th, The Department of Education’s (ED) Chief Privacy Officer, Kathleen Styles, requested input from the higher education community on protecting student medical records. The request, which was published on “Homeroom,” the ED’s official blog, accompanied a draft Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) addressing an exception under FERPA that allows a school to access a student’s medical records without consent if there is litigation between the student and the school.

The draft guidance follows a controversial incident earlier this year: after a student sued her university for allegedly mishandling her report of being raped, the university gave her therapy records to its attorneys to help defend itself against her lawsuit. One commentator argued the university’s decision — and the FERPA exception that allowed them to make it — left students “stuck between unaffordable therapy in a safe space and free therapy provided by an institution they are unsure they can trust.” The draft DCL offers guidance for these situations,

…without a court order or written consent, institutions that are involved in litigation with a student should not share student medical records with the institution’s attorneys or courts unless the litigation in question relates directly to the medical treatment itself or the payment for that treatment, and even then disclose only those records that are relevant and necessary to the litigation.

Public input is welcomed until October 2nd, and anyone interested can email comments to

Controversial & Confidential Advisers

What’s controversial about confidential advisers? According to some experts, advocates employed by a college may have a conflict of interest when counseling alleged victims, rendering them unable to give students unbiased support. And without the protection of a legal privilege, advisers could be subpoenaed as part of a criminal investigation or by lawyers of accused students to disclose their communications with the alleged victim. Or, when helping a student move to a new dorm, information could be given to an employee who is required to report it to the Title IX coordinator. United Educators’ general counsel says simply hiring an adviser for every campus “is likely to cause more confusion and conflicts.”

However, as the White House Task Force Report pointed out, victims and survivors of sexual violence are more likely to seek help, rather than stay silent, if they have a place to go for confidential advice and support. The University of California has at least one adviser on each of its ten campuses. In fact, the UC Santa Barbara campus has five staff members to support victims through a campus or criminal investigation, or accommodations in academic and living situations, and the number of students seeking services from its confidential-advising program tripled after they increased the number of advisers.

California’s “Yes Means Yes” law requires campuses to have a confidential advising office for survivors. New York’s “Enough is Enough” law and the Campus Accountability and Safety Act now pending in the U.S. Senate both require confidential advisers on every college campus. Given the positive impact that a confidential adviser has on survivor reporting and recovery, it is likely we will see legislative action to protect advocate confidentiality.

Sexual Assault Climate Assessment at University of Texas

The University of Texas (UT) is undertaking a $1.7 million study of campus sexual assault across all 13 of its campuses.  Led by William McRaven, the chancellor of the UT system, the project is expected to take multiple years and will include an online student questionnaire, faculty and staff focus groups, and longitudinal studies of student experiences. This study is one of many sexual assault Campus Climate Survey projects sweeping the nation’s higher education institutions.

McRaven, who has been in his current role since January, is comparing his experience working with UT to his previous extensive experience with the military. McRaven is a retired four-star Navy admiral and a long-time Navy SEAL.  He is most known for his involvement in the operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. While in the Navy, McRaven says that he knew sexual assault was a problem, but until he conducted a survey of personnel, the extent and breadth of the problem were unknown. “Frankly, I was stunned by the results,” he said. “The problem was a lot more entrenched, and a lot broader, than I thought it was.”

This experience has helped him realize that “I don’t have enough data just yet” to understand how big the sexual assault problem is in the UT system. This project will happen in conjunction with the UT-Austin campus taking part in the AAU survey, for which aggregate results are expected to be published this Fall.