In this second excerpt from CampusClarity’s interview with Peter Novak, he discusses the value of clear, coordinated, and survivor-centered policies and reporting procedures in dealing with issues of sexual misconduct on campus, and how the support of survivors is intrinsic to the goals of Title IX.
Month: September 2014
For this week’s roundup we’re going to look at how co-ed frats, millennial marketing strategies, and survivors who refused to be silent are challenging rape culture on campus.
Back in May we brought you this story about a proposed policy change at Wesleyan University. After a number of high-profile sexual assault scandals, many of them involving fraternities, the school considered mandating that fraternities begin accepting female members. Now, that policy has been implemented, and Wesleyan frats will have three years to start letting in women. The reaction from students and alumni will presumably be mixed, but at least some have already taken to Twitter hailing the change and the changes they expect it to bring to fraternity culture at Wesleyan.
Last week President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden unveiled the new anti-sexual assault White House campaign “It’s On Us.” This piece profiles the ad agency behind that campaign, the San Francisco-based agency Mekanism. Wanting to create positive change with the talent at his company, Mekanism president and CEO Jason Harris reached out to PVBLIC Foundation after an event called Media for Social Impact. Just two days later the agency was tapped by the White House to do a campaign “to help prevent sexual assault on college campuses.” The agency was chosen largely thanks to past campaigns for clients such as Pepsi and Axe that targeted millennials—a key demographic in the fight against sexual assault, given the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses.
We’ve all heard stories about student activists fighting sexual assault such as Columbia’s Emma Sulkowicz, also known as “mattress girl.” This profile from New York Magazine goes deeper than most, telling the stories of several activists, including Sulkowicz, fellow Columbia student Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, and Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, a pair of UNC Chapel Hill alumni who run an “anti-assault Death Star” out of their Los Angeles apartment. The story focuses on the birth of a thriving anti-assault movement at Columbia, and is well worth taking the time to read.
CampusClarity recently interviewed Peter Novak, Vice Provost of Student Life at the University of San Francisco, about Student Life’s harm-prevention programming this Fall. The interview sheds light on how one school is approaching these important issues. We’ll be publishing the interview in three installments this week.
In this excerpt from that interview, Vice Provost Novak discusses how to use data collected by “Think About It” along with elements and themes from the course as a basis for expanded programming on sexual violence and substance abuse on campus.
For this week’s roundup we have three stories about the latest in substance abuse and sexual violence prevention efforts.
Today President Obama and Vice President Biden announced a new campaign intended to encourage bystander intervention preventing sexual assault on college campuses. The campaign, called “It’s On Us,” is intended for all students, but is particularly focused on men. Research suggests that although the majority of college-aged men disapprove of sexual assault and sexual violence, they may be reluctant to speak out against it due to the mistaken belief that their peers will disagree. “It’s On Us” will attempt to dispel that belief. The campaign will be promoted on its website, social media and through partnerships with colleges, organizations, and private parties.
In June, University of California President Janet Napolitano formed a task force on preventing and responding to sexual violence to investigate ways the University of California system could improve its current policies and procedures. This week, the task force announced seven recommendations to improve the UC’s response to sexual violence. The recommendations aim to create a more consistent, system-wide approach to these issues, including the creation of campus response teams, the standardization of adjudication and investigation procedures, the introduction of comprehensive training for students and employees, and the establishment on each campus of an independent, confidential advocacy office to support survivors. Napolitano praised the task force’s recommendations, calling them a “testament to the collaborative and rigorous approach the university is taking to become the national leader in preventing and combating sexual violence and sexual assault.”
If binge drinking on college campuses sometimes seems like an intractable problem, schools like Frostburg State University are proving that with the right policies administrators can reduce reckless drinking amongst their student population. Frostburg has partnered with local law enforcement, bars, and lawmakers to step up police presence around campus and limit students’ access to alcohol. They also have increased the number of Friday classes in an effort to reduce Thursday night drinking, and begun a campaign highlighting the less attractive aspects of drinking to excess. While some of the new policies are less-than-popular with students, they do seem to be having the intended effect. The number of Frostburg students who binge drink at least once every two weeks is down from 57% to 41%, much closer to the national average.
Several times a year the media reacts to a prominent comedian making a rape joke that trivializes the crime, or worse, blames the victim. Public defenses for such jokes range from “it’s just comedy” to “dark humor releases pain.” The latter may be a legitimate defense in certain cases when the joke critiques the power structure instead of the victim. Unfortunately, these stories rarely provoke a productive discussion around these issues.
But when a story turns the idea of a rape joke on its head and forces the listener to confront an otherwise hidden element that perpetuates rape culture, it is no longer just a joke but an act of social justice.
This sharp and moving monologue by comedic writer and performer Andrew Bailey is the kind of rape “joke” that affirms instead of belittles the experiences of survivors. By interweaving the concept of rape jokes, the brittle demands of masculinity, and the pain of being a survivor, Bailey asks the viewer to consider how humor actually functions when it speaks about trauma. Does it bring together survivors of the trauma and allow for cathartic recognition, or does it provide a cartoonish shield for passive bystanders to hide behind?
Bailey’s performance is particularly important in that it sheds light on why so many male survivors of sexual assault are unwilling, and many times unable, to come forward. In a traditional masculine culture it is not only a sign of weakness for a man to report being an assault victim, but considered an improbable crime because sexual activity – even if it’s an assault committed by a teacher against her 13-year-old student – raises the victim’s social stature.
When the media characterizes female-on-male violence as funny, it manages to dehumanize both women and men alike. It paints female anger as impotent by portraying men as the hapless recipients of irrational female rage. Much like slapstick, it’s supposed to be funny because women can’t actually harm men. This understanding of power as a simplified binary erases the intersectional considerations of class, race, sex, age, ability, and various other differentiators that can be leveraged in a given interaction to create sexual coercion.
Substance abuse is a persistent problem on college campuses. What role does brain chemistry play in young people’s vulnerability to alcohol and other drugs? These two articles suggest some answers.
What is it that drives some college students to drink to excess again and again and again? This piece from NPR explains that there are multiple factors driving college binge drinking. One is brain chemistry. College-aged brains are still developing, so while the part of the brain that seeks reward and stimulation is fully mature by the time 18 year olds begin their freshman year, the bits that control impulsive behavior still have a ways to go. This imbalance is what makes taking too many shots or playing drinking games seem so appealing. The other big factor may seem more obvious, but is also more controllable. The lower the average price of a drink in an area, the more binge drinking is reported amongst local college students.
A new study from the British journal The Lancet Psychiatry suggests that teenaged marijuana use correlates strongly to a variety of alarming outcomes. Teen pot-smokers were 60% less likely than peers to graduate from high school, 60% less likely to finish college, seven times more likely to attempt suicide and eight times more likely to use other illegal drugs than their non-smoking counterparts. Significantly, the authors found that even “low levels” of marijuana use (as infrequently as once per month) greatly increased teens risks of the aforementioned negative outcomes when compared to teens who did not smoke marijuana at all, suggesting that “there may not be a threshold where [cannabis] use can be deemed safe” for adolescents. With the legal landscape shifting quickly on the issue of marijuana possession and use, it seems clear that any legislative reforms must take pains to keep cannabis out of the hands of teen users.
Today we’re announcing the launch of Think About It for graduate students!
We’ve spent the last several months developing this course to address the unique needs and situation of graduate students. Refined and informed through focus groups with graduate students and roundtables with administrators, the course has a clean, professional look that appeals to older students. And at one hour, it’s streamlined while still covering all the important compliance and prevention issues, including consent, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking.
The course also covers bystander intervention in great depth. We begin by laying a high-level conceptual foundation for intervention, introducing ideas such as cultural barriers to social action. As the course progresses, we discuss further barriers to intervention (for instance, the ways we rationalize away someone’s bad behavior or our own inaction), model ways to overcome those barriers, and provide practical strategies to intervene. As always, we provide students opportunities to apply these skills in realistic scenarios.
We see all our courses as on-going projects, which evolve and develop as we collect more feedback from users and new research informs best practices. Just as we’re planning on using the latest research-based strategies to further improve our undergraduate course, we’ll be conducting more focus groups and roundtables to provide valuable insight on ways to engage students in our course material. We look forward to working with schools to create a program that helps them initiate meaningful change in a way that addresses these challenges in their campus communities.
To learn more about the course email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Just this year the Department of Education released guidance making Title IX protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students explicit. The move came on the heels of years of controversy surrounding the treatment of transgender students, on topics such as housing, bathroom use, and even disciplinary actions. Here are three recent stories about policy changes, federal exemptions, and the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students.
Several traditionally all-female colleges have changed their policies to make them more officially welcoming to transgender and non-gender conforming applicants and students. Mills College, an all-female university in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently changed school policy to officially reflect the long-time practice of accepting self-identified females who are “transgender or gender fluid.” Transgender male students who transition while attending Mills will be welcome to stay on. Similarly, Mount Holyoke College announced a change to their admissions policy this week to explicitly welcome transgender applicants. Under the new policy, the school will accept any applicant who is not a cisgender male. Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella introduced the amended policy as a move to recognize “human rights at home.” The change has been met largely with enthusiasm from students and alumni.
Since the Education Department’s guidance explicitly expanded Title IX protections to transgender students, several Christian colleges have sought and received exemptions allowing them to discriminate against transgender students while still receiving federal funding. Citing religious beliefs, George Fox University received an exemption to deny housing to a transgender student. Exemptions granted to Spring Arbor University and Simpson University go a step further, allowing them to expel transgender students and reject transgender applicants. Such policies have existed for years on the campuses in question, but will now remain legal despite the Education Department’s guidance. Executive director of Campus Pride, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ students, has objected to the exemptions and the policies they preserve, calling these schools “dinosaurs of bigotry.” According to Windmeyer, “These policies are harmful to students.”
Of course, not all of the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students can be solved (or created) by new school policies. This piece from Buzzfeed highlights difficulties that range from receiving appropriate housing to explaining preferred pronouns, repeatedly, to classmates and even professors. Transgender students talk about the awkwardness of emailing professors to request the use of a preferred name or of answering shockingly intimate questions posed by near-strangers on campus. While changing policies is an important piece of making all student welcome and comfortable on campus, changing culture is just as crucial to create a more inclusive learning environment.
Survivors don’t always act the way we expect. For example, they may exhibit a flat affect or have trouble remembering events. Some officials find these reactions suspicious and as a result question the credibility of the survivor’s account. But the survivor’s reactions may be the result of the trauma of a sexual assault.
Training your campus community on the effects of trauma can help dispel these misconceptions and create an environment that better supports victim/survivors. Indeed, the OCR’s Title IX FAQ emphasizes the need for schools to educate students and employees on the effects of trauma. The White House’s Not Alone report also highlights the need for better trauma-informed training.
Our courses cover the neurobiological effects of trauma on victim/survivors and we’ve also written about Dr. Rebecca Campbell’s research on this topic. But there are also some excellent, free, online resources that you can use as the school year begins to help inform staff, students, and faculty. Below we highlight a few:
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center — “The Brain, Body, and Trauma.”
- Dr. David Lisak — Neurobiology of Trauma
- Dr. Rebecca Campbell — Neurobiology of Sexual Assault (interview)
- Dr. Rebecca Campbell — Seminar on the Neurobiology of Sexual Assault
- International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — Police Response to Violence Against Women