Blog

Month: March 2015

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 27, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have wearable technology that could make it easier for students to party smart and look out for one another, a profile of an activist who leveraged the Internet and social media to make campuses safer for women, and the creators of The Hunting Ground on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Party Smart Wearables

Could wearables (wearable technology a la Apple’s soon-to-be-released Apple Watch) help keep students safe (or at least safer) when they drink? A team of students from the University of Washington think the answer is yes, and to prove it they’ve conceived of a smart bracelet that could monitor BAC and dehydration when students go out. The Vive, which currently exists only as an idea, not a working prototype, would alert students to their level of intoxication, check in periodically to make sure students were in control, and alert friends when the wearer became too drunk to respond to those check-ins. There’s also a social element in the form of a feature that would allow Vive users to connect with each other by touching their bracelets. Whether the Vive comes to fruition or not, the concept is a useful example of the power of technology to enable students to party more carefully and to take care of their friends.

Using the Web and Social Media to Fight Sexual Assault

While the Vive is an example of a nascent idea for potential new technology , this profile of activist Wagatwe Wanjuki, published as part of MSNBC’s series for Women’s History Month, demonstrates the power of (relatively) familiar and established technologies: social media and the Internet. The profile and accompanying interview highlight Wanjuki’s use of social media and the web, starting with her anonymous blog which led to the creation and dissemination of an online petition that precipitated a Department of Education civil rights investigation of her alma mater, Tufts University. Wanjuki also created the nationally-trending hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege in response to columnist George Will’s unfortunate claim that surviving an assault granted “a coveted status that confers privileges.” In the piece, she talks about using the Internet to connect with other activists and victim/survivors and its power as “a great amplifier of the work.”

The Hunting Ground, Rape Myths, and the Daily Show

If you follow this blog you’ll already have heard quite a bit about The Hunting Ground, the new documentary that focuses on campus rape and the all-too-often inadequate response to it. This interview with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Zeiring, is well worth a watch not only for the insightful humor from host Jon Stewart but also for Zeiring’s succinct refutation of unfortunately prevalent and damaging myths about false rape reports.

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5 Key Takeaways from #NASPA15 to Improve Your Prevention Efforts
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NASPA was an incredible experience this year. Our discussions with other attendees and all the conference sessions were incredibly fruitful. We are continually impressed with the dedication, thoughtfulness, and expertise of the people working in Student Affairs. It’s a field full of dynamic, innovative practitioners, and, as a result, the field is evolving quickly.

Here are five things we took away from the conference this year.

1.) Don’t Silo Prevention Efforts

One of the most valuable takeaways of any conference like NASPA is the opportunity to share ideas with people not just from other institutions and companies but also people from different departments, initiatives, spaces. This sharing helps us collect new ideas and understand different perspectives. It also helps us discover unexpected synergies and partnerships.

We built Think About It to address both substance abuse and sexual violence prevention because research suggested the two issues were deeply interconnected. At USF, they saw this connection and understood that one course was necessary. Similarly, one message we heard again and again this year was the importance of seeing connections between different prevention efforts.

For example, in their presentation, “Hazing, Bullying, and Sexual Violence: Connecting the Dots for Prevention,” Jane Stapleton and Elizabeth Allan suggested that recent research has highlighted the interconnection between Hazing and Sexualized Violence. But while sexualized violence is an important topic and at the center of numerous initiatives on campuses across the country, hazing remains in the shadows. Allan and Stapleton’s thesis was that the kinds of campus or student cultures that encourage hazing also support sexualized violence, and therefore it was important to address the two together. According to Allan and Stapleton, both sexualized violence and hazing involve 1) power and control, 2) issues of consent, 3) rigid gender norms, 4) the normalization of maltreatment, and 5) community norms that silence victims.

Stapleton and Allan pointed attendees to the CDC’s excellent guide, “Connecting the Dots: An Overview of the Links Among Multiple Forms of Violence,” as a valuable starting point for practitioners interested in thinking through these interconnections.

2.) Offer Skills Based Trainings

We all know that getting student buy in can be difficult. At CampusClarity, we incorporate focus groups into our course development process to make sure that what we’re creating resonates with our target audience. Similarly, tailoring a workshop or seminar to your audience is an important way to improve student engagement.

One of the interesting strategies we heard at several sessions was framing training around gender violence, social identity, and bystander intervention in terms of general skills. University of Michigan’s bystander program, Change It Up, is a great example. They framed their bystander training as imparting leadership skills, and, in fact, changed those leadership skills based on the audience they were addressing. For instance, when they addressed Engineering students, they connected their training to Forbes’s list of the 10 qualities that make a great leader. Similarly, administrators at the University of Missouri talked about a course they offered for fraternity members on hypermasculinity. They called the course a “Trojan Horse” because they framed it as a class about leadership. Though they had participants read Michael Kimmel’s book Guyland, they also had the class read Becoming a Resonant Leader, a book on leadership and emotional intelligence that directly pertained to the skills they were teaching.

3.) Be Intentional in your Language

We tell students to be sensitive in the language they use, but it’s as important that we’re sensitive to our language so that we can serve as positive role models for our students. This recommendation isn’t new, but it bears repeating.

For example, in the University of Michigan’s bystander program, the coordinators intentionally chose the language “change it up” and “take action” instead of “step up” or “take a stand” in order to avoid ableist language.

Similarly, Stapleton and Allan talked about “sexualized” violence, not “sexual” violence. Stapleton felt that with the term sexual violence, people sometimes focus on “sexual,” dismissing an action because it was just “flirting” or just a “hook up.” Sexualized violence, on the other hand, places more emphasis on the violence, which becomes the core of the act.

In short, when crafting the language around our campaigns it’s important to be as inclusive and thoughtful as possible.

4.) Engage Student Leaders

We mentioned engaging students in training by tailoring the sessions to their interests. Another important way to engage students (or really any stakeholders) is to identify leaders and role models in the community and reach out to get them involved.

Nearly all the sessions we attended discussed this strategy in one way or another. A stand out example was Occidental College’s Project Safe, a prevention and intervention support program. They reached out to student leaders — like the captain of the basketball team — and encouraged them to work with the program. These leaders bring credibility and visibility to your initiatives and voice other students will listen to and respect.

5.) Think Big

We couldn’t end this post without writing about the inspirational featured speaker, Dr. Jennifer Arnold. Dr. Arnold encapsulated her life lessons into a simple yet powerful acronym: THINK BIG. We conclude with her message because it provides us with a game plan for creating the change we want on our campuses.
THINK BIG stands for

  • Try — You won’t succeed if you don’t at least try. Dr. Arnold offered the idea most succinctly in a quote from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
  • Hope — You have to have hope to keep you sustained through long periods of struggle or even just the hard work of accomplishing your goals. Dr. Arnold spoke to the hopes that kept her going, suggesting that even if those hopes in retrospect were unrealistic, they played an important role in her life at the time.
  • Initiate — get started…enough said.
  • No — You have to ignore the people who tell you “no” or say you “can’t” do something. If it’s important enough, you’ll find away.
  • Know — You are the best judge of your abilities and limitations. Don’t listen to naysayers, but know when to say no to yourself.
  • Believe — Much like hope, it’s important you believe in yourself and your goals.
  • Improve — There is always room to get better.
  • Go for it!
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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 20, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have the results of a survey of college presidents and two upcoming events relevant to campus sexual assault.

The Majority of College Presidents Still Think Sexual Assault Isn’t an Issue for their Campus

Last year we reported on the results of an Inside Higher Ed survey of college and university presidents that revealed that while 71% of respondents agreed higher education as a whole needed to improve responses to sexual assault, a whopping 95% of them believed their own institutions had adequate responses to allegations of assault. This year’s results reveal similar attitudes. 78% of college presidents believed sexual assault was not prevalent on their own campus. Over 75% said their own institution did “a good job protecting women from sexual assault.” Just under a third thought “Sexual assault is prevalent at U.S. colleges and universities.”

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Coming, Niagara Falls to Turn Teal

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is just a few weeks away, and while the month will be a chance for organizations of all sizes to do what they can to raise awareness about sexual assault, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board will be taking the opportunity to highlight the issue in spectacular fashion. On April 12 Niagara Falls will be illuminated teal, the color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, on both the Canadian and American sides of the border. This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month will focus on campus sexual assault.

CampusClarity at NASPA

Last but not least, and as many of you are probably aware, this coming weekend is the 2015 NASPA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Like last year, we’ll be at the conference to learn, engage in conversation, and of course offer information about our own Campus SaVE Act and Title IX training. If you want to learn more, or just meet our team, come to booth 405 or our free cocktail event. If you do, you’ll have the chance to win a free iPad! Finally, if you know you want a demo at the show, feel free to schedule one in advance using this link.

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When FERPA Meets HIPAA
Posted by On Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last week, we wrote about the dramatic rise in mental health issues among college students and the shortage of counseling services at some schools to meet this increased demand. This post looks at another potential barrier to students accessing mental health care created by the recent revelation that the University of Oregon accessed a student’s counseling records and gave them to its attorneys to help defend itself against the student’s lawsuit, which accused the school of mishandling her sexual assault complaint.

In its response to the student’s lawsuit, UOregon states that “governing laws permit and encourage collecting [counseling] records” to investigate the student’s claim that the school’s actions and inaction caused her emotional distress.

This argument raises the question: doesn’t HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protect the confidentiality of these records? The answer is no. Under HIPAA’s regulations, student education records are not “protected health information” if they are covered by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). [45 CFR § 160.103]

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services anticipated the next question, “does FERPA or HIPAA apply to records at health clinics run by postsecondary institutions?” and provided an answer in their 2008 Joint Guidance document:

FERPA applies to most public and private postsecondary institutions and, thus, to the records on students at the campus health clinics of such institutions.

If FERPA protects the confidentiality of education records, doesn’t UOregon need the student’s consent before accessing and sharing a student’s education records? According to federal regulations, the answer is no if the records help the institution defend itself against the student’s lawsuit:

If a parent or eligible student initiates legal action against an educational agency or institution, the educational agency or institution may disclose to the court, without a court order or subpoena, the student’s education records that are relevant for the educational agency or institution to defend itself. [34 CFR § 99.31(a)(9)(iii)(B)]

However, we should point out that this rule doesn’t apply if the therapist doesn’t work for the university. In that instance, the student would be able to ask the court to look at the records and decide what was relevant before they were disclosed to the university, according to Gonzaga law professor Lynn Daggett.

A letter of concern from a UOregon Senior Staff Therapist first revealed that the student’s clinical records were accessed by the university without the student’s consent. To fulfill her professional duty to protect a client’s clinical information to the best of her ability, the UOregon therapist reported the disclosure of student records to the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners as “prohibited or unprofessional conduct.”

In response to the Letter of Concern, former law professor Katie Rose Guest Pryal researched the university’s right to use the student’s post-rape therapy records to defend against her lawsuit and discovered the “ugly truth” that FERPA allows schools to access records kept by the school’s mental health counselors. Pryal ends her piece with this advice for the Department of Education: “Fix this devastating privacy loophole” because UOregon’s action “could well chill the desire of students to seek support at university counseling centers everywhere.”

However, the Joint Guidance is clear that the disclosure by UOregon does not require student consent:

If the institution chooses to do so, a disclosure may be made to any party with a prior written consent from the eligible student (see 34 CFR § 99.30) or under any of the disclosures permitted without consent in 34 CFR § 99.31 of FERPA.

In response to the outcry over UOregon providing a student’s treatment records to its attorneys, the Department urged “higher education institutions to not only comply with FERPA, but also to respect the expectation of confidentiality that all Americans hold when talking to a counselor or therapist.”

This debate occurs at a time when a sexual assault victim’s confidentiality is a central issue in creating a safe and supportive environment to encourage victims to come forward. Moreover, the expectation of confidentiality is not just a concern for victims but also should concern students accused of sexual assault who have sued schools, claiming their due process rights were violated.

Title IX guidance says topics covered in student prevention training should include “reporting options, including formal reporting and confidential disclosure options …” In addition, schools need to make sure that their “professional counselors, pastoral counselors, and non-professional counselors or advocates also understand the extent to which they may keep a report confidential.”

Last week, UOregon’s interim general counsel told the school’s Senate committee, “in hindsight, he would have acted differently before requesting copies of a student’s confidential therapy records.” Unfortunately, a UOregon law professor, who is also a member of the committee, has already seen the chilling effect of this action, “Students now have a perception that their records are not safe . . . I have seen it in my work, and it is devastating.”

Now UOregon’s committee is drafting a policy to prohibit attorneys or school administrators from accessing a student’s counseling or therapy records without the student’s consent. To avoid the devastating effects of silencing students who need help, other schools may want to consider adopting similar policies to reassure students that their confidential resources really are confidential.

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Free Webinar with Dr. Novak
Posted by On Monday, March 16, 2015

Peter NovakTomorrow, we will be hosting a free webinar with Dr. Peter Novak, the Vice Provost for Student Life at the University of San Francisco. If you haven’t already done so be sure to register today.

During this 45-minute webinar, Dr. Novak will answer questions about how he and USF built and deployed their NASPA Gold Excellence award-winning Campus SaVE Act Training Program for students, faculty, and staff, and overcame challenges associated with deploying the campus-wide initiative.

Dr. Novak has an extensive background in Student Life with considerable experience as an academic and administrator in social justice issues. He received his doctorate in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from Yale University. In addition to his doctorate, he holds an MFA from the American Conservatory Theater and an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago.

At Yale Dr. Novak served as Dean of Trumbull College , on the Provost’s Committee on Resources for Students and Employees with Disabilities, and on the Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies. He is also a founding chair and tenured full professor in the Performing Arts and Social Justice program at the University of San Francisco. His research focuses on diversity and language, LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS dramatic literature, and Deaf culture and American Sign Language translation.

In December 2011, dissatisfied with the online training USF was offering incoming students, Dr. Novak approached LawRoom to build Think About It, an online training program for incoming students that addressed campus sexual assault and substance abuse. Dr. Novak had been impressed by the quality of LawRoom’s online harassment training programs developed for faculty and staff, and he felt LawRoom would be a valuable partner in creating a cutting edge, engaging online program on substance abuse and sexual violence for incoming students.

The collaboration brought together LawRoom’s expertise in legal compliance and online training with USF’s experience handling the unique social challenges students face in their transition to college life. As a result of their work, LawRoom developed CampusClarity, a service of LawRoom that is dedicated to creating training solutions for the higher education community.

USF and CampusClarity worked together extensively in the creation of the course. They conducted focus groups and user panels with students to refine the voice and tone of the course and make sure scenarios reflected realistic situations. Additionally, numerous department representatives and programs at USF, including the Gender and Sexualities Center and Health Promotions, helped develop learning objectives and course content. During the development process, USF and CampusClarity also hosted a conference with faculty and staff from 30 universities in order to prepare the course for a diverse group of campuses.

Since the development of Think About It, USF and CampusClarity have continued to collaborate on other initiatives and projects, such as the Talk About It community, a collection of resources administrators can use to implement ongoing programming on their campuses around the issues of sexual violence and alcohol abuse.

Tomorrow, Dr. Novak will talk in more detail about other initiatives he’s implemented at USF. Among other things, he will talk about balancing training with other priorities in Student life and how to create an effective program with limited staff, limited time, and limited budget.

His talk will be valuable for schools looking for ways to improve their current programs, and for schools that are just developing their training programs.

Dr. Novak will also discuss practical solutions for going beyond SaVE Act compliance, including:

- Deploying a campus-wide training program prior to the June deadline.
- How to help ensure adoption of the program by students and faculty.
- On-going educational programming based on institutional data.

Please go to our registration page to sign up for our free webinar if you haven’t already.

 

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 13, 2015

An interview with the director of new documentary The Hunting Ground, the Clery act turns 25, and the OCR reveals it is investigating four more schools—pushing the total over 100.

The Hunting Ground Director on Courageous Survivors and the Birth of the Film

An interview with Director Kirby Dick about his latest documentary, The Hunting Ground, offers a disturbing portrait of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses as he describes “hearing the same story over and over” when interviewing victim/survivors about their assault, sexual predators, and the institution’s response. This interview with Dick in the National Post offers sobering insight into the process of the film’s creation. Dick talks about how the conversation sparked by campus screenings of his previous film, The Invisible War, which dealt with sexual assault in the military, led him and producer Amy Zeiring to make a documentary about the same crime in the context of higher education. During Q&As after showing The Invisible War, students quickly turned the discussion to campus sexual assault and then he started getting emails and letters asking him to “please make a film.” Dick says it’s exciting to see the courage of college-aged advocates who “take on their institutions…to create this national debate,” but creating safe campus environments “should be on everyone.”

Clery Act Turns 25

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Clery Act, named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh freshman who was sexually assaulted and murdered in her dorm. The law requires colleges and universities to disclose reports of crimes committed on and near campus. Earlier this month marked the second anniversary of the Campus SaVE Act  that expanded higher education institutions’ crime reporting requirements to include relationship violence, stalking, and hate crimes based on gender identity and national origin.   In addition, the Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to develop comprehensive prevention programs to train students and employees how to recognize, report, respond to, and prevent campus sexual violence.

OCR Now Investigating Over 100 Schools

Last week we reported that Grinnell College has requested an OCR investigation of their own sexual assault investigation procedures. This week we have a story that makes it clear that if that request is granted, Grinnell will be far from alone. In fact, as of this month, the Office for Civil Rights is investigating over a hundred schools for possible non-compliance with Title IX and the Clery act, an all-time high. When the OCR first released the list of schools under investigation last April there were fifty-five schools under investigation.

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Is There a Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses?
Posted by On Thursday, March 12, 2015

At a meeting for the American Philosophical Association, Peter Railton, a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, spoke about his lifelong battle with depression, highlighting the importance and difficulty of speaking candidly about mental health issues on college campuses.

[T]he thing is… I couldn’t say, ‘Look, I’m dying inside. I need help.’ Because that’s what depression is—it isn’t sadness or moodiness, it is above all a logic that undermines from within, that brings to bear all the mind’s mighty resources in convincing you that you’re worthless, incapable, unloveable, and everyone would be better off without you.

This admission of vulnerability and self-doubt, coming as it did from a highly respected academic, struck a nerve. Social media erupted with heartfelt responses to Railton’s revelation and praise for his courage. Many other faculty members and graduate students felt emboldened to share their own struggles with mental health conditions, inspiring a lengthy comment thread at the philosophy blog Daily Nous. More importantly, Railton’s remarks gave momentum to a conversation that needs to continue on campuses across the country among students, faculty, and administrators.

A Growing Problem

Recent surveys suggest that student mental health is at an all-time low. Depression and anxiety are two of the biggest mental health concerns on college and university campuses. Some commentators are even talking about a mental health crisis on college campuses as the situation seems to have worsened in recent years.

In 2012, the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 70% of Directors felt the number of students with severe psychological problems on their campus had increased in the past year, and 96% reported that the number of students with significant psychological problems was a growing concern for their institution.

First-year students in fall 2014 reported the lowest self-rated emotional health in the history of the Higher Education Research Institute’s annual survey “The American Freshman.”

And in Spring 2014, according to the National College Health Assessment, almost half of first-year students reported they have felt things were hopeless in the last year, and over half have felt overwhelming anxiety.

It’s not clear what has caused this increase in mental health issues on campuses. It may reflect a larger trend in the US. It may also reflect a more positive trend: growing awareness around psychiatric disabilities and our willingness to talk about them.

Some observers have suggested it’s the high pressure environment of higher education. Recently, in the wake of six suicides in just 15 months, the University of Pennsylvania released a report blaming a campus culture that one member of the task force described as “destructive perfectionism.” As the report explained,

[T]he pressures engendered by the perception that one has to be perfect in every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor can lead to stress and in some cases distress. The often endemic use or misuse of alcohol or other drugs, lack of sleep, improper nutrition and other factors have a detrimental impact on student success and can compound students’ stress.

Regardless of the causes of the rise of mental health issues on campuses, institutions need to respond. Indeed, increases in mental health issues may have already put strain on counseling resources at some schools.

A recent report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, suggested that growing mental health issues on campus can also lead to access issues. Some students are waiting days or even weeks to meet with a counselor. Long waits not only prevent students from getting help when they need it but can also discourage students from speaking to a counselor at all.

Aaron D. Krasnow, the director of counseling services at Arizona State, explained to the Chronicle: “Not only are they not getting help, but now they’re losing time and they’re losing momentum and all the energy they took in reaching out for help, which is not a small thing. It’s a massive act.”

The problem is particularly acute for survivors of sexual assault.

Fortunately there are many organizations and initiatives specifically aimed at college students that can provide help and ideas to students and administrators alike. These resources include the JED Foundation, Half of Us, and Campus Program, a collaboration between the JED and Clinton Foundations.

Some campuses are even experimenting with online counseling to meet demand. A pilot program at the University of Florida called Therapist Assisted Online has been showing promising results. Not only are these online sessions more convenient, but they take less time than in-person session, allowing counselors to spend more time with patients who need more support. Preliminary evidence even suggests that students treated online may fare better than students participating in face-to-face sessions. In fact, similar virtual sessions are also being used in other settings to help increase access to mental health services for patients who may have difficulty attending in-person therapy.

There are other programs as well, such as Screening for Mental Health, that offer schools easy ways to inform students of and connect them with local resources.

Continuing a Conversation

The importance of mental health to student wellbeing and academic success demands we continue to have meaningful conversations around these issues. At CampusClarity we’re partnering with Screening for Mental Health to provide schools with the opportunity to connect students with free mental health screenings and the resources they need.

As Railton urged, “if enough of us, of all ages and walks of life, parents, children, brothers, co-workers, spouses, relatives, deans and directors, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, can be open about our passages through mental illness, a shadowy stigma will fade away in the broad light of day.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 6, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have Grinnell’s unusual request to be investigated by the OCR and two stories related to a topic we’re particularly interested in: preventative training for sexual violence and substance abuse.

Grinnell Requests an OCR Investigation of Themselves

Grinnell College has made the unusual and perhaps unprecedented move of requesting that the OCR investigate their handling of sexual assault cases. According to a statement by Grinnell’s president, Raynard Kington, “If Grinnell has fallen short at any point, I want to know about it now, continue to address the problems, and make things right for our students.” Since then it has also been made known that the request came in anticipation of a now-published Huffington Post piece alleging mishandling of three sexual assault cases at Grinnell. According to a letter Kington sent to the campus, “We have specifically invited OCR to review the cases [The Huffington Post] has highlighted to us.” The student and faculty group Dissenting Voices, which believes Grinnell’s sexual assault policies are inadequate, has described the request as an “unprecedented attempt to preemptively control the framing of the issue,” pointing out that six students had already filed complaints with the OCR.

California SB 695 Would Mandate Sexual Violence Prevention Program for High School Students

Federal law (the Campus SaVE Act) already requires colleges and universities to offer sexual assault prevention training to incoming students, but SB 695 introduced last week would require California students to learn about sexual assault violence, and healthy relationships in high school health classes. The bill would further require health classes to teach the affirmative “yes means yes” definition of consent required for the state’s colleges and universities participating in state financial aid programs. Co-author of SB 695, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson says that it would “give students the skills they may need to navigate difficult situations, and prevent sexual assault before it occurs.”

Substance Abuse Training Must be Reinforced to be Effective

A new study suggests that the effects of  substance abuse training typically administered to college freshmen at or before the start of their college careers tend to wear off over in the course of the year. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that a month after receiving alcohol education of any kind, 82% of students reported they were drinking less. However, a year later 84% of those same students reported they were drinking as much as they had at before the alcohol education. They also found that alcohol education was particularly effective for inexperienced drinkers and women. These findings suggest that reminding students how to party smart, through text messages, emails, or ongoing training, should be part of an effective prevention program.

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Generation Straight Edge
Posted by On Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Last week, ten Wesleyan students and two non-students were hospitalized after allegedly taking a bad batch of the drug “Molly” (pure MDMA, the psychoactive ingredient in Ecstasy). A few days later, police arrested four Wesleyan students in connection with the incident. Sadly, this incident is not the first at Wesleyan. In September, Health Services sent out a warning to students and parents when several students who took the drug ended up in the hospital.

In his response to the recent events, the University’s president wrote, “Our community has been reminded these last few days of our fragility but also of our resiliency – of our fears but also of our care for one another.”

Yet, it’s also important to recognize that these kinds of stories can exaggerate the prevalence of drug use on college campuses, and while we should educate and inform students about the dangers of drugs, we shouldn’t do so in a way that reinforces stereotypes about colleges as hedonistic bacchanals.

In fact, Ecstasy use among college students has declined since its peak in the early 2000′s. In 2013, according to Monitoring the Future,  5% of 19-20 and 5.9% of 21-22 year olds reported using the drug in the past year. In 2001, those numbers were 11.0% and 10.8 %, respectively.

The numbers are perhaps higher than parents or administrators would like (and they have risen slightly in recent years), but they are much lower than what many people think. Unfortunately, part of the problem is the gap between what we think is happening on college campuses and what is actually going on.

Take for instance the American College Health Association’s (ACHA) National College Health Assessment, another survey of student behaviors. The ACHA found that 92.6% of students said they had never used Ecstasy and only 1.2% reported using the drug in the last 30 days. But here’s the catch: when the ACHA asked students about how often they thought the typical student at their school used Ecstasy, students thought close to 60% had tried the drug and a brain-frying 35% had used it in the last 30 days.

In other words, there is a huge disconnect between what students think is happening on their campuses and what actually is happening. The danger of this disconnect, according to some researchers, is that these misperceptions can negatively affect students’ choices. Some students might take the drug because they feel pressure to conform to the perceived norm. Meanwhile, students who take the drug may feel less pressure to change, since they think they’re doing what everyone else is.

Indeed, though college binge drinking and drug abuse are the subject of national headlines, evidence suggests today’s college and high school students are in many ways more responsible in comparison to their predecessors when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Olga Khazan, a writer for Atlantic, even  dubbed the post-millennials “Generation Straight-Edge.” Two recent surveys on adolescents and college students confirm this view. The American Freshman: National Norms (Fall 2014) found “substantial self-reported drops in alcohol and tobacco use.” And Monitoring the Future reported that cigarette and alcohol use are at their lowest levels in the history of their survey. Indeed, Monitoring the Future found broad drops in drug use among secondary school students in 2014, a promising trend. And these drops come even as today’s students think many drugs are less risky than students have thought in the past.

So, given the publicity around the recent hospitalizations, now might be a good time to inform students about the very serious dangers of Ecstasy — indeed, one Wesleyan student was still hospitalized as of last Friday — but also of the fact that most students choose not to use it.

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