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Author: Ron Castro

Ethics and Aesthetics: Affordance Theory
Posted by On Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To kick off our Ethics and Aesthetics series we discussed the aesthetic-usability effect, and offered some theories on why beautiful things tend to work better. In our second post, we will examine J. J. Gibson’s theory of affordances, and how the animal propensity for action shapes our perception of objects and their function.

J.J. Gibson was one of the most influential psychologists in the field of visual perception. In his book “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception,” he outlined his theory of affordances, which designers continue to rely on today. The theory of affordances states that we perceive objects in the world in terms of how their properties may enable actions, and not by the properties themselves. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey has a great example of an affordance when a Paleolithic man-ape extracts a long, heavy femur bone from a dry animal carcass and realizes that it affords smashing, and proceeds to use it to beat and kill the leader of a rival tribe. Indeed, our earliest record of inter-group violence between humans indicates that club-like objects were employed to inflict blunt force injury, and prehistoric bone clubs have been excavated in the Pacific Northwest.  Long bones were therefore utilized as clubs because their shape afforded grasping, and their weight afforded causing bodily damage.

In our training courses, we use affordance theory to better engage our users. Like designers who make physical objects, interaction designers use affordance theory to ensure that users have an intuitive understanding of what objects on the screen do, even without explicit instructions. Unlike physical objects, digital objects don’t have predetermined weight, form, or shape. Therefore, designers give interactive elements properties that suggest an associated action. For example, a button shaded to appear convex affords clicking, since it resembles the shadow of physical buttons. Skeumorphism is a technique that uses metaphoric affordances to make conceptual connections between digital objects and physical ones. A digital dashboard that mimics the look of a car dashboard immediately clues users in as to its function (i.e.  a control panel through which you can access different instruments.)

We have historically gotten great feedback on the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Calculator in Think About It, our course on sexual violence and substance abuse prevention for college students. Students find it fun to input different values for gender, weight, number and type of drinks, and time elapsed into the calculator to see how it affects BAC. The apparatus is designed with looping tubes, sliders, and digital readouts. These exaggerated technological features make it reminiscent of a slightly kitschy retrofuturistic toy. It is one of the more popular features of the course.

Due to its popularity, we discussed the idea of making the BAC calculator into an app that students could download and use at parties so that they might have a better idea of their BAC “in the field,” so to speak. However, we realized that the toy-like nature of the interaction was more afforded to “having fun” than “accurately measuring BAC as a way to stay safe.” In other words, making the BAC calculator available as a portable app may actually encourage students to overdrink by making it into a party game. Competition is one of the top cited reasons for college students for playing drinking games. Like traditional breathalizers that have become party games, the BAC calculator spits out a number, which can appear score-like and encourage competition. So we decided to keep the tool located inside the course to increase its informative affordance and reduce its impetus-to-imbibe affordance.

When designing features for our courses, we aim to be thoughtful about the social, political, and ideological context for its use. Affordance theory gives us a useful tool to analyze how well we are doing. However, nothing compares to direct user feedback, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your thoughts!

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Why Do Victims Minimize Sexual Violence?
Posted by On Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When asked why they didn’t report an incident of sexual assault, a common reason given by survivors is that they didn’t believe it was serious enough to report, or that it wasn’t clear that the assailant meant harm or had committed a crime at all. This outlook contradicts the popular understanding of sexual assault as always being traumatic. Trauma is processed and manifested in complex interactions with the environment in which they occur. Unacknowledged rapes, or experiencing incidents that fit the legal definition of rape but not labeling it as such, are a surprisingly understudied phenomenon considering its prevalence: among a national sample of college women, 73 percent of rape victims did not acknowledge what happened to them as being sexual assault. 

 

We do know some things about the phenomenon. Sexual assaults are more likely to be unacknowledged if they were committed by a current romantic or sexual partner, used less physical force, and resulted in less physical injury to the victim. Additionally, victims who were inebriated during the attack and did not have a clear memory of the incident were less likely to acknowledge the incident as having been sexual assault. Interestingly, 84 percent of victims of unacknowledged rape engage in one or two forms of resistance, such as verbal reasoning, or physical struggling. However, the enactment and violation of the resistance are later re-conceptualized as “miscommunication”.


The data also contains clues about why victims may conceptualize the event as something other than a crime. Those who acknowledged their rapes were more likely to disclose the event to a higher number of people, but also reported receiving more negative feedback from those people compared to victims who did not acknowledge their rapes. Both types of victims experienced similar negative internal states following the attacks, with acknowledged victims experiencing slightly more intense symptoms of PTSD, possibly due to the fact that acknowledged rapes tend to be more violent.

 

Unacknowledged rapes do not remain constant over time—it is likely that low initial acknowledgement rates are related to victims needing time to process the event in order to understand what happened to them. While only 25% of victims who had been raped within a six-month time period acknowledged their rape, 70.5% of rape victims whose rape occurred over three years ago acknowledged what happened to them. Unfortunately, this timeline can make prosecution difficult, as much physical evidence must be collected immediately following the assault.

 

The reasons for unacknowledged rapes are complex. Some studies point to hetero-patriarchal sexual script-building and maintenance during adolescence as important factors. Young girls and women conceptualize male sexual aggression as being a normal part of everyday life and do not consider minor or even major acts of physical aggression as anything other than “just how boys are.” Additionally, girls and women are often taught to police each other’s sexuality as a way to maintain their own moral reputations. That is, they commonly learn that women are meant to be gatekeepers of sex, and that outside perceptions of how hard a woman has “fought off” unwanted sex is tied to her perceived complicity in sexual assault. Therefore, acknowledging a rape opens the victim up to a barrage of scrutiny.

 

Importantly, the study also discusses the low rate of reporting and the minimization of sexual violence as being related to the victim’s perception of the enforcing institution as an extension of the patriarchal apparatus. Enforcing institutions are part of the same culture that gives rise to sexual violence, and are additionally imbued with institutional or legal power. Girls and women may therefore be wary of the forensic interview setting as being hostile to their sexuality, sense of agency, or their decision to use alcohol or drugs. As a result, women may dismiss or play down instances of sexual violence as a way to build rapport and maintain their own credibility in the face of biased reception.

 

Unacknowledged rapes carry with them the threat of future victimization, and that can be costly to both the victim as well as the community. However, denial may also serve an environmentally protective role for the victim when their social context makes it costly to be a victim. It is therefore vitally important for educational institutions to not only ensure that students are aware of reporting policies and practices, but that the social context in which reporting is carried out is one in which victims will feel that they will be supported and believed.

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The Dangers of Projecting Expectations onto Victims of Sexual Assault
Posted by On Friday, March 11, 2016

On an episode entitled “Anatomy of Doubt” producers of the NPR radio show This American Life teamed up with The Marshall Project and ProPublica to present a story of what can happen when well-meaning people make erroneous assumptions about how victims of sexual assault ought to behave after an attack. The episode recalls the experience of a young woman named Marie who was brutally raped in her home by an intruder. After the attack, Marie called her former foster parents and the police for help. Even though the police found and collected physical evidence of the assault at the scene, Marie’s detached and “flirtatious” behavior caused even those people closest to her to question her truthfulness. This ignited a cascade of doubt and disbelief that erupted into a second trauma for Marie and nearly landed her in jail.

The neurobiology of trauma involves a number of self-protective mechanisms that can produce disruptions in memory and emotional expression in the victim. The amygdala, or the part of the brain responsible for processing fear, interferes with memory consolidation when it is hyper-activated. This may account for lapses in memory or problems with recall in a victim of sexual violence. The body also produces opioids in response to trauma as a way to minimize pain—these endogenous opioids behave similarly to opiates like heroin, and can flatten affect and have adverse effects on memory consolidation. These effects are particularly prevalent for individuals like Marie who have been exposed to trauma during childhood. While complying with the Campus SaVE Act can help educate students on these matters, it is also vitally important for the general public to be aware of the possibility of such reactions in order to minimize incidents of re-traumatization.

The episode also highlights the way in which faulty interviewing techniques can coerce victims into retracting their statement. The police in charge of Marie’s case lacked experience in handling sexual assault cases and presumed that Marie was lying based solely on an inaccurate understanding of how traumatized people are supposed to behave. Their line of questioning was more befitting a suspect of a crime rather than a rape victim. By threatening Marie with the famously faulty polygraph test, they ensured her recantation. Recantations are usually counted as false reports, and those produced under coercive circumstances may therefore inflate the number of false reports. False rape reports are already disproportionately emphasized in the conversation around sexual assault reporting, and the social and legal consequences for reporters who have been determined to be lying are severe.

“Anatomy of Doubt” provides a compelling argument for believing victims. Victims of sexual violence can appear emotionless, carefree, or even cheerful directly following the attack. They may display flirtatious or sexual behavior toward responders, or giggle and laugh at unexpected times. None of these things alone should be taken as an indication that the victim is lying about having been assaulted.

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A Response from CampusClarity to the Campus Reform Article
Posted by On Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In response to the numerous questions CampusClarity received today regarding an article published in Campus Reform, we’ve published a detailed Q&A document that addresses the questions, comments, and concerns.

CampusClarity, a division of LawRoom, provides training to over 500 colleges and universities across the country. Think About It is our online training course based on extensive research and expert participation that educates students about sexual violence and substance abuse prevention. Presently, the course has been taken by over 1 million undergraduate and graduate students. Think About It helps schools meet their compliance requirements under Title IX and the Campus Save Act.

As part of Think About It, schools have the option of including surveys that ask students about their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs regarding sex and substance use. Schools can use data from these questions to tailor campus programming to the unique needs of their student body.

While the course may be mandatory in some schools, the questions are not. Every question includes a “no comment” answer option that students can select if they do not wish to respond to the question. Individual students are not connected to their answers — the data are de-identified.

The following addresses many of the questions we received in response to the January 12th article.

Are USC students required to detail sexual history before registering for classes?

No. USC, like many other campuses, chose to require students to complete Think About It in order to register for classes, but students were not required to answer the survey questions, including those related to sexual history.

Schools have the option of including short surveys that are interspersed throughout the course. In these surveys, students are asked about their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs regarding sexual activity and substance use. But students can choose not to answer these questions.

Are the questions mandatory?

No. Every question has a “no comment” option if students do not wish to answer.

Why are the questions asked?

By showing students’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors around intimacy and substance use, the data from these questions allow schools to better tailor their prevention programming to the unique needs of their student population.

Are students’ identities connected to their answers?

No. Answer data is de-identified and aggregated. No one can see how an individual student responded to the survey questions. School administrators can only see how students have answered in the aggregate. We take privacy very seriously.

You can read more about the personal questions and privacy in our white paper on the topic: http://www.lawroom.com/Brochure/TAI_questions.pdf

Is the training mandatory?

The Campus Save Act mandates that schools offer training to their students on sexual violence prevention. Additionally, in its Title IX FAQ, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recommends schools offer “age-appropriate training to its students regarding Title IX and sexual violence” (J-4). We provide different versions of the course for graduate students, adult learners, and undergraduates.

In short, schools must offer the training but do not have to mandate the training. Many schools, however, do require students to complete it because of the importance of these issues to the health and well-being of their students.

Why do schools offer the training?

Schools offer training in order to help empower students to make safe and healthy choices around intimacy and substance use. The training also helps schools comply with Federal regulations, specifically Title IX and the Campus Save Act.

How is consent defined in the course?

State-specific legal definitions of consent to sexual activity and criminal sexual assault are included in the courses, so a student can read summaries of the relevant state laws, as well as the statutes themselves on a range of laws related to sexual violence.

In California, for instance, the page on consent includes both the criminal law definition and the affirmative consent standard most California colleges and universities are required by law to use in campus disciplinary proceedings involving sexual assault.

Including both of these definitions in the training helps students understand the difference between the affirmative consent standard in campus policies and criminal law definitions of consent to sexual activity that apply in a court of law. The training programs present both definitions to explain these different standards and put them in the proper context.

Providing legal definitions also helps schools comply with the Campus Save Act, which requires schools to inform their students of the definitions of stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault in the applicable jurisdiction. We maintain summaries of the relevant state statutes defining these terms for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the applicable statutes are included in each school’s courses.

Schools also include their campus sexual misconduct policies in the course, which students must read and acknowledge before completing the course.

In addition, the course provides general guidelines to help students get and give consent. You can watch a video on consent from Think About It on Youtube here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laMtr-rUEmY

What if the discussion of consent is inconsistent with the schools’ policy?

Schools can customize the content of the course in order to fit their policy and campus culture.

All schools include their policy in the course, which students must read and acknowledge.

Does the course talk about how alcohol affects someone’s ability to give consent?

Yes it does.

This topic is important to discuss as is suggested both by research and guidance on Federal regulations.

For example, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recommends in the Title IX FAQ  that training for students include information “on consent and the role drugs or alcohol can play in the ability to consent” (J-3).

Similarly, one of the primary conclusions of the Campus Sexual Assault Study completed in 2007 for the National Institute of Justice was to “[c]ombine sexual assault prevention education with alcohol and drug education programming” (xviii).

As indicated in the video linked to above, an individual who is incapacitated cannot give consent. This reflects most schools’ policies, many states’ laws, and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights definition of sexual violence in their Title IX FAQ: ” Sexual violence, as that term is used in this document and prior OCR guidance, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent (e.g., due to the student’s age or use of drugs or alcohol, or because an intellectual or other disability prevents the student from having the capacity to give consent)” (emphasis added A-1).

(For more information see our blog post on the topic here.)

Does the course say if a man and woman are both drunk and have sex then the man is always to blame?

No it does not. And it is disturbing that someone could draw this conclusion from the course.

In the article, a student who took the course said the following: “In one scenario both the man and the woman were drunk but the video still blames the male for the assault. I found that a little confusing,”

It is deeply concerning that the student found this portion of the course confusing.

Here is a summary of the scenario the student is most likely referencing.

A man and a woman have been drinking together. Later they start kissing. The woman decides to stop and pushes the man away. She tells the man that she wants to go home because she is feeling sick from the alcohol she drank. The man convinces her to stay, she passes out, and the man then has sex with her while she is unconscious. This is rape. The woman is incapacitated from alcohol and is unconscious when the man has sex with her.

The reason the man is to blame is because he rapes her while she is unconscious. It does not matter that he has also been drinking. As mentioned in the course “being drunk doesn’t release anyone from legal or student conduct responsibility.”

Conclusion

We believe preventing sexual violence is an important and complex issue, and welcome feedback and suggestions.

To learn about the program used at USC and over 500 colleges and universities across the country click here and here.

If you have any questions please contact us at talkaboutit@campusclarity.com

If you are a member of the press, please contact us at press@lawroom.com

 

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3 Predictions for Data Security and Higher Ed in 2016
Posted by On Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In tomorrow’s college classroom, data security training will sit front and center.

Technology is reinventing education, and schools are producing unprecedented amounts of data to teach and manage their students, staff, and faculty. Technology is already helping schools control costs, improve student retention, and personalize learning.

We can expect these trends to continue, especially as flipped classrooms and blended and online learning continue their rapid spread. Over 70% of academic leaders reported that online learning is critical to their institution’s long-term strategy, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. And though the hype around MOOCs (massive open online courses) has faded, they’re more popular than ever.

Further developments are on the horizon, including learning analytics, adaptive learning, and location intelligence.

These technologies are reshaping the learning and teaching process. But they also make colleges and universities attractive targets for hackers and make data breaches a bigger danger than ever.

Colleges and universities are in an unusual position when it comes to data security. Not only are they regulated by laws like FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), but they must also find a way to balance their commitment to academic freedom with the need to protect their data.

As David J. Shaw, the chief information security officer at Purdue University, told The New York Times, “A university environment is very different from a corporation or a government agency, because of the kind of openness and free flow of information you’re trying to promote.”

(Learn about higher education’s unique data security challenges in our data security white paper.)

Higher education leaders are certainly aware of the data security challenges they face. The Center for Digital Education recently surveyed higher education leaders about data security:

  • 72% think data breaches are one of their greatest concerns
  • 73% say cybersecurity is a high or very high priority among their other technology priorities
  • 70% expect spam and phishing to be a major threat in the next 12 months

Thinking about the growing role of technology (and data) in the classroom, here are three data security issues in higher education we expect to trend in 2016.

1.) More Data Will Mean More Problems

With new technologies come new concerns — especially around privacy and data security. Many emerging technologies rely on big data — so much data that Kathleen Styles, the Education Department’s chief privacy officer, recently called colleges and universities, “Data Factories.”

As Styles explains in a blog post on privacy and new uses of data, “The combination of new technologies and new uses of data create today’s cutting-edge privacy issues, including ‘Big Data,’ matching with wage data, data sharing in general, the use of analytics, cloud computing, MOOCs, and school use of web engagement tools.”

Higher education institutions create and consume a particularly broad range of information from educational, employment, and medical records to intellectual property, research data, and sensitive financial information.

Besides the privacy issues, all these data make colleges and universities attractive targets to hackers, hacktivists, and even state-sponsored cyberespionage.

The Ponemon Institute, which conducts independent research on data security, estimates that cybercrime costs the education industry an average of $3.89 million annually. Between 2010 and 2015, a total of 314 data breaches occurred at US educational institutions, exposing 7,852,750 records. In 2014 the education industry experienced 10% of total data breaches in the US, according to Symantec.

Privacy concerns around data collection forced one educational technology company to shut its doors in 2014, and in 2015 we saw a major university allegedly targeted by nation-state hackers for its research. We can expect more stories like these in 2016.

2.) BYOD Will Become Bring Your Own Everything

To promote the free flow of information, college and university networks often must accommodate numerous private devices — think of all the new students arriving each year with their smart phones, laptops, tablets, etc.

A survey conducted by Bradford Networks found that 85% of educational institutions have some form of BYOD policy (bring your own device). And these aren’t just for personal use: 52% of respondents said devices are integrated into the classroom experience.

Over 75% of surveyed institutions allowed faculty to use personal devices to access the school network, 72% allowed students, and 57.5% allowed all other staff and contractors to do the same.

The use of personal devices is so ubiquitous on campuses that one expert has suggested a new acronym: BYOE or Bring Your Own Everything.

And it looks like the current flood of devices is only priming the pump.

In its 2015 Horizon Report, The New Media Consortium (NMC), in collaboration with EDUCASE Learning Initiative, predicts schools will encourage more students to bring their own mobile devices into the classroom.

That’s just the near term! NMC expects wearable technologies to be classroom staples within the next two to three years and the internet of things to arrive in classrooms in the next four to five years.

Each device presents a potential security risk to an institution, a way for data to leak out or an avenue for malware to sneak in. Unsurprisingly, colleges and universities’ security performance drops during the academic school year with the influx of new students and their new devices.

It will be interesting to see how schools balance their desire to promote learning and the exchange of information with the need to secure their networks. One thing is certain: BYOE will be a challenge in 2016.

3.) IT Will Be Treated as a Behavioral Science

Most higher education leaders are confident in their security measures. What they report as their number one pain point is user adherence to policies.

In other words, users — not the technology — are the issue.

This situation isn’t unique to higher education. As we are fond of quoting, according to Marc Van Zadelhoff, the VP of IBM Security, 95% of data breaches or cyberattacks involve “mistakes by those with access to a company’s systems.”

But higher education’s unique balancing act of access and security can make technological solutions to data security particularly difficult to implement, forcing institutions to rely even more heavily on the good sense and cyber-hygiene habits of their employees and students.

Fortunately, schools can address employee habits and practices through training. These kinds of solutions may actually be well adapted to the higher education environment, since they can promote users’ sense of responsibility and autonomy. Online data security training, for instance, can help schools teach employees best practices while still respecting the free flow of information.

The human element in data security gained some prominence this year when Cisco released a new security manifesto. One of the manifesto’s core principles is that “security must be viewed as a ‘people problem’.”

The manifesto explains, “A technology-centric approach to security does not improve security; in fact, it exacerbates it. Technologies are merely tools that can enhance the ability of people to secure their environment. Security teams need to educate users…People, processes, and technology, together, must for the defense against today’s threats.” (See our post on CTOs and data security training for more.)

Or as Werner Boeing, the CIO of Roche Diagnostics, puts it, “People believe that IT is about technology, but it’s really a behavioral science — understanding the behaviors of your company’s staff, leaders, and customers — and facilitating the adoption of a new vision.”

In 2016, expect to see more discussion of data security as a people problem and the role of cybersecurity training as an essential complement to technological solutions.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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Representing Sexual Orientation in Think About It
Posted by On Friday, August 21, 2015

Every year, Senator Al Franken introduces the “Student Non-Discrimination Act,” which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. And every year, the act has been defeated.

“There remains no federal law that explicitly protects these students and provides them and their families recourse when they face bullying that limits their educational opportunities,” said Senator Franken, explaining the importance of the bill. “No student can achieve if he cannot feel safe at school. No student will excel if she spends each day in fear of just being herself.”

While Senator Franken’s law failed to pass this year (again), there are nonetheless promising signs that the federal government is taking sexual orientation discrimination seriously. According to recent Title IX guidance documents, schools should train students and employees about same-sex sexual violence. In their 2014 Title IX FAQ , the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) explains that “Title IX protects all students from sexual violence, regardless of the sex of the alleged perpetrator or complainant, including when they are members of the same sex” (B-2). Later in the document, the OCR specifies that training for both employees and students should include information on same-sex sexual violence (J-1 & J-4).

Similarly, as we wrote about here, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently evolved its position on sexual orientation, arguing that Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The EEOC’s ruling could influence Title IX Cases as explained by Erin Buzuvis, a Professor of Law and co-founder of Title IX Blog:

“…even though it doesn’t govern the education context, the EEOC’s decision helps strengthen arguments by students or school employees who may have been excluded from participation, or fired, or denied admission, or harassed because of their sexual orientation, by giving courts and attorneys a road map of persuasive reasoning to follow.”

At CampusClarity, we believe it is important to create an inclusive course that adequately addresses the challenges all students face, regardless of their sexual orientation. We also recognize that the opportunities for us to improve our coverage of this issues, and we welcome comments from students and other users of our courses.

As part of our commitment to inclusivity and to help schools comply with their Title IX requirements, Think About It includes specific situations and scenarios that revolve around characters’ identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer.

One of the central narratives of the course involves a gay man. Tom Batak is one of four main characters whom students follow throughout the course. His biography explains that he has yet to disclose his sexual orientation to his Filipino parents. As users continue to follow Tom’s story, they see him come out to his roommate as gay (Healthy Relationships > Time Bomb), and they consider questions around an unhealthy relationship Tom is involved in.

Throughout the course, users are challenged to think about issues around sexual orientation and gender norms, including interactive scenarios involving same-sex couples or someone insulting a person because of their sexual-orientation.

Even when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identities aren’t directly discussed, the course remains inclusive of all sexual orientations. Examples of this can be found throughout the section of the course about hooking up as well as the dialogues around male sexual assault. Similarly, this inclusivity can be found through visual representations as well as text representations in places like the Dating After College video that shows a couple in which the sex of the partners is intentionally ambiguous.

We feel it is especially crucial for schools to address same-sex intimate partner and sexual violence because individuals in the LGBQ community face unique challenges when reporting. For instance, for individuals reporting same-sex sexual violence may mean outing themselves as either LGBQ or engaging in same-sex relations, whether they’re consensual or not.

Survivors can also be reluctant to report out of fear that their peer group will not believe them or will ostracize them. This problem is exacerbated for individuals in the LGBQ community, who may feel that the community they have found at college is the first one accepting of their identity. Losing that community would be devastating to those students, exactly at a time when the most need the support of friends.

Furthermore, as explained in a recent Huffington Post article, some survivors may fear “causing additional problems for their schools’ LGBT communities, many of which are already struggling to overcome discrimination and bias and which may be the only support networks available to some gay or trans survivors.

Same sex relationships (both sexual and romantic in nature) are not immune from violence.

As the school year begins, take a moment to assess the inclusivity of your school’s orientation programming and how it addresses same-sex sexual violence.

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EEOC Evolves on Orientation
Posted by On Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that Title VII was violated when an employee was denied a promotion because of his sexual orientation. The case involved an air traffic control supervisor in Florida, who accused the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of not selecting him for a permanent position because he is gay.

Traditionally, Title VII has been interpreted not to cover sexual orientation bias for gays, lesbians, and heterosexuals. This was true unless there was sex-based “gender stereotyping.”

However, in addition to prohibiting gender stereotyping, the EEOC now says Title VII implicitly forbids sexual orientation discrimination.

“[T]he question is not whether sexual orientation is explicitly listed in Title VII as a prohibited basis for employment actions. It is not,” the EEOC wrote. “Rather, the question … is the same as any other Title VII case involving allegations of sex discrimination — whether the [employer] has relied on sex-based considerations or taken gender into account when taking the challenged employment action.”

“[W]e conclude that sexual orientation is inherently a sex-based consideration, and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII,” the EEOC stated. “[An employee] alleging that an [employer] took his or her sexual orientation into account in an employment action necessarily alleges that the [employer] took his or her sex into account.”

“Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex,” the EEOC explained. “Sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex. That is, an employee alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is alleging that his or her employer took his or her sex into account by treating him or her differently for associating with a person of the same sex.”

Noting that the EEOC’s “own understanding of Title VII’s application to sexual orientation discrimination has developed over time,” the EEOC ordered the case to proceed to determine the FAA’s liability for violating Title VII. [Baldwin v. Foxx (EEOC 2015) no. 2012-24738]

Note: In 2012, the EEOC applied Title VII’s rule against sex bias in a case involving discrimination against a transgender employee.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, July 17, 2015

This week a new movie anatomizes the Stanford Prison Experiment and how our environments influence our behavior, a California Court rules that a school’s hearing panel violated an accused students right to a fair hearing, and a new study challenges the belief that most campus rapes are committed by serial perpetrators.

Stanford Prison Experiment Movie

The fact-based dramatization of the Stanford Prison Experiment is released in theaters today.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted by Stanford psychologist Phillip Zimbardo in 1971. In the experiment, 24 college males were placed into a simulation where half were given the role of prison guard and the other half the role of prisoner.  These assumed roles had detrimental impacts causing the 14-day experiment to be cut off after just six days.  The Experiment has been inspiration for two previous movies and a BBC series, but this film is considered to be the most realistic insight into the actual events involved in the Prison Experiment.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was important for many reasons.  It took regular people – even referred to as “peaceniks” prior to the Experiment – and either gave then either a sense of power or a sense of defeat. “No, see that’s what’s been happening …we’re saying it’s a few bad apples, it’s isolated,” Zimbardo said on CNN in 2004. “But what’s bad is the barrel.”  The study suggests that individuals are products of the environments that they exist in.  While this does not remove fault on an individual for committing a crime, it gives insight into the importance of holistic societal change.  

California Court Rules Accused Student Denied a Fair Hearing

Last week, a California Superior Court judge ruled that in a Roe (she said) vs. Doe (he said) case, a University of California San Diego hearing panel violated Doe’s right to a fair hearing. The right to cross-examine the accused was one of the central issues in the case, leading the court to conclude that the “limiting of questions in this case curtailed the right of confrontation crucial to any definition of a fair hearing.” Specifically, the court found it unfair that the Panel Chair asked only nine of the thirty-two questions submitted by Doe, paraphrased questions, allowed “restricted answers and prevented any follow-up,” and put up a screen between Roe and Doe, denying him the right to confront his accuser. We have previously written about the right to cross-examine the accuser in campus sexual assault hearings, citing a decision by a U.S. District Court in New York, which found that constitutional due process in a case where a male student was accused of rape “required that the panel permit the [accused] . . . to direct questions to his accuser through the panel.” [Donohue v. Baker, et al. (USDC NDNY 1997) 976 F.Supp.136] And in its Order dismissing a lawsuit against St. Joseph’s University filed by a student suspended for sexual misconduct, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania stated that the Office for Civil Rights strongly discourages schools to allow the accused student to personally confront or cross-examine the accuser. [Harris v. Saint Joseph's University (USDC EDPA 2013) no. 2:13-cv-03937] However, as the Title IX Blog points out, the recent California decision reminds schools that “It is possible to hold fair hearings and comply with Title IX and that is what colleges and universities should be striving to do.”

What If Most Campus Rapes Aren’t Committed by Serial Rapists?

A study published this week challenges the belief that most campus rapes are committed by serial perpetrators. An influential 2002 study by David Lisak and Paul Miller found 4% of surveyed men were responsible for over 90% of self-reported rapes and 28% of self-reported violence, suggesting that “a relatively small proportion of men are responsible for a large number of rapes and other interpersonal crimes.” Lisak and Miller’s findings were bolstered by a 2009 study of enlisted men in the Navy. The new research released this week, led by Kevin Swartout, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University, found that “most college men who perpetrate rape do so during relatively limited time frames.” Instead of measuring the number of incidents that an individual committed, as Lisak and Miller did, Swartout and his co-researchers examined how many time periods in which an individual reported perpetrating rape. Most men (74.7%) “who committed college rape only perpetrated rape during 1 academic year.” Furthermore, the men at greatest risk of perpetrating rape changed: those men most likely to commit rape before college were not the men most likely to rape in college. The study undermines the assumption that there is “a cohesive group of men who consistently committed rape” on campus. Overall, 10.8% of the men surveyed in the study reported perpetrating rape. Swartout’s findings may change how institutions approach preventing and responding to sexual violence. Andra Tharp, a senior adviser for the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response division, told FiveThirtyEight, “if [rape is] mostly sporadic and opportunistic behavior, we need to think more about prevention and intervention — a broader public health approach instead of focusing primarily on a few high-risk individuals.”

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