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Looking Back on ATIXA
Posted by On Friday, October 17, 2014

We just got back from ATIXA, where we spent three days attending sessions, meeting educators and advocates, and learning a lot. It was a profoundly humbling experience as we got to know many of the remarkable people working hard to end campus sexual violence.

In the conference’s first session, activist and health educator LB Klein set the tone for the conference. She pointed out that the media’s narratives of campus sexual assault have framed the issue as an epidemic. The danger of this angle, she argued, is that it urges us to pursue quick fixes. But, of course, sexual violence on college campuses is not a new issue.

For example, in the National Institute of Justice’s 2000 study The Sexual Victimization of College Women, researchers estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 women experienced attempted or completed rape while in college. In 2007, NIJ researchers found similar numbers. In fact, these numbers remain largely unchanged from what Mary Koss found in her groundbreaking studies in the 80s.

In order to gain a clearer perspective on the issue, Klein encouraged us to reframe the problem as one “endemic” to college campuses. Instead of quick fixes, she stressed, this reframing underscores the need for deep and thoughtful solutions that can be sustained over time and, of course, the need for significant investment in time and resources.

Klein’s message was echoed in many of the presentations. Indeed, another recurring theme of the conference was the importance of self-care for educators and advocates. Several speakers pointed to high turnover due to burnout and “compassion fatigue.”

However, if the problem has been persistent, there are signs that national attention is turning to this issue and others like it. Howard Kallem, a former attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), cited statistics that suggest the OCR’s caseload is increasing. According to Kallem, in 2003 the OCR only closed 5141 cases. In 2014 that number stands at 9916. Hopefully these changes indicate that the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Next week, we’ll explore some of the other issues and ideas that came up during the conference.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 1, 2014

One of the most important requirements of Title IX, and one that many schools may be scrambling to fulfill, is that any school that receives federal funding must appoint a Title IX coordinator. Today, we want to focus on this requirement, with a few stories about the duties of Title IX coordinators, and some interviews with Title IX compliance officers about what their position requires.

Must-Knows for Title IX Coordinators

This piece, written by Anthony Walesby, current Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs for the University of Michigan, and former federal investigator for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, outlines the must-knows for Title IX coordinators and the crucial role they play in addressing campus sexual violence. Walesby emphasizes the importance of staying informed about Title IX requirements since a school’s Title IX compliance is ultimately the responsibility of its Title IX coordinator, but he also points out that compliance requires the participation of many campus partners who have other interests and concerns. Therefore, Walesby gives this advice to Title IX coordinators:  “Your work may not always be appreciated or popular with everyone all the time, but in the end, you are doing what is in the best interest of your institution. Always keep that in mind.”

Q&A with Stanford’s New Title IX Coordinator

Much like Walesby, Stanford’s recently appointed dedicated Title IX coordinator, Catherine Criswell, comes to the university after a 19-year career with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, in which she focused largely on Title IX investigations. In this interview, Criswell talks about how that experience will inform her work on the Stanford campus, discusses the importance of creating “lasting culture change around issues of sexual assault and sexual violence,” and lays out some of her plans for her work as Title IX coordinator, including establishing a campus climate survey, as recommended by the White House task force report.  In addition to being a neutral investigator, Criswell sees her role as educating the campus community about Title IX rights and reaching out to students, faculty, and staff to find out more “about the climate around these issues at Stanford and about what they would like to see happen.”

Q&A with Harvard’s New Title IX Coordinator

We’ve reported before on Harvard’s new sexual assault policy, set to go into effect with the start of the coming school year. In this interview Mia Karvonides, Harvard’s Title IX officer (and another former OCR attorney) discusses the challenges of implementing the new policy across multiple Schools, each with their own Title IX coordinators, the process of formulating the new policy, and the resources available to Harvard students who are victim/survivors of sexual violence and harassment. However, as Karvonides points out, Harvard is one community and the new central office she heads – the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution – will investigate complaints of sexual misconduct against students and “create a new level of continuity and consistency.”

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Should Teachers Include Reporting Information on their Syllabi?
Posted by On Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Last week the White House released the first report from its Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. (Read our post on it here.) Alongside the report, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a 53 page document titled “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.”

The Task Force’s report and OCR’s guidance both reminded schools of the importance of encouraging students to report sexual violence as well as the legal duty of “responsible” school employees to report.

In light of recent recommendations from the Task Force and guidelines from the OCR, students at George Washington University (GW) have suggested that teachers’ syllabi should also include basic information about reporting sexual misconduct on campus.

A syllabus has become much more than a list of readings and assignments for a course. It often includes details about classroom conduct and grading, as well as statements about accessibility, equality, and counseling resources.

Nearly every instructor spends 20-30 minutes reviewing their syllabus on the first day of class. The extra time that they would have to spend to cover a short statement on sexual misconduct would be minimal, but it would mean that students are given critical reporting information every term, an effective way to distribute it widely and on an ongoing basis.

As Scott Berkowitz, the president of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), noted, putting the information on a syllabus can also help students retain the information:

We’ve found that people don’t ever expect to need a service like this. They tend not to hold onto information about sexual assault services. But they are going to hold onto a syllabus, since they need it for other purposes.

Berkowitz also noted that having the information widely available can make it less awkward for students to look it up when they do need to consult it.

Below is an example of what this statement might look like:

A Note on Sexual Misconduct

Our school is committed to fostering a safe, productive learning environment. Title IX and our school policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Sexual misconduct — including harassment, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking — is also prohibited at our school.

Our school encourages anyone experiencing sexual misconduct to talk to someone about what happened, so they can get the support they need and our school can respond appropriately.

If you wish to speak confidentially about an incident of sexual misconduct, please contact one of the following resources [insert name and contact information of confidential campus resources]

If you wish to report sexual misconduct or have questions about school policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct, please contact our school’s Title IX coordinator [insert name and/or contact information of Title IX coordinator]

Our school is legally obligated to investigate reports of sexual misconduct, and therefore it cannot guarantee the confidentiality of a report, but it will consider a request for confidentiality and respect it to the extent possible.

As a teacher, I am also required by our school to report incidents of sexual misconduct and thus cannot guarantee confidentiality. I must provide our Title IX coordinator with relevant details such as the names of those involved in the incident.

The beginning of a class probably isn’t the time to make students cover the school’s entire sexual misconduct policy. But a short statement like the one above provides students with essential information about what conduct is prohibited, confidentiality, and how to report.

Confidentiality is a particularly important issue to cover, since many teachers may have a duty to report. According to the OCR’s FAQ, responsible employees must tell students their duty to report “before a student reveals information that he or she may wish to keep confidential” [emphasis added]. How that would work in practice is less clear, since a.) it may be hard to tell what a student is about to reveal, and b.) such a disclosure on the part of the employee may discourage the student from reporting or even talking about the event.

By covering the issue at the beginning of the semester, teachers can explain confidentiality issues and show that the school is serious about tackling sexual misconduct.

If a not on syllabi seems too onerous, another possibility is to ask students to read a short statement (like the one above) before they register for classes. Many schools already do something similar for a statement of academic integrity.

As the White House report suggests, this issue can only be tackled through a coordinated effort. Schools need to look to a broad array of strategies and measures they can implement to ensure their students know campus policies and procedures. Finding opportunities, such as instructors’ syllabi, seems one easy way to keep students informed and to convey the school’s commitment to this serious issue.

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