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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 4, 2015

In this weeks roundup: studies explore the smoking habits of college students, Harvard attempts to create a more inclusive campus for trans* students, and Michigan State University was found to have violated Title IX.

College Students Smoke More Marijuana than Cigarettes

While cigarette use amongst college students is declining, marijuana use is on the rise. It has, for the first time, surpassed tobacco as the primary substance to smoke for college students. University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research compiled survey data showing that around 5% of students say they smoke tobacco heavily, whereas 6% smoke marijuana heavily. The Associated Press reports that “the percentage of daily pot users… was the highest ever recorded… [and] twenty-one percent of college students said they had used marijuana at least once during the previous month, and 34% said they had used it in the past year.” There have been many studies lately about the impacts of marijuana use, exploring everything from its correlation with depression to its impact on brain size and shape. Some studies have designated marijuana as a treatment option for anxiety and other mental health concerns. However, marijuana isn’t the only treatment for anxiety and depression students have been seeking in recent years – students are utilizing campus mental health services on campus more than ever.

Harvard Allows Students to Pick Gender Pronoun

At Harvard, students will now be able to write in their preferred gender pronoun when they register for classes, according to The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper. Harvard hopes that this option will help students feel more comfortable with their gender identity and prevent professors from misgendering students in the classroom or in communications. Van Bailey, the director of Harvard’s Office of BGLTQ Student Life, explained to the Boston Globe, “With this change we are being proactive about allowing students to control how they are addressed or seen based on how they identify or see themselves…We hope this creates classroom spaces that foster inclusion and equity for all students.” Harvard will still classify all students as male or female, regardless of the pronoun they choose.

OCR Completes Michigan State Investigation

On September 1, 2015, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released its letter of findings, concluding that Michigan State University violated Title IX because it failed to:

  • promptly respond to sexual harassment complaints, which caused or contributed to a sexually hostile environment for students and staff on campus
  • comply with Title IX requirements for informing students and staff about grievance procedures, what constitutes sexual harassment, and how to contact its Title IX coordinator

For example, the results of a survey of MSU freshman and transfer students conducted in Spring 2014 found: “Only 7.4% of students were able to correctly identify the name of the University’s Title IX Coordinator. In contrast, 71.5% of the students surveyed correctly identified the University’s head basketball coach.”

The MSU Resolution Agreement requires mandatory training for students on how to identify and report sexual harassment and sexual assault, available student resources, as well as the University’s grievance procedures and possible sanctions for conduct violations. The MSU letter of findings also identified best practices, which include:

  • maintaining documentation of investigation and grievance proceedings
  • determining whether harassment occurred or whether conduct was welcome based on the totality of the circumstances
  • taking prompt interim measures to protect the complainant as soon as the school has notice of a harassment allegation
  • making sure that the school community is aware of what type of conduct constitute sexual harassment, including sexual violence
  • not allowing mediation of sexual assault complaints or the parties to personally cross-examine each other during hearings
  • not allowing those handling grievance procedures to have a real or perceived conflict of interest

Meanwhile, 130 schools are currently under investigation by the OCR and the number continues to grow. Read our discussion of the University of Montana’s Resolution Agreement and our discussion of standards of proof in campus hearings based on that Resolution Agreement.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 23, 2015

This week we have an editorial revealing that American universities are not the only ones with a sexual assault problem, and two new and potentially innovative tactics for addressing the issue in this country.

Britain Has a Problem with College Sexual Assault Too

If you thought campus sexual assault was a uniquely American problem, this editorial from British professor Nicole Westmarland makes it brutally clear that college campuses across the pond have just as much if not more of a problem with sexual violence. In fact, Professor Westmarland cites statistics even more shocking and perturbing than the ones familiar to us from American studies. According to a poll conducted by The Telegraph, 1 in 3 British female college students experience sexual assault. 97% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault to the university, and 44% said they did not report their assault because they believed the university would do nothing about the violence. Westmarland points to these statistics as an indictment of a higher education culture that she believes would prefer to sweep these problems under the rug rather than discuss and address them. Perhaps encouragingly (at least for Americans) she points to current efforts being taken to address sexual violence on this side of the Atlantic as a model for British universities looking to fight back against campus rape.

Could Sorority Ragers Help Fight Sexual Assault?

Alcohol-fueled fraternity parties have been the setting for numerous high-profile sexual assault cases. Alcohol-fueled sorority parties have not, probably because, by and large, such events do not exist. Now, some female students are wondering whether they should, suggesting not only that a party hosted by a sorority might not pose the same risks as one hosted by a fraternity, but that such events could decrease the overall danger of sexual assault on campus. The theory goes that drinking in a setting where women are in control—of who can and cannot be in their house, of the flow of alcohol, and of their own ability to go upstairs and lock the door at any time—would reverse a power dynamic that at fraternities contributes to the prevalence of sexual assault. Critics of this logic point out that sororities rarely host parties for good reasons, which include the cost of insurance and potential damage to property that generally belongs to a national organization. Furthermore, they suggest that providing yet another venue for excessive drinking may be exactly the wrong strategy for combating a problem closely linked to excessive alcohol consumption.

How Can Taxes and Marijuana Fight Sexual Assault?

Curbing excessive drinking is the heart of the tactic suggested by this piece from New York Magazine. However, author Annie Lowrey suggests a novel tool in the seemingly age-old (and often futile) efforts by schools and government to cut down on students’ drinking: taxation. According to Lawrey, “Study after study has shown that ‘higher prices or taxes were associated with a lower prevalence of youth drinking.’” She posits that increased taxation of alcohol, and especially of alcohol sold in close proximity to college campuses, will lead to decreased drinking and, as a result, a decrease in sexual assaults. The second, more controversial bonus suggestion? That legalizing marijuana could similarly decrease student drinking and thus assaults. According to Lowrey, “there is some evidence that young people tend to substitute pot for alcohol.” Drawing on evidence that cannabis use reduces the likelihood of violent behavior, while drinking increases it, Lowrey suggests that making marijuana more widely available could decrease the risk of assault on college campuses.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, September 12, 2014

Substance abuse is a persistent problem on college campuses. What role does brain chemistry play in young people’s vulnerability to alcohol and other drugs? These two articles suggest some answers.

Brain Chemistry and the Low Price of Drinks Drive College Binge Drinking

What is it that drives some college students to drink to excess again and again and again? This piece from NPR explains that there are multiple factors driving college binge drinking. One is brain chemistry. College-aged brains are still developing, so while the part of the brain that seeks reward and stimulation is fully mature by the time 18 year olds begin their freshman year, the bits that control impulsive behavior still have a ways to go. This imbalance is what makes taking too many shots or playing drinking games seem so appealing. The other big factor may seem more obvious, but is also more controllable. The lower the average price of a drink in an area, the more binge drinking is reported amongst local college students.

Adolescent Marijuana Use Correlates to “All Adverse Young Adult Outcomes”

A new study from the British journal The Lancet Psychiatry suggests that teenaged marijuana use correlates strongly to a variety of alarming outcomes. Teen pot-smokers were 60% less likely than peers to graduate from high school, 60% less likely to finish college, seven times more likely to attempt suicide and eight times more likely to use other illegal drugs than their non-smoking counterparts. Significantly, the authors found that even “low levels” of marijuana use (as infrequently as once per month) greatly increased teens risks of the aforementioned negative outcomes when compared to teens who did not smoke marijuana at all, suggesting that “there may not be a threshold where [cannabis] use can be deemed safe” for adolescents. With the legal landscape shifting quickly on the issue of marijuana possession and use, it seems clear that any legislative reforms must take pains to keep cannabis out of the hands of teen users.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 2, 2014

Substance abuse is not a new campus safety issue. However, the shape that challenge takes is always changing. This week we’re highlighting three stories about new trends in substance abuse that may very well suggest the challenges college administrators will face in the future.

Marijuana Vaporizers

Just as electronic cigarettes pose a new regulatory challenge, their cannabis cousins, vaporizers, pose an equal challenge to schools determined to curb drug use on campus. A vaporizer can be used to consume marijuana—it heats marijuana flowers or concentrates to around 350 degrees, not hot enough to burn but hot enough to vaporize the psychoactive chemical THC and produce a high every bit as potent as smoking from a joint or a pipe. These devices pose a unique problem for campus administrators. Vaporizers can be as small as a pen, and produce none of the tell-tale skunk-like odor associated with smoking marijuana. As a result, they are easy to use discreetly and hide. In fact, they are virtually indistinguishable from e-cigarettes. With the market for vaporizers growing at a pace usually associated with tech startups, colleges and universities trying to prevent students from getting high on campus will be hard-pressed to find a way to remove vaporizers from their grounds.

Powdered Alcohol

Similar problems are presented by the possibility of widely-available powdered alcohol, a concept that took one step closer to reality when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued the federal approvals necessary for a product called Palcohol to be made and sold in the United States. While the TTB has since said that those approvals were issued “in error,” it’s not clear what that means for the future of Palcohol, and it’s possible that just-add-water margaritas and mojitos could still be coming soon to a liquor store near you, or your campus. Like vaporizers, powdered alcohol could pose a major challenge to schools determined to keep their campuses substance free—it’s not hard to imagine students sneaking small packets of powdered booze to school events in their pockets or bags and then adding them to the punch or water bottles. Powdered alcohol might pose other problems as well. It’s not yet clear what would happen if an intoxicated undergrad tried to snort a packet of Palcohol, or eat it straight, or add half the recommended amount of water, but preventing such scenarios might become a top priority for schools as soon as Palcohol can work out their differences with the TTB.

Heroin on Campus

While marijuana and alcohol are both well-known problems on college campuses (and the traditional focus of prevention programs), few schools consider hard drugs like heroin to be a major problem. Now, however, that’s starting to change, especially for schools located in areas where the use of heroin or other hard drugs is increasing in the larger population. Incidents such as the overdose death of a University of Rochester freshman are prompting administrators to begin expanding their prevention efforts to include hard drugs, a change one campus health center director has described as a “paradigm shift.”. New efforts include screening student patients for hard drug use and making resources available for addicts trying to beat an addiction.

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