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Campus Climate Surveys: A tool for creating anti-racist policies and procedures
Posted by On Thursday, November 12, 2015

Articles in the Chronicle, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and many others have detailed racism at colleges and universities. Student Activism has put racial microaggressions, incidents of blatant racism, and institutionalized racism into the media and in many cases has already led to action by administration.

In 2013, the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan started the #BBUM, or Being Black at U of M, campaign to bring awareness to the experiences of students of color on campus. This campaign received national attention and coincided with a list of demands to administration for improving the campus climate for students of color, and specifically Black and African American students, on campus.

Similar events have taken place at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and Yale and student solidarity seems to be spreading to campuses around the country. While the situations at Mizzou and Yale have played out differently, the student activists are responding to similar frustrations with ongoing racism that has been left unaddressed by the school. Students are getting fed up with their institutions claiming “diversity” and “inclusivity” when their lived experiences tell them otherwise. Students are getting fed up with leaders not taking racism on campus seriously. And students are getting fed up with acts of blatant racism receiving no repercussion.

What does campus racism have to do with the campus climate around sexual assault? A lot. Campus climate is holistic in that it defines how students experience their time at a school. However, it has many different facets. Lately, we have been focusing on campus climate and how it relates to sexual assault (including sexual violence, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and dating/relationship violence). The racial climate on campuses definitely plays into how students perceive the climate around sexual assault.

If a student does not feel included, safe, or welcomed on campus, if a student does not feel supported by administrators, if a student does not feel a sense of community, if a student does not see faces who look like them in positions that matter, if a student is struggling every day just to survive in a space that is stacked against them, what is to make them want to report? Or even if they want to, what is to make them feel safe reporting?

Similarly, if the perpetrator of an assault was a student of color, reporting can be an especially complicated decision. If reporting means giving another reason for people of color to look like criminals or perpetrators of violence, survivors might be hesitant to report due to the potential harm to their community – perhaps the only community they feel a part of on campus.

So what does all of this mean? Sexual assault education, response, and policies are not one-size-fits-all. A survivor-centered approach needs to take into consideration the unique experiences of each survivor, including how their culture, community, and identities intersect with that experience. The Department of Justice suggests that a “culturally relevant, survivor centered approach” needs to have the following components:

  • Is grounded in the experiences of all survivors on campus. This requires the campus to understand not only the dynamics of the crimes, but the nuances that each crime presents and how these crimes are experienced by diverse groups of survivors on campus.
  • Takes into account cultural contexts in order to better understand the survivor’s experience and how this may affect such actions like a survivor’s decision not to report or seek services.
  • Is flexible and adaptable to the needs of survivors so they are not re-traumatized by the campus’s efforts.
  • Prevents the creation of processes, protocols and systems that support institutional interests over survivor’s needs.

At the 2015 NASPA conference, a session titled “Considering Students of Color in Sexual Assault Prevention” by Luoluo Hong, Mark Houlemard, Ross Wantland, and Patricia Nguyen discussed using a social justice framework when thinking about sexual assault on college campuses. To do this, it is imperative that administrators recognize that racism and sexism are “interlocking systems of oppression” and doing anti-sexism work also means doing anti-racism work. One of my main takeaways from this session was when Hong suggested replacing the word “students” in your sexual assault policies with “students of color.” And then ask yourself: Does the policy still apply? Is it realistic and comprehensive? Are students of color actually considered in the voices of victims and perpetrators? Most importantly, how is your sexual assault prevention work anti-racist?

How does this relate to Climate Surveys? As we previously wrote, Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are being considered a “best practice response to campus sexual assault.” One of the most beneficial usages for climate survey data is being able to sort and filter it based on demographics like class standing, gender, sexual orientation, and race. When you administer your campus climate survey, pay special attention to the perceptions and experiences of students of color. Compare the experiences of white students and students of color for questions about reporting sexual assaults, perceptions of campus safety, and bystander behaviors. Reporting numbers have been low across campuses (2-5%) when participants were asked if they reported the assault through official school systems. This data needs to be cross-tabulated with different demographics to isolate data about how race impacts perceptions and experiences with sexual assault. Climate surveys are a great tool to gauge racial disparities on your campus and can lead to creating policies and procedures that are anti-racist.

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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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