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sexual misconduct

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 12, 2015

A new survey emphasizes the importance of interactive training, an in-depth examination of Title IX as it applies to intimate partner violence, and a look at the human toll of lengthy OCR investigations.

New Study Illustrates the Need for Interactive Training

It’s well-known that anti-sexual violence training is not just required by law but a crucial aspect of campus prevention efforts. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all training is equally effective. A new study from the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center demonstrates that students asked to interact during prevention training—in this case by taking part in a 20-minute conversation about the material they had just covered—were more likely to retain and process information about the school’s resources and policies. Another group of students was read the policies but did not discuss them afterwards, a third group was told they could watch an optional video in which the policies were read aloud, and a fourth group, used as a control, received no education. Students who were read the policies aloud but did not discuss them later showed improved learning, though not as good as that shown by students whose training included an interactive element. Over 70% of students provided with optional video opted not to watch it, and showed no greater improvement than the control group that received no training.

Domestic Violence, Colleges, and Title IX

As we’ve discussed in this space in the past, many activists and experts expect (and hope) that the enormous amount of attention currently directed at sexual assault on campus, and school’s obligation to address it under Title IX, will soon expand to include an equally pressing issue—intimate partner violence at colleges and universities. This article from BuzzFeed delves into the issue more deeply, pointing out that college-aged women are more likely than any other age group to experience intimate partner violence, talking to young women whose educations were disrupted, diminished, and in some cases ended by the trauma they experienced as victim/survivors of domestic violence, examining the legal reasoning behind a school’s Title IX obligation to address intimate partner violence, and taking a look at what schools could do to improve their support for students who have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

Long OCR Investigations Take a Toll on Complainants

Another story we’ve been following is the increasing length of OCR investigations. This piece from US News puts a human face on the many problems associated with an investigation that takes years to complete, profiling complainants whose cases triggered investigations that may have brought sweeping change to their school’s policies—but only long after they themselves had graduated. As Wendy Murphy, an advocate, attorney, and adjunct professor of sexual violence law, says in the article, “You can’t fix someone’s hostile education environment if they’ve graduated by the time you announce there was a problem.” The article also delves into the reasons for the lengthy investigations, which include skyrocketing rates of complaints, a badly understaffed OCR, and a new (widely heralded) approach to investigations, which takes the most macroscopic look at a school’s culture as opposed to focusing narrowly on the case in question.

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Small Acts of Kindness: Micro-Affirmations and Campus Climate
Posted by On Wednesday, July 16, 2014

While studying how to improve workplace conditions for under-represented groups, MIT ombudsman Mary Rowe discovered the pernicious effect on morale and performance of small acts of disrespect, which “seemed to corrode some professional relationships like bits of sand and ice.” She called these events, “micro-inequities.” They often arose around issues related to sex, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, gender expression, and national origin — “wherever people are perceived to be ‘different’.”

Rowe’s concept of “micro-inequities” is akin to “micro-aggressions,” an idea that has gained considerable coverage in the media recently (for instance, here, here, here, here, and here).  Schools trying to create safe and supportive campus environments for their students should take this idea seriously and consider ways to address these small poisonous acts.

Awareness is one possible approach. Professor Derald W. Sue, one of the foremost researchers on micro-aggressions, speaks about the importance of encouraging students to reflect critically on their own worldviews and to “become increasingly aware of the worldviews of people who differ from them.” Including discussion of micro-aggressions in bystander training could also help discourage these behaviors. Not only would this increase awareness about the issue, but it would help students gain the confidence and skills to speak up when they or a friend was in some way disparaged. Indeed, Rowe writes that “it it is not just inappropriate remarks by individuals that sting, but the silence of a wide array of bystanders.”

Micro-Affirmations and Bystander Training

Rowe observed, however, that micro-inequities were often committed unconsciously or automatically, making it hard for individuals to catch and correct their problem behaviors, and making awareness a more elusive educational goal.

(more…)

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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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