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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Free Workshop on Consent
Posted by On Thursday, August 14, 2014

We’re excited to release today a consent workshop developed by our friends at the University of San Francisco’s Division of Student Life.

The workshop would be a helpful addition to any orientation program or a stand-alone refresher course for later in the year. It covers the definition of consent and gives some important statistics about sexual assault and intimacy in the campus community. It also gives students the opportunity to practice communication skills related to asking, giving, and denying consent.

Here are the downloads:

Although this workshop was developed for women, it can easily be adapted for students of any gender. In fact, we hope schools will tailor these resources to fit their unique needs and we encourage you to make refinements and improvements as you see fit. We do ask, however, that you share any changes you make to a workshop and make them freely available to the whole student conduct community (that’s why we use a creative commons license).


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Roundtable Theme: Training and Consequences
Posted by On Thursday, June 5, 2014

First Roundtable Discussion: The Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act

Senator Claire McCaskill opened the first of three roundtable discussions on campus sexual assault by stating her goal to tackle the “complex labyrinth of different rules between SaVE and Clery and Title IX . . . and see if we can simplify, clarify, augment, support, perhaps provide more mandatory training but with the grants that go with that so that universities can access grants to help train people on campuses . . ..”

Yes, that means yet more new federal laws are being drafted on campus sexual assault, which McCaskill hopes to introduce by the end of the month. Here are some of the topics that were discussed, which we’ll explain in more detail below:

  • making school employees mandated reporters
  • training students and employees about reporting responsibilities and confidentiality
  • stepping up enforcement of Clery Act compliance

Training and Mandated Reporting
As a former prosecutor of sex crimes, Sen. McCaskill is focused on bringing perpetrators to the criminal justice system and the only way to do that is if a crime is reported. The discussion about training began with McCaskill asking if all school employees should be mandated to report information about sexual violence to campus authorities.

Laura Dunn, a victim advocate and survivor of sexual assault, raised serious concerns about taking that control away from the victim-survivor: “I promise you if we handle this issue well it will go up on its own, you don’t ever have to mandate [reporting] . . . When we see that consequence we know it’s safer for us to speak out.”

McCaskill responded, “the vast majority of these perpetrators are not even getting a criminal interview . . . they’re never having that moment where the police officer sits across the table from them and asks them the difficult questions. We aren’t going to get any meaningful deterrence on this problem until that begins happening. So there is a chicken and egg problem here.”

Two panel members pointed out that training students and employees is a critical piece of any mandated reporter legislation. Holly Rider-Milkovich of the University of Michigan cautioned that, “If we require faculty especially but also staff to report information then number one we have to vigorously educate our student body about where there are confidential resources and about the responsibilities of anyone who they share information with to report and also we need to ensure that every member who has an obligation to report also has an equally robust training so that they are appropriately responding to that student . . ..”

Alison Kiss with the Clery Center for Security on Campus agreed that there needs to be “training about what do you do when a student discloses and how you handle that disclosure, [because] if there is not training then it could have a chilling effect . . ..” Kiss also pointed out that the legal definitions of sexual assault required in a school’s education program must be “in the language that students may understand what happened to them—I can actually be raped by my friend.”

McCaskill later commented on the state definitions of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, “We cannot define for states elements of their crimes.” However, she is concerned about the fact that in sixteen states lack of consent requires that the perpetrator used force or threatened to use force. So, McCaskill will be looking at ways to “incentivize states to update their definitions of consent.”

Regulatory Enforcement
McCaskill also noted the need to “step up the enforcement side” instead of “waiting for another tragedy to hit the front pages.” According to Lynn Mahaffie with the Department of Education, there are currently only thirteen auditors who conduct about twenty Clery compliance reviews per year. The Department plans to double the number of auditors over the next few years, although even that increase will barely scratch the surface of the 7,000+ campuses covered by these laws.

Moreover, Laura Dunn pointed out that there is no integration of effort between the Office for Civil Rights that enforces all civil rights laws, including Title IX compliance, and the Federal Student Aid office that enforces Clery compliance. Ms. Dunn said, “If you’re going to spend money somewhere, please spend it on enforcement.” The absence of a specialized enforcement unit is a big part of the problem, according to Dunn: “We spend all day making laws, making rules, making regulations. It’s overwhelming institutions and when it comes to survivors who ask for enforcement we don’t even have specialized enforcers who know the details of this law or even work together.”

McCaskill jumped in here and suggested, “at least force integration” to help institutions figure out how to put these three different laws—Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Campus SaVE Act—together and streamline their compliance efforts. This provides a great segue into the second roundtable discussion on Title IX, which is the subject of a separate post.

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Free Posters for Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Posted by On Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SAAM_Posters_Page_2We’re already half-way through April. Hopefully, your workshops and activities centered around Sexual Assault Awareness Month have been successful. If you’re looking for other ways to raise awareness, we’ve put together a few black-and-white posters that you can download here.

They’re simple, but — we think — effective. They encourage students to educate themselves about issues surrounding sexual assault. After all, awareness is not only about giving students information, but motivating them to research the issues for themselves. We want students to become advocates!

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Rewriting the College Hook-Up Script
Posted by On Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Popular media makes it seem like college today is more like the seamier corners of a Las Vegas club than the ivy-clad, brick-edifice institution of yore.  Students today, it seems, are more likely to hit the bottle than the books and more likely to get a booty call than a phone call.

But college life isn’t one big party as our media often portrays it. Indeed, the sensational portraits of college depravity, however well intended, might be doing more harm than good by reinforcing students’ misconceptions about college life.

Let’s take a look at some popular misconceptions about “hook up” culture, how they might be hurting our students, and how we can confront these misconceptions to enable students to rewrite the hook-up script.

Are Millennials are more sexually active than past generations?

Hook up culture is often portrayed as the crisis of the current generation of college students. The internet is full of accounts of the collapse of morality on college campuses. But scholars who study hook up culture trace its roots back forty years or more.

In her book on campus sexual culture, “Hooking Up,” Kathleen Bogle suggests that the shift to hook up culture was already underway by the mid-1970s. She believes hook up culture arose out of the turmoil of the wider cultural and demographic changes of the 60s. In that regard, it’s something that both current students and their parents experienced.

Other researchers put the origins in the early 1920s, when “with the rise of automobile use and novel entertainment venues…traditional models of courting under parental supervision began to fade” (Garcia et al.). Now we’re talking four generations of hook-up culture!

Indeed, a study presented this year at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting found little change in college students’ behaviors or attitudes regarding sex in the last 25 years.

The study compared the answers of two batches of college students, 1988-1996 and 2002-2010, on the General Social Survey. Attitudes and behaviors between the two groups were quite similar. For example, 65% of the first group reported having sex at least once a week compared to 59.3% of the second group. Attitudes regarding sex between minors, cheating on a spouse, and premarital sex also remained largely unchanged.

The researchers concluded, “[o]ur results provide no evidence that there has been a sea change in the sexual behavior of college students or that there has been a significant liberalization of attitudes towards sex.”

Is everyone is hooking up?

This summer, the New York Times published a controversial trend piece by Kate Taylor. Taylor reported that campus hookup culture was increasingly driven by young women, who were intent on “building their résumés, not finding boyfriends.” In other words, it’s not just men who are driving hook up culture: everyone’s doing it.

But while hook ups may dominate discussions about campus culture, not everyone is actually hooking up.

Indeed, according to the most recent American College Health Association Survey, over a third of college students have never had sex. And while 46% have had sex in the past month, the vast majority of sexually active students have only had one sexual partner in the past 12 months. In fact, 47% of college students reported being in a relationship.

That doesn’t sound like students intent on casual sex and one-night stands.

Why do we talk about hook up culture so much then?

Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental college, suggests that it might have to do with who is hooking up: white, wealthy, heterosexual students. The status that these students’ race, class, and sexual orientation confer allows them and their habits to dominate national discussions of campus culture.

“Students feel that a hookup culture dominates their colleges not because it is actually widely embraced,” Wade writes, “but because the people with the most power to shape campus culture like it that way.”

Indeed, contrary to Taylor’s piece in the Times, Kathleen Bogle found that hook up culture was driven by men. In their interviews with Bogle, women were far less satisfied with hook up culture than their male peers.

In general, women preferred relationships, whereas men preferred casual encounters.

Bogle offered two reasons for this difference. First, the women she interviewed were interested in getting married earlier than the men. Thus many women were actively looking for a long term relationship that might result in marriage. The men simply weren’t.

Bogle also pointed to a persistent double standard in campus sexual culture. While men were praised for being promiscuous, women were stigmatized. If they behaved like men and pursued multiple partners, women risked earning derogatory labels like “slut.” Indeed, many men confessed that they wouldn’t date a woman who had had many sexual partners. Thus in order to protect their reputations, women sought out stable relationships.

So not everyone is hooking up and not everyone wants to. Instead the hook-up elites are imposing a hegemony over campus sexual culture.

What we talk about when we talk about hooking up

The problem with these misconceptions is that they make hook up culture seem inevitable. Indeed, when we press too hard on the prevalence of hook up culture, we might be sending students mixed messages.

On the one hand, we imply that students are randy and oversexed.  We insist that hook ups and no-strings-attached sex are endemic to college campuses.

On the other hand, we blandly tell students that they overestimate how much sex their peers are having.

Which message do you think students will remember?

If the vivid image of a college free-for-all is what sticks in students’ mind, then we may be doing them a disservice.

Students do tend to overestimate their peers’ sexual activity, making the behavior of a few outliers (the hook up elites) appear to be the social norm. Students then turn to these social norms to guide their own behavior, reinforcing hook up culture.

It is possible that by talking so much about hook up culture (even when condemning it) that we inadvertently reinforce the idea that the outliers are the social norm, that everyone really is hooking up.

Instead of just condemning hook up culture, we need to offer some alternatives. Or better yet, we need to elicit some alternatives from students themselves.

Rewriting the hook up script

According to Bogle, hook up culture is a social script: a set of cultural and social expectations surrounding dating that students internalize and follow. Bogle contrasts the hook up script with earlier social scripts, such as “courting” or “going steady,” which were the products of different social and demographic conditions.

Rather than just trying to correct students’ perceptions of their peers’ behavior or point to the flaws of hooking up, perhaps we might engage with students to write new social scripts, in order to get them involved in rewriting hook up culture.

What might that script look like? It’s hard to say. But it can start with conversations about dating, asking what men and women want to get out of their college experience and whether that includes meaningful intimate relationships.

In fact, research suggests that some women pursue hook ups because the risks of a causal encounter are actually less than those of a long-term relationship: “Bad hook ups are isolated events, while bad relationships wreak havoc with whole lives.”

The conversation about hook up culture can begin with freshman orientation, and it can continue in classrooms from gender studies to philosophy.

Getting students to see the fact and fiction of campus culture is a laudable goal. Getting them to understand that they aren’t simply passive subjects of culture, but active agents who can change it has the potential to make a real impact on campus life.

Students can be so intent on changing the world that they fail to see the change that needs to happen right around them.

There’s a well-known parable about two young fish swimming in the sea. An older fish swims up and asks, “How’s the water?” After the older fish swims away, one young fish turns to the other and asks, “What’s water?”

The point is, students are so immersed in the culture that surrounds them, they don’t even know it’s there. But it is. And it affects them. Unlike the two fish, however, students have the chance to find new waters.

Start a conversation with students and keep it going. Help them replace the hook-up culture myth with the script that fits their reality.

Awareness is the first step towards changing the “water” around us…some students may not even know they’re drowning in it.

Works Cited

Bogle, K.A. (2008) Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus. New York: New York UP.

Garcia, J.R., et al. (2012) “Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review.” Review of General Psychology, 16, 161-176.

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