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Yearly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, January 2, 2015

In lieu of our usual Weekly Roundup we want to start 2015 with a look back at six of the most important stories we covered in 2014. We list them here in the order in which they were originally published.

White House Task Force Tells Victims “You’re Not Alone”

This year the Obama administration launched its anti-sexual assault campaign in earnest, including a White House task force and the ad campaign “It’s On Us.”

A Checklist for Title IX Employee Training

If you have any doubts about what your Title IX training for faculty and staff should include, take a look at this useful checklist compiled by our legal team.

2 Minutes Will Change How Your Students Think About Consent

Teaching the definition of consent can be as awkward as it is crucial. This video, originally created for our award-winning online training, tackles this potentially tough lesson in an engaging, easy to follow format.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act

One of the biggest stories about campus sexual assault and higher education law in 2014, the proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act, is almost certainly going to be an even bigger story in 2015. Get the scoop now on what the proposed legislation could mean for your institution.

California’s New Consent Law: Yes Means Yes vs. No Means No

Even if California law doesn’t apply to you and your institution, this rundown of the Golden State’s new affirmative consent law is an instructive analysis of the difference between “No Means No” and “Yes Means Yes” definitions of consent.

A Rundown of the Campus SaVE Act Final Regulations: Prevention Programs

Finally, our legal team provides an analysis of a topic with which they are particularly familiar: what the Campus SaVE Act’s final regulations require for schools’ prevention programs. Check out the link above to learn what your institution has to do to be in compliance.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 27, 2014

California has a large college-aged population due to its singularly massive system of state schools, and more-progressive-than-average state government. Lately, it is also the source of developments in the fight against campus sexual assault that are of interest, and might even have ramifications, nationwide. So, even if you’re not in California, here are three from recent weeks that have sparked interest across the nation and abroad.

Controversy Rages Over SB 967

Back in February we reported on SB 967, the California Senate Bill that would require colleges and universities to define sexual assault as being any sexual activity that occurred without ongoing affirmative consent from both parties. Since its proposal, SB 967 has been passed by the California State Senate and is currently working its way through the Assembly. While the bill has not yet been signed into law, it continues to generate controversy, with thoughtful arguments coming from both sides of the debate.

State Auditor: California Universities Need More Training

California’s state auditor has released a report on the topic of California universities’ response to sexual assault. Their conclusion? That California can and should do more to prevent and respond to sexual assault. Chief among the report’s recommendations is increased training on how to respond to a sexual assault report for the faculty and staff most likely to “be the first point of contact,” including dorm advisors and athletic coaches. It also called for awareness campaigns on California campuses, and for schools to do a better job keeping victim/survivors informed of the results of conduct proceedings against their attackers.

Napolitano Forms UC Task Force on Sexual Assault

The University of California’s ten campuses are governed by a single 26-member Board of Regents. When UC Berkeley was added to the list of schools currently under Title IX investigation by the Department of Education, the whole system came under scrutiny. University of California President Janet Napolitano has announced the creation of a task force to address campus sexual assault, made up of members of the UC Board of Regents, as well as students, advocates, student conduct officers, administrators, and campus law enforcement. The task force will “develop best practices for all areas of sexual violence prevention, investigation, and response systemwide.” The UC system has also implemented policy changes, including an updated definition of consent and more sexual assault training, intended to prevent sexual violence and support victim/survivors.

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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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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 4, 2014

To mark the end of the first week of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight three stories of survivors, campuses, and legislators doing what they can to increase awareness about sexual assault.

Survivor’s Open Letter to Harvard Prompts Change

A sexual assault survivor’s “Dear Harvard: You Win” letter , detailing her assault, her ensuing struggle with Harvard University to have her assailant removed from her dorm, and the resulting depression she still struggles with, is a tough read, but one that seems to be provoking at least some change. In response, Harvard has formed a task force which will review the university’s sexual assault policy, criticized by the letter’s author as being specifically responsible for discouraging her from pressing charges against her assailant.

McCaskill Turns Her Attention to College Sexual Assault

Having already championed legislation that reformed how the United States military and military academies handle sexual assault cases, Senator and former sex crimes prosecutor Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is now turning her attention to the problem of sexual assault in higher education. McCaskill has written Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, requesting detailed information on how the Department of Justice and Education Department enforce laws addressing how colleges handle sexual assault. McCaskill has said, “I fear that, like the U.S. military, we’re going to find problems on college campuses just as systemic as our troops faced.”

Ball State University Aims to Change Culture with Think About It

As part of an ongoing effort to fight sexual violence on campus, and to comply with the requirements of the Campus SaVE Act, Ball State University will be using the online-training program Think About It to increase awareness about sexual assault amongst their student body. All incoming freshmen will be required to take the training program, which integrates substance abuse and sexual assault training in a single interactive course.

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A White House Call to Action
Posted by On Friday, January 31, 2014

In an unprecedented move, President Obama added his presidential powers to the pressure building on colleges and universities to teach students, staff, and faculty how to prevent and respond to rape and sexual assault. 

What type of education program is required? The White House is working on providing guidance on this question. On January 22nd, President Obama announced that he had created a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to provide schools with best practices and step up enforcement of federal laws requiring colleges to address the problem of campus sexual assault.

Adding to the urgency, the Task Force must deliver to the President by April 22, 2014:

  • examples of prevention programs, and training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty, as well as policies and procedures for responding to sexual assault complaints
  • recommendations for measuring institutions’ prevention and response efforts and making this information available to the public
  • proposals for maximizing the government’s enforcement activities

As soon as these examples, recommendations, and proposals are available we will have a better idea of what a compliant education program looks like. Going forward, the Task Force is required to submit annual reports to the President regarding implementation of its recommendations.

On the same day as the White House formed the Task Force, the President’s Council on Women and Girls presented its report, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.”  This report focuses on the Administration’s “major effort to better enforce” federal laws that require institutions of higher education to prevent and respond to campus sexual assault. 

As the report points out, both the Department of Education and the Department of Justice are charged with enforcing these laws, including the Campus SaVE Act which requires colleges and universities to provide prevention education programs for students and employees on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Currently, the Department of Education is conducting negotiated rulemaking proceedings to draft regulations implementing the specific education requirements of the Campus SaVE Act. Final regulations are expected to be issued by November 2014.

In the meantime, when the Campus SaVE Act became effective on October 1, 2013, the ED said: “we expect institutions to make a good faith effort to comply with the statutory requirements in accordance with the statutory effective date.” While we wait for the final regulations, we’ll look for the Task Force report to provide further guidance on what constitutes a good faith effort.

* All institutions of higher education that receive federal funds are covered by Title IX and the Campus SaVE Act. These institutions include colleges, universities, community colleges, graduate and professional schools, for-profit schools, trade schools, and career and technical schools.

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