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Ethics and Aesthetics: Affordance Theory
Posted by On Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To kick off our Ethics and Aesthetics series we discussed the aesthetic-usability effect, and offered some theories on why beautiful things tend to work better. In our second post, we will examine J. J. Gibson’s theory of affordances, and how the animal propensity for action shapes our perception of objects and their function.

J.J. Gibson was one of the most influential psychologists in the field of visual perception. In his book “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception,” he outlined his theory of affordances, which designers continue to rely on today. The theory of affordances states that we perceive objects in the world in terms of how their properties may enable actions, and not by the properties themselves. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey has a great example of an affordance when a Paleolithic man-ape extracts a long, heavy femur bone from a dry animal carcass and realizes that it affords smashing, and proceeds to use it to beat and kill the leader of a rival tribe. Indeed, our earliest record of inter-group violence between humans indicates that club-like objects were employed to inflict blunt force injury, and prehistoric bone clubs have been excavated in the Pacific Northwest.  Long bones were therefore utilized as clubs because their shape afforded grasping, and their weight afforded causing bodily damage.

In our training courses, we use affordance theory to better engage our users. Like designers who make physical objects, interaction designers use affordance theory to ensure that users have an intuitive understanding of what objects on the screen do, even without explicit instructions. Unlike physical objects, digital objects don’t have predetermined weight, form, or shape. Therefore, designers give interactive elements properties that suggest an associated action. For example, a button shaded to appear convex affords clicking, since it resembles the shadow of physical buttons. Skeumorphism is a technique that uses metaphoric affordances to make conceptual connections between digital objects and physical ones. A digital dashboard that mimics the look of a car dashboard immediately clues users in as to its function (i.e.  a control panel through which you can access different instruments.)

We have historically gotten great feedback on the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Calculator in Think About It, our course on sexual violence and substance abuse prevention for college students. Students find it fun to input different values for gender, weight, number and type of drinks, and time elapsed into the calculator to see how it affects BAC. The apparatus is designed with looping tubes, sliders, and digital readouts. These exaggerated technological features make it reminiscent of a slightly kitschy retrofuturistic toy. It is one of the more popular features of the course.

Due to its popularity, we discussed the idea of making the BAC calculator into an app that students could download and use at parties so that they might have a better idea of their BAC “in the field,” so to speak. However, we realized that the toy-like nature of the interaction was more afforded to “having fun” than “accurately measuring BAC as a way to stay safe.” In other words, making the BAC calculator available as a portable app may actually encourage students to overdrink by making it into a party game. Competition is one of the top cited reasons for college students for playing drinking games. Like traditional breathalizers that have become party games, the BAC calculator spits out a number, which can appear score-like and encourage competition. So we decided to keep the tool located inside the course to increase its informative affordance and reduce its impetus-to-imbibe affordance.

When designing features for our courses, we aim to be thoughtful about the social, political, and ideological context for its use. Affordance theory gives us a useful tool to analyze how well we are doing. However, nothing compares to direct user feedback, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your thoughts!

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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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Think About It Updates
Posted by On Thursday, May 28, 2015

 

Changes are coming to Think About It! We’ve made a number of additions and amendments in response to new research, updated regulations, and of course feedback from our users and clients. These changes will ensure the course is compliant with new laws and maintain our commitment to training built for and with our users. Many of the changes are small – minor revisions or tightening up the design – but some are more substantial. Below is a list and explanations of the major changes in our 2015 Think About It update. We have organized them into two broad categories: compliance updates and content updates.

Compliance Updates

A lot has changed in the four years since we started developing Think About It, including new regulations and laws at the state and federal levels. When the Campus SaVE Act passed in 2013, we added new content, and we regularly update the state laws in our courses. For the current update we implemented a more comprehensive set of changes based on the Department of Educations’s Title IX FAQ document and the final Campus SaVE Act regulations. Below are the major changes:

Understanding a survivor’s reactions – We added an interaction illustrating the effects of trauma on survivors of sexual assault. This addition was something we included in our seven month follow up course, “The Way Forward,” because we felt it was important to help students understand the science behind survivors’ sometimes counterintuitive response to trauma. However, the page also helps satisfy new guidance on student training requirements for Title IX compliance.

SurvivorReaction

Title IX – It is important that students understand the range of protections against sexual violence available to them. We added a new tabbed page explaining that Title IX prohibits sex discrimination and harassment as well as retaliation against someone who complains about or participates in sexual misconduct proceedings. In addition, the page provides contact information for the school’s Title IX office and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Conduct Proceedings – We replaced the old “Disciplinary Hearings” page with a new “Conduct Proceedings” page, based on new Title IX guidance and Campus SaVE Act regulations. The page provides detailed information about how to report sexual misconduct or find confidential resources, and a school’s required disciplinary procedures.

Analyzing Unwelcome Sexual Conduct – We added two new pages explaining what constitutes sexual harassment. These pages explain quid pro quo sexual harassment and how to analyze whether unwelcome sexual conduct creates a hostile environment.

Interim Measures – A new page called “Interim Measures” explains the range of protective measures that may be available for victims of sexual misconduct.

Retaliation Case Study – In order to help consolidate the new information we’ve included around sexual harassment, we added a new interaction that asks students to apply their knowledge of retaliation to a realistic scenario. The scenario also illustrates how Title IX protects students against retaliation.

RetaliationScenario

Resources – Students must have access to information about local and campus resources as well as reporting procedures at their school. We have changed the organization of the resources and created new documentation to better guide schools on what information to provide for inclusion in their courses.

Content Updates

WCAG 2.0 Accessibility – Accessibility is one of our clients’ highest priorities, so naturally it’s one of our highest priorities too. The 2015 version of Think About It is fully accessible HTML5 technology (WCAG 2.0 AA) and tablet supported.

Course Reorganization ­– Talking to clients and reading student feedback, we decided to reorder the course in a way that seemed more natural and helped the sections to reinforce each other. In the new course we’ve moved “Healthy Relationships” right after “Sex in College.” Placing them next to each other will help students see the connections between these important topics. The new course order is 1.) Prologue, 2.) Sex in College, 3.) Healthy Relationships, 4.) Partying Smart, 5.) Sexual Violence, 6.) Epilogue. We rewrote the section introductions and summaries in order to reflect this new order.

Prologue – In the prologue, we updated content about the prevalence of sexual violence against female college students and added information about sexual violence against male college students. The new information was drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ special report “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.”

Pressure & Expectations – Think About It encourages students to think critically about the cultural and social pressures that influence their behaviors and attitudes. This kind of critical reflection helps students become more self-aware, empowering them to make safer, more informed decisions. We strengthened this approach by replacing “Elements of the Hook Up,” which was an informational page, with a new page that pushes students to reflect on the institutional, societal, and individual pressures that shape beliefs and attitudes around intimate behavior.

Alcohol and Identity – We replaced “Drinking and College Culture” with a new “Alcohol & Identity” page. The two pages are similar in purpose: both help students reflect on the cultural and social factors that influence their attitudes towards alcohol. Since individual schools’ cultures vary greatly, we expanded to focus to a broader set of issues while achieving the same learning objective.

Systemic Problems – As part of a comprehensive approach to sexual violence prevention, Think About It begins by addressing the college culture around intimacy. We include a video of interviews with students about college hook-up culture. The video confronts student misperceptions about how much their peers are hooking up as well as gender stereotypes, such as double standards. To better reach these goals, we shortened the video to focus its message and rewrote the feedback to the follow-up Insights Question.

Cyberstalking – Research and client feedback revealed the growing role of social media in stalking and bullying cases. To better inform students of how perpetrators use social media to stalk victims, we replaced the real stalking cases in Think About It with cyberstalking cases.

Relationship Violence – When students think about abusive relationships, many of them only think of physical abuse. But there are other kinds of abuse. To help students recognize the range of abusive behavior, we replaced the “Cycle of Abuse” page with a new page covering different types of “Relationship Violence.”

The Drug Deal – We heard from students and clients that they wanted to learn more about prescription drug abuse, which they perceived to be a growing problem on many campuses. In order to help address this request, we reworked the “Drug Deal” interaction to include more information on prescription drug abuse. We also included a few social norming questions, asking students about their peers’ substance use. We based these questions on data from national surveys. These questions will help dispel students’ misconceptions about drug abuse on their campuses.

Stages of Acquaintance Assault – We expanded content on responding to acquaintance assault to include information from Dr. Rebecca Campbell’s research on the neurobiology of many victims of sexual assault. We have also added a new page on the effects of trauma on survivors of sexual assault (see Compliance Updates).

Sources & Citations – We updated our sources and citations page to provide a more comprehensive list of the sources we consulted when building and updating the course and to direct interested students to resources for further research.

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CampusClarity Partners with Kappa Delta Rho
Posted by On Thursday, May 7, 2015

CampusClarity today announced that it will be partnering with national fraternity Kappa Delta Rho to provide anti-sexual violence and substance abuse training to 40 Kappa Delta Rho chapters at colleges and universities across the country.

CampusClarity’s Think About It program is a three-part interactive online course that fulfills the training requirements of Title IX and the Campus SaVE Act. It has been used to meet these requirements and educate students, faculty and staff at over 300 institutions, including other national Greek organizations. Think About It’s cutting-edge design and interactivity has been recognized with a Gold Stevie business award for best online training and a NASPA Gold Excellence Award for Violence Education and Prevention for the University of San Francisco.

“The “Think About It” program will be fully implemented in this upcoming academic year as part of our Legion Program, which is a total member education program designed to provide leadership skills and knowledge to our Brothers that will allow them to lead successfully in their communities,” said Kappa Delta Rho Executive Director Joe Rosenberg.

Kappa Delta Rho was founded May 17, 1905 at Middlebury College. Since then it has initiated more than 29,000 members. “Kappa Delta Rho is an organization characterized by devotion to respect for others and honor above all,” Rosenberg said. “Our national leadership is committed to upholding the high standards our fraternity has always espoused.  One facet of this commitment is reinforcing our values of honor and respect in educating our undergraduate membership in the area of sexual violence and harassment prevention. The Think About It program represents a deepening of that commitment.”

“We are very proud to partner with Kappa Delta Rho. Through conversations with their leadership in the development of this partnership, it became clear to us that we shared a common commitment to sexual violence and substance abuse prevention education,” said LawRoom CRO, Preston Clark.

More About CampusClarity

LawRoom is the leading cloud-based compliance training provider for many of the fastest growing tech companies in the Bay Area, as well as many of the top universities across the country. LawRoom delivers award-winning employee and student training courses through its easy-to-use online platform to help corporations and universities meet federal and state compliance requirements.

In 2011, LawRoom partnered with the University of San Francisco to build an online harm-reduction course for students on alcohol, drugs, and sexual assault under a new brand, CampusClarity. In collaboration with USF’s Division of Student Life, LawRoom spent 18 months developing the course in consultation with various academic departments and with over 40 student focus groups. In early 2013, LawRoom launched Think About It, which is today used by over 300 colleges and universities across the country. Over 500,000 students, faculty, and staff will train with LawRoom in 2015.

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Ball State Launches Think About It
Posted by On Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Campus SaVE ActSchools often ask us about the experiences of other institutions using Think About It. They’re interested in learning how other schools implement the program, what incentives they use, and what feedback they get from students. This information helps them plan their own strategy to bring Think About It onto their campuses.

The Ball State Daily recently ran an in depth article about their launch of Think About It. The entire article is worth reading for anyone currently using or even thinking about our program. But below are some highlights.

According to the article, 86.7% of incoming freshman at Ball State completed the program in 2014. Amazingly, Ball State didn’t use any incentives besides sending weekly reminders.

As readers of this blog know, we designed Think About It with students for students. A critical part of the process was soliciting student input through numerous focus groups. After all, students have to be engaged in order to learn effectively.

Indeed, the student response was overwhelmingly positive according to Tom Gibson, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, who was quoted in the article:

“I think the fact that the course allows students to provide feedback on their experience taking the course was very helpful and reaffirming for us,” Gibson said. “By and large the majority of the students who completed the course said, ‘I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t think I would find this useful, but you know what? It actually was. So thank you.’ We knew this was the right thing to do, but we didn’t know how well it would be received.”

According to Ball State, one of the advantages of an online program is that helps administrators deliver a single, unified and easily tracked experience to all their students.

Katie Slabaugh, Title IX coordinator for student affairs, said because of the way the program is designed, students aren’t able to just turn it on and walk away; they actually have to be engaged in it.

“The impact of this is that you know more than 85 percent of your new students have completed the course, whereas something that this residence hall may offer to this group of students is not necessarily the equivalent,” Slabaugh said. “This has the benefit of one unified piece of the student union.”

Of course, a one off program is not enough to create culture change on any campus. Federal regulations as well as pedagogical theory recommend that learning be “ongoing.” Students need the opportunity to revisit and deepen their understanding of key learning points. To this end, we offer follow up courses to the main course. Ball State is taking advantage of these resources by asking students to complete our main course and a shorter follow up course, providing students with an extended experience.

We also have numerous offline resources, such as workshops and posters that schools can use to bring the CampusClarity program from online to on campus. As the article also points out our partner on this project, the University of San Francisco, also continues to develop resources that expand the program.

“University of San Francisco is currently working on a Talk About It and a Do Something About It campaign, just trying to create more awareness and get student involvement in things like bystander intervention and really trying to create life-long awareness and involvement in causes like this,” said Deeqa Mohamed, a student peer educator at University of San Francisco.

As Mohamed says, the key here is to instill in students a life-long awareness and involvement in these issues.

After all, the years between 18 and 25 constitute a critical developmental stage, called “emerging adulthood.” In this stage, young men and women experience new levels of autonomy and experiment with possible life directions. Some educators even claim that the emotional and social development that college students undergo during this period exceeds their intellectual development.

By helping students at the start of their college careers, we can have a lasting impact on their lives.

 

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Utilizing Talk About It to Create a Healthy Campus Climate
Posted by On Wednesday, November 19, 2014

By Jennifer Waryas, Health Marketing Coordinator at the University of San Francisco

 

The health of the entire campus community depends on a climate that is conducive to learning. Campus climate affects many aspects of the college experience, ranging from how students engage with alcohol and drugs and what part social norming plays in consumption to how students understand consent and other facts about sexual assault.

For many students in their first semester, developing healthy habits at the start of their college career is key. Through collaboration between departments, incoming students see a united front and receive materials that are in alignment with Think About It’s harm-reduction messaging. We seek to empower students by informing and educating them without resorting to scare tactics. By treating students as adults, we provide the opportunity for them to make their own healthy decisions.

Since students are required to take the first Think About It course before they arrive on campus, they are exposed to topics that they may or may not have experience with when they arrive. The messaging is echoed in materials and workshops provided during orientation. SHaRE (Student Housing and Residential Education) provides Alcohol Poisoning magnets and safe partying guides to all the dorm rooms. In one of the many presentations that students received as part of orientation this past Fall, Peter Novak, Vice Provost of Student Life, conducted a sexual assault workshop depicting an intimate encounter between two students. At each point in the encounter, students in the audience were asked to identify if consent was being given by showing a red or green card. The workshop allowed students to apply their knowledge of consent and generated interesting discussions among the participants.

Another collaboration with SHaRE is a dedicated bulletin board display in the residence hall common area for Talk About It displays. These change monthly and cover topics including domestic violence, self-image, healthy relationships, and alcohol and drug awareness.

The Gender & Sexuality Center (GSC) and Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) utilize Talk About It sexual assault brochures created for survivors, mandatory reporters, friends of victim/survivors, and those who have been accused. Public safety uses a warning signs card with Talk About It branding for students who have had a drug or alcohol incident. It is used simultaneously as a way to make the officers a part of the educational experience as well as to engage the student by asking a couple of provocative questions that may help them reflect on their lifestyle. To continue to encourage students to drink responsibly, Student Life issues birthday cards for students turning 21 which reinforce information from the party smart/safe guide.

A couple of pieces currently in production include a deck of cards that offers information such as common signs of alcohol poisoning and domestic violence, information from the USF health clinic, nutrition facts, and a sexual decision making handbook (in the form of an interactive PDF) that we are naming YOLO (“you only live once… Live with purpose”) that offers information on a variety of topics from healthy relationships to identity concerns and healthy date options.

We are also working with faculty to continue to find new ways to integrate Talk About It into the curriculum.

Talk About It has been an important piece of USF’s efforts to empower students to make safe and healthy decisions. The consistent messaging has made key learning points memorable. The branding has made the messages visible. And the various workshops and materials have involved the whole campus in our efforts.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, November 14, 2014

Collective punishment for fraternities, the latest video by “It’s On Us,” and a timeline of sexual assault news from the last year.

Is Collective Punishment for Fraternities an Effective Prevention Technique?

In the wake of sexual assaults, fatal accidents, and other tragedies associated with fraternity parties, more and more colleges are turning to what some have deemed collective punishment: restricting or eliminating social events for all Greek organizations on campus, not just those associated with prior incidents. At Johns Hopkins all fraternity parties are banned until the end of the current semester, following a reported rape at Sigma Alpha Epsilon, despite the fact that neither the assailants nor the victim were associated with the fraternity. At Emory University all Greek social activities have been suspended following an assault at a fraternity house, and at MIT fraternity gatherings cannot exceed 49 people—the result of an accident in which a woman fell out of a fraternity window. Some commentators applaud such steps as common sense preventative measures while others have criticized such steps as unfair to fraternities and sororities that may be doing everything right and still be punished for a different group’s misdeeds or carelessness.

“It’s On Us” Promotes Bystander Intervention

Check out the latest spot from the White House’s “It’s On Us” anti-sexual assault campaign, which doubles-down on the theme of bystander intervention with a dramatization of a college-aged young man preventing sexual assault at a party. The video, narrated by Mad Men actor Jon Hamm, reflects current research suggesting bystander intervention may be a particularly promising prevention strategy. Other efforts will include partnerships with professional sports leagues, efforts to change the tone of victim-blaming conversations on the internet, and prizes for students who submit innovative strategies for bystander intervention.

A Timeline of Campus Sexual Assault

The past year has seen numerous developments in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses, including a White House campaign, new laws, and the latest count of 85 OCR investigations. This interactive infographic from Al-Jazeera America provides a timeline of the most relevant stories from the past year, serving as both useful summary and convenient resource.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 24, 2014

Here’s the latest news in sexual violence prevention efforts.

What Happens to Perpetrators Who Transfer?

Plenty has been made of American colleges and universities’ failure to investigate and hold responsible perpetrators of sexual assault. This Huffington Post piece asks a different question. What’s to stop a perpetrator who is being investigated, or has been held responsible for their actions, from transferring to a different institution, where they will have the opportunity to perpetrate the same crimes all over again? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be nothing. Very few schools forward information about completed or ongoing disciplinary investigations involving students transferring to other institutions, and few if any schools request such information when accepting transfers. The piece notes a number of cases in which students investigated or even expelled for sexual violence, sometimes at multiple schools, were accepted at other institutions where they went on to continue to commit more assaults. While a school cannot prevent a student from withdrawing, or enforce sanctions after they have transferred, activists in the article suggest that, in light of research showing that many perpetrators of sexual assault are serial predators, some sort of system should be implemented to standardize what information about students’ disciplinary records is shared when they transfer from one institution to another.

Could a New Online Tool Increase Reporting?

That’s what the would-be creators of a new online-reporting tool called Callisto believe. The tool, designed by nonprofit company Sexual Health Innovations with input from anti-sexual violence groups, including Know Your IX, Faculty Against Rape, and End Rape on Campus, would allow victim/survivors to report their assaults online. They could then choose to submit the report or not submit, in which case it would be saved it as a time-stamped report. It would also show victim/survivors whether the accused perpetrator had been implicated in other incidents. Sexual Health Innovation’s Founder and Executive Director, Jessica Ladd, says that interviews that went into the tool’s development suggest it could triple reporting. Callisto, which has not yet been fully developed, is currently fundraising on crowdfunding-platform Crowdrise, where it has blown past an initial $10,000 goal. The folks behind Callisto plan to continue fundraising, estimating that development will ultimately cost around $200,000. If you want to donate or learn more, follow the link above.

Federal Sexual Violence Investigations Up 50%

On the topic of increased reporting, the number of federal investigations of schools suspected of mishandling sexual assault cases has increased by 50% since the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights first began releasing the list of schools being investigated. The list of schools, which includes UC Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and Princeton University, has increased from 59 schools to 89 since May. According to Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon , “The list is growing partly because we’ve told people we will be there for them. And there’s value in coming to us.” While the growth in the number of federal investigations may represent a positive development in that respect, it also represents a challenge, given the lengthy process of investigating a school’s sexual assault response and determining what steps should be taken to correct any shortcomings. Investigations have been known to take as long as four years from start to finish.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 17, 2014

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In recognition of the occasion, as well as a very serious and important issue on college campuses, we have three stories for you about domestic and dating violence and what can be done to prevent it.

Sexual Assault Activists Turning Their Attention to Dating Violence

After successfully starting a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, and beginning to create actual change around the issue, feminist activists are turning their attention to another very important topic: domestic and dating violence amongst college students. The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act added a provision to the Clery Act requiring schools to disclose the number of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking incidents reported on campus. Now, student activists are documenting institutions that have failed to comply with new requirements. The issue of relationship violence on college campuses is a particularly pressing one, given research suggesting that college-aged women are the most likely to be victim/survivors of dating and domestic violence. Hopefully, some of the same tactics that have been shown to help prevent sexual assaults, including bystander intervention and training, will help turn the tide against domestic and dating violence as well.

What Can Employers Do for Victim/Survivors of Domestic Violence?

Of course, domestic violence is a threat not just to college-aged women but to people of all ages. That ugly fact has an equally ugly corollary: that domestic violence can often spill over into the workplace. This piece, from Fast Company, recognizes that fact, and suggests a few simple measures that employers can take to protect their employees from potentially dangerous intimate partners. Author Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., a Manhattan District Attorney, notes the importance of recognizing the signs that an employee is being abused and offering victim/survivors support in the workplace. Specifically, he points out that, “Companies should have proactive mechanisms in place to support victims, provide them with services, and keep them safe.” He recommends simple but important steps such as tailoring a victim/survivor’s schedule and work location to their needs, making security aware of the situation and the identity of the abuser, and having an emergency contact in the event the victim/survivor cannot be reached.

Can Training Prevent Domestic Violence?

The NFL has caught a fair amount of well-deserved flak this season for its accommodating stance towards players widely known to be guilty of domestic abuse. There are, of course, any number of things the NFL could and should have done better. One particularly interesting suggestion comes from violence prevention educator Jackson Katz, who has worked with NFL players in the past. Katz is part of the Mentors in Violence Program, which trains young men not to perpetrate sexual and domestic violence. He believes that a more consistent anti-domestic violence training program in the NFL could help change a culture that tacitly accepts violence against women. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has promised to implement just such a program for all players in the wake of this year’s scandals. It may well be that training in other settings—including academic ones—could be a much needed step to combat domestic violence in society beyond the football field.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For this week’s roundup we have three developments in higher education law you should be following.

Clery Reports Reveal Dramatic Increase in Reported Sexual Assaults

Last week schools across the country released their Clery Annual Security Reports, which include statistics on the number of reported sexual assaults occurring on or near campus. This year’s batch of Security Reports reveals a dramatic increase in the number of reported sexual assaults at America’s top 25 colleges and universities. Perhaps counterintuitively, the increase in reported assaults is good news for activists and others trying to combat the epidemic of sexual violence on American campuses.  Historically, sexual assaults have been under reported  meaning that many victims did not receive the help they needed to recover. Activists believe that the increased number of assaults being reported is a positive result of the increased awareness around the issue in the last several years. Victim/survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report the crime knowing that their experience is not unique, that there are those who care enough to support and help them, and that by reporting their assault they may help remove the threat of a serial offender from their community.

Cuomo Follows California’s Lead in New SUNY Sexual Assault Policies

Last week we reported on California’s new consent law, the so-called “yes means yes” bill that requires a standard of affirmative consent at schools across the state. Now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is following the Golden State’s lead by implementing a similar policy at all 64 State University of New York campuses. Other policy changes include statewide training programs for administrators, students, and parents, and immunity for students who report assaults that occurred when they were violating campus rules and laws (such as bans on underage drinking). In addition, SUNY campuses are required to distribute a Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, informing victim/survivors of their right to report assaults to the police or campus security. These new sexual assault policies represent not only a change in how SUNY handles sexual violence, but also the first time that uniform sexual assault policies apply across all 64 campuses. When announcing the change Cuomo noted that sexual assault is a national problem, saying, “I would suggest it should be SUNY’s problem to solve and SUNY’s place to lead.”

New California Law Protects Pregnant Graduate Students

In addition to the aforementioned affirmative consent bill, California has passed another law to remove obstacles for women in higher education. The bill was inspired by research conducted by Mary Ann Mason and co-authors Nicholas H. Wolfinger and Marc Goulden. Their research demonstrated that pregnancy and child-rearing represented major professional setbacks to women in academia. For instance, according to the research, “married mothers who earn Ph.D.’s are 28 percent less likely to obtain a tenure-track job than are married men with children who earn Ph.D.’s.” Anecdotal evidence abounds that the discrepancy is due to discrimination, with stories of advisors demanding that female graduate students return to research positions shortly after giving birth, or refusing to give letters of recommendation to women who took too long to return after having a baby. Protections for pregnant women created by the Family Medical Leave Act, Title VII, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act usually do not  apply to graduate students, who are rarely classified as full-time employees, and Title IX protections are all-too-often ignored. The new law will fill this unfortunate gap, guaranteeing pregnant students at least a year of leave and non-birth parents at least one month, as well as requiring grad schools to create written policies “on pregnancy discrimination and procedures for addressing pregnancy discrimination complaints under Title IX or this section.”

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