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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 3, 2015

For our first roundup of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have a Presidential Proclamation for SAAM 2015, the results of a new survey on millennials’ beliefs about the prevalence of sexual assault, and Yale’s rollout of a new survey on sexual violence.

Presidential Proclamation

In recognition of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2015, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation, declaring “During National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, let us commit to being part of the solution and rededicate ourselves to creating a society where violence is not tolerated, survivors are supported, and all people are able to pursue their fullest measure of happiness without fear of abuse or assault.” The White House Task Force established in January 2014 helped bring campus sexual assault out of the shadows by issuing its First Report and creating the website www.NotAlone.gov to make Department of Education enforcement activities, as well as resources for students and schools easily accessible. In addition, the White House 1 is 2 Many report commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. However, as this report points out, while VAWA changed intimate partner violence from a “private family matter” to a crime, much remains to be done to eliminate sexual violence.

Three-Quarters of Millennials Think Sexual Assault is Common on College Campuses

A new survey of millennials (here defined as people born between 1980 and 2000) conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, offers insight into that age group’s beliefs about the prevalence of sexual assault. 73% of millennials said they believed that sexual assault was somewhat or very common on college campuses. A further 60% of those surveyed said that colleges do not do enough to address the problem. The numbers are particularly notable when contrasted with the results of a similar question asked of college presidents in a recent Higher Education survey: just 32% agreed that sexual assault was prevalent on American campuses, and only 6% believed it was prevalent on their own campus. This piece from the Washington Post has some enlightening analysis on the significance of those very different results.

Yale Rolls Out Climate Survey

We’ve reported before on the Association of American Universities’ campus climate survey on sexual misconduct. Schools are now beginning to administer that survey, known as the Campus Sexual Climate Survey. Yale University launched the survey yesterday, making it available to its entire population of graduate and undergraduate students. When all is said and done the AAU survey will be administered by 27 schools and reach more than 800,000 students. The AAU and participating universities hope that the results, when released, will help introduce much needed data into the conversation about campus sexual assault.

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Online Prevention Programs Must Be Accessible
Posted by On Wednesday, February 4, 2015

One compliance issue that deserves more attention is the accessibility of educational programs and activities — including sexual violence prevention programs — to students and employees with disabilities, including visual impairments. Not only is accessibility the subject of multiple higher education lawsuits, it is also the subject of federal agencies’ compliance reviews.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights enforces Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers public colleges and universities (except schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing, and other health-related schools). OCR also enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers public and private colleges and universities that receive federal financial assistance.

In its May 26, 2011 “Frequently Asked Questions About the June 29, 2010 Dear Colleague Letter,” the OCR addressed accessibility issues in emerging technology:

6. Does the DCL apply beyond electronic book readers to other forms of emerging technology?

A: Yes. The core principles underlying the DCL — equal opportunity, equal treatment, and the obligation to make modifications to avoid disability-based discrimination — are part of the general nondiscrimination requirements of Section 504 and the ADA. Therefore, all school programs or activities — whether in a “brick and mortar,” online, or other “virtual” context — must be operated in a manner that complies with Federal disability discrimination laws.

Since issuing this guidance, OCR Resolution Agreements have required colleges and universities to meet accessibility standards so persons with qualified disabilities can participate fully in educational programs and activities.

In 2013, OCR reached settlement agreements with South Carolina Technical College System and The Pennsylvania State University. In March of 2014, OCR entered into a Resolution Agreement with the University of Montana to resolve a complaint that the university discriminated against students with disabilities by using inaccessible electronic and information technology (EIT). The UM agreed to:

  • Adopt policies and procedures to demonstrate its commitment to implement EIT accessibility across all disciplines
  • Train faculty and staff on UM’s accessibility policies and procedures
  • Establish grievance procedures for addressing complaints about accessibility barriers
  • Institute procurement procedures to acquire accessible EITs whenever technically feasible
  • Conduct student surveys and accessibility audits to ensure accessibility needs are being met

In December 2014, the OCR entered into agreements to address accessibility issues with Youngstown State University (OCR letter and agreement) and the University of Cincinnati (OCR letter and agreement). In both the Youngstown and UC agreements, OCR defined “accessible” as follows:

“Accessible” means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. A person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability.

The Youngstown and UC agreements require an EIT Accessibility Policy:

[T]o ensure information provided through the University’s website(s), online learning (or “e-learning”) environment, and course management systems (e.g. Blackboard) (collectively, “electronic and information technologies” or “EIT”), are accessible to students, prospective students, employees, guests, and visitors with disabilities, particularly those with visual, hearing, or manual impairments or who otherwise require the use of assistive technology to access information provided through its EIT . . ..

Under these agreements, once the EIT policies are adopted OCR will conduct regular audits to make sure the universities and third parties continue to meet the agreed-upon standards.

Accessibility for prevention programs is not specifically addressed by the final regulations implementing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, including the Campus Elimination of Sexual Violence Act (Campus SaVE Act). However, while the Department’s comments are primarily focused on content they do address how the required information will be delivered, stating:

[T]he Department does not have the authority to mandate or prohibit the specific content of mode of delivery for these [prevention] programs or to endorse certain methods of delivery (such as computer based programs) as long as the program’s content meets the definition of “programs to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

Accessibility standards are evolving to keep pace with emerging technologies, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are currently the favored standard.

So, in addition to checking a prevention program’s content, make sure it also meets the “accessible” standard.

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DCL: Good Faith Effort to Comply Required
Posted by On Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Monday, July 14, 2014, the ED issued a Dear Colleague Letter because they “have received numerous inquiries from institutions asking us to clarify their responsibilities under the Clery Act, as amended by VAWA.” This guidance repeats ED statements from May 2013 with a bit more clarity: “until final regulations are published and effective, institutions must make a good-faith effort to comply with the statutory provisions as written.”

The ED’s guidance says good faith compliance with amendments to the Clery Act, which include the Campus SaVE Act, requires institutions to expand their policies to describe the procedures and programs that satisfy those new requirements. For example, the Campus SaVE Act requires each school to have a policy that describes the procedures that will be followed when a student reports a sexual assault incident and what standard of evidence will be used to decide an accused student’s responsibility for the assault.

Therefore, the ED will be looking for information in the policy statement submitted with a school’s October 2014 Annual Security Report that satisfies all of the requirements in the Campus SaVE Act, including a description of its prevention program.

(more…)

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