yes means yes

Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, May 29, 2015

More states are considering “Yes Means Yes” laws, and the five things you need to know about climate surveys.

More States Consider Affirmative Consent Bills

We’ve reported extensively on California’s “Yes Means Yes” law, which requires colleges and universities that participate in state student financial aid programs to adopt a definition of consent as an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” At the time, we described California as being “at the forefront of addressing a difficult societal problem with a controversial new law.” Now, as expected by our team of legal analysts, other states are following California’s lead with affirmative consent laws of their own. Connecticut’s Senate has passed a similar bill already—if the law is approved by the House and signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut will become the second state with an affirmative consent law. A movement in favor of such a law is under way in Pennsylvania as well, with some schools in that state having adopted an affirmative consent definition without a legislative mandate.

What You Need to Know About Climate Surveys

It is generally agreed that mandatory climate surveys are coming. What does your institution need to know to be prepared? This article from Inside Higher Ed provides a useful cheat sheet, listing five things you should know about mandatory climate surveys. They include the likelihood that such surveys will be required by law, the fact that surveys are already being designed and deployed at various campuses, the caveat that participation will pose unique challenges, what remains unknown about how the surveys will be utilized, and the possibility that climate surveys will reveal “blind spots” in a school’s prevention efforts. The website provides information about how to plan and conduct a climate survey, as well as a sample “empirically informed survey.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, March 6, 2015

For this week’s roundup we have Grinnell’s unusual request to be investigated by the OCR and two stories related to a topic we’re particularly interested in: preventative training for sexual violence and substance abuse.

Grinnell Requests an OCR Investigation of Themselves

Grinnell College has made the unusual and perhaps unprecedented move of requesting that the OCR investigate their handling of sexual assault cases. According to a statement by Grinnell’s president, Raynard Kington, “If Grinnell has fallen short at any point, I want to know about it now, continue to address the problems, and make things right for our students.” Since then it has also been made known that the request came in anticipation of a now-published Huffington Post piece alleging mishandling of three sexual assault cases at Grinnell. According to a letter Kington sent to the campus, “We have specifically invited OCR to review the cases [The Huffington Post] has highlighted to us.” The student and faculty group Dissenting Voices, which believes Grinnell’s sexual assault policies are inadequate, has described the request as an “unprecedented attempt to preemptively control the framing of the issue,” pointing out that six students had already filed complaints with the OCR.

California SB 695 Would Mandate Sexual Violence Prevention Program for High School Students

Federal law (the Campus SaVE Act) already requires colleges and universities to offer sexual assault prevention training to incoming students, but SB 695 introduced last week would require California students to learn about sexual assault violence, and healthy relationships in high school health classes. The bill would further require health classes to teach the affirmative “yes means yes” definition of consent required for the state’s colleges and universities participating in state financial aid programs. Co-author of SB 695, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson says that it would “give students the skills they may need to navigate difficult situations, and prevent sexual assault before it occurs.”

Substance Abuse Training Must be Reinforced to be Effective

A new study suggests that the effects of  substance abuse training typically administered to college freshmen at or before the start of their college careers tend to wear off over in the course of the year. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that a month after receiving alcohol education of any kind, 82% of students reported they were drinking less. However, a year later 84% of those same students reported they were drinking as much as they had at before the alcohol education. They also found that alcohol education was particularly effective for inexperienced drinkers and women. These findings suggest that reminding students how to party smart, through text messages, emails, or ongoing training, should be part of an effective prevention program.

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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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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, August 29, 2014

This week we have three stories covering the state, student, and corporate response to the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses.

State Legislatures Make Moves Against Sexual Assault

Yesterday we covered bills, laws, and developments at the federal level that you should be watching this Fall. However, proposed legislation at the federal level is only a piece of the full picture. Numerous state politicians are making moves to legislate how schools handle sexual violence on campus. This article provides an overview of some of those efforts, including a pair of New Jersey bills, one of which would allow the New Jersey Attorney General to fine schools up to $50,000 for failing to properly respond to sexual assault allegations, as well as California’s “Yes Means Yes” bill, which looks likely to be adopted in the near future. It also discusses a proposal to require campus climate surveys on sexual assault (much like those recommended by the White House Task Force) for all colleges and universities that failed in Maryland.

Student Activists (Continue) to Make Moves Against Sexual Assault

Even with high-powered corporations and powerful politicians rallying behind the cause of halting campus sexual assaults, much of the fight remains where it started, with student and alumni activists. This piece from NPR puts the spotlight on the continuing efforts of student activists, many of whom helped to kick start the national conversation on campus sexual assault still going on today. Activists like Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky (founders of Know Your IX) have remained active after graduation, continuing to put pressure on legislators and education officials to properly address campus sexual violence. Current students are also becoming involved, such as Dartmouth undergrad Guillermo Rojas, who created an interactive map of on-campus crime.

Companies Make Moves Against Sexual Assault

The mounting pressure on schools to effectively address sexual assault has led to the rise of a variety of companies looking to help students protect themselves and schools comply with the law. These range from law firms and consulting firms offering guidance for Title IX coordinators to smartphone apps that make it easier for students to keep themselves safe and report assaults. This piece from Inside HigherEd notes the important role such products and services play in keeping students safe and staying compliant but also the danger that these advisors and companies may be more concerned with the reputations of the institutions that hired them than the well-being of those institutions’ students.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 20, 2014

How are schools across the country responding to the fast growing pressure to address sexual assault on their campuses? This week we bring you stories about a variety of different approaches, some of them successful, some of them less successful, and some of them still in the difficult process of being perfected.

Colleges Need to Worry About Their Students, Not Their Brand

With schools across the country scrambling to respond to the growing public and governmental pressure to address sexual assault, Dana Bulger, founder and co-director of Know Your IX, worries that their responses will focus too much on protecting the school’s image and avoiding litigation, at the expense of students’ well-being and safety. Bulger points to the presentation prepared by a Washington law firm and sponsored by a higher education lobbying group in response to Senator McCaskill’s sexual assault survey sent to about 350 colleges. The presentation characterizes the survey as “fodder for additional investigation” and Congressional investigations as a “‘Wild West’ without real rules,” which Bulger believes leads schools tofocus too much on the question of “What will play well on TV?” Hopefully most schools prioritize students over their brand, but Bulger’s article is a reminder of the importance of choosing a prevention program that can effect real change on campus.

How Should a College Define Consent?

One of the trickiest aspects of efforts to adequately address sexual assault is the question of how schools’ sexual assault policies should define consent. Many schools are shifting from a “No means no” model to one based on the more affirmative “Yes means yes.” In other words, school policies are beginning to recognize that consent is not just about respecting active rejection of sexual advances. It’s also about actively seeking and giving explicit permission for sexual activity. Of course, the question remains of how to define “Yes.” Some schools, like Antioch College, are attempting to remove any ambiguity by requiring “clear and enthusiastic” verbal agreements to sex: “Can I do X?” responded to with “Yes.” Others are attempting to leave room for the diversity of human communication, though naturally leaving room for nonverbal communication leads to difficult-to-parse ambiguities. In any case, it seems certain that the issue is not one that will be resolved without a great deal of thought and discussion.

Improv Against Sexual Assault

In order to encourage students and others to think through such issues themselves, schools and other organizations, including the United States military, have turned to a novel teaching tool: the improv company Catharsis Productions and their show Sex Signals. Created in 1999 by Christian Murphy and Dr. Gail Stern, a professional performer and rape crisis counselor/standup comedian, Sex Signals depicts scenes such as a man attempting to pick up a woman in a bar and a sexual assault scenario in order to engage their audience in a discussion about consent. The audience is given “Stop” signs so that they can weigh in on when consent has and has not been given, and the performers ask those in attendance tough, thought-provoking questions about the scenarios being played out. What should these people do? Was this a rape? Who is at fault? Why? This creative approach to teaching consent seems to be getting results. When Sex Signals first started showing on college campuses in 2000, it was performed on eight campuses. This year, it will be performed at more than 2,500. But, as Catharsis employees point out, Sex Signals is just one part of changing the culture to motivate bystanders to do something when the notice someone is in a risky situation.

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