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Friday, January 23, 2015

Is the Residency Requirement relevant any more?

Boxed in...
On the first night of the new year for the Class of 1996, my mentor and colleague, Coleen Grissom, announced an important change. With great enthusiasm and carefully chosen language, Dean Grissom told the new students they were the fortunate ones to be the first beneficiaries of the new three-year residency requirement (rather than two). Of course they didn't really buy it, but I am not sure she did either. Some twenty years later I share the ambivalence.

President Calgaard, the driving force behind this, once told me he didn't really care if students wanted to move off for their senior year. The kind of campus community he envisioned was residential and the best way to ensure it was to require it. It made sense. There were few apartment complexes near or around Trinity. Many of our students had grown up living with siblings. Community was defined differently before technology changed the nature of it.

Today, privacy is at a premium. Having a roommate in the first year is usually more good than bad. Choosing one for the second year follows naturally. By the third year, students -- who willfully signed on to the residency requirement as high school seniors -- often come to resent it.

Here are some of the problems, simplistically stated:

1. Privacy
Students tire of conforming to the schedules of roommates. While there are social benefits to roommates and suite life, there is simply no place to escape to for self-determined sleep, study, and I dare say, sex.

2. The Meal Plan
The quality, variety and value of our meal program is exceptional. I honestly believe that. But, for some students, meal programs lose their luster after two or three years. (Sooner for some!) Students who haven't tasted their own cooking, cleaned their own kitchens, or shopped regularly for groceries, are eager to prepare their own meals. Not having that option becomes a real point of conflict. And it is very real. For many this is about freedom, flexibility, value (Ramen Noodles), and health.

3. Cost
When we last compared housing rates off campus, with utilities, transportation, and other hidden costs including loss of time, we were generally comparable. But that case is getting more difficult to make, especially compared to apartments with kitchens and bedrooms. Students see value in amenities and double rooms can't compete with spacious apartments and neighbors named Hutch and Roxy.

4. Campus Apartments
More and more, students are being offered campus apartments at other residential campuses, often with full or double size beds in single rooms. Many can sign up for these by their second year. We have no apartments here, and by year-three, students want those living options.

5. Paternalism
The word "requirement" doesn't sit well with students these days. It implies that something is required. Ahem.

The idea of a residential campus has been romanticized by some over the years. It is noble, to be sure. There are many benefits to living on campus. But I would much rather have students clamoring to stay on campus than fighting to get away. We should rise to that challenge. Some people aren't made for dorm living. Like some couples who have parted ways, sometimes it is better for everyone (in this case, the student and the institution) to get some space. Some students don't care about laws and policies related to alcohol and drugs. The staff would rather not have to enforce those policies either. The resulting tension, again, is harmful to the University and the students.

The numbers show that most want to stay on their junior year and about a quarter decide to stay on their senior year. Most like the convenience, the energy, the engagement, and the proximity. Many who move off miss those things and acknowledge the deficit in the trade-off. They report feeling disconnected. Others love their freedom.

Campus apartments can be costly to build and with so many options near campus, may not be necessary. Another option is to offer single rooms -- for busy students who could reap the benefits of life on campus while at the same time having more autonomy and privacy. A promising step in that direction is the current renovation of North Hall, configured for singles. Though the rooms will be small, for many of our busy juniors and seniors that won't matter, they don't spend much time in those spaces anyways. If this renovation is well-received, then subsequent upper-class halls slated for renovations will be reconfigured accordingly.

The most disheartening aspect about the requirement is that students who want to leave a year early feel trapped and are often negative about their experiences and the institution. The requirement creates significant tension between the students and the Residential Life staff and me. Lost on most is that this is an institutional requirement. But the staff who must uphold it are routinely being challenged, leaving students and parents angry and frustrated. Indeed, the staff has learned that offering exceptions leads to charges of unfairness and inconsistency. Every student feels as though his or her situation is unique. To each of them it is. But students demand consistency. Why shouldn't they? You can see the conundrum for the staff. Listening and treating each case with care, and making exceptions, invites an opening of the proverbial flood gates. Not entertaining requests because they most always end in "no" is no more palatable. Being at odds with our students over an institutional edict affects the effectiveness of the very staff members who are working to support and advocate for them. 

What is more, many students think this is about the money. While that is a contributing factor for some (more revenue creates more for initiatives for students or for controlling costs), it isn't the only factor. Many people who support this requirement believe this is our identity and that it is good.

There has to be a better way. The institution likely won't consider apartments that may be too costly right now. Hopefully the single rooms prove to be attractive options for students. Maybe we simply entertain requests more liberally. In the end, there a number of issues worth re-visiting. We would likely better serve students and enhance the way they feel about the institution by discussing this in more detail. What made sense twenty years ago may no longer fit.

Please comment and take the poll!

Banner Quotes Capturing Attention



I have to admit, I was lukewarm about the banners that recently sprung up around campus. Like Epcot Center, they just seemed too educational and not Magic Kingdom enough. Maybe this is why some faculty members have called me anti-intellectual (whatever that means). Then I heard Interim President Mike Fischer raving about them, which pretty much convinced me I was right. So in January, while meeting with the RAs, I asked their opinions. To my surprise, they loved them too. For the simpler people on campus, such as myself, I thought I would put the quotes into plain language, Cliff Notes style.
Please have some fun matching the banner photo, above, with the paraphrased quotes below. I have cleared these with the professors themselves.

A. "Be optimistic, even if you are a prominent expert on the Middle East"

B. "Grades aren't everything."

C. "Work hard, Play hard."

D. "There's a fine line between camping and Biology."

E. "Come check me out in the weight room."

F. "Don't waste the money someone is spending for you to be here!"

G. "Please take my course on the Aeneid."

H. "This is why you aren't in Platteville."

Answers: 1-B, 2-A, 3-E, 4-H, 5-C, 6-G, 7-D, 8-F

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prevention and Education the Keys to reducing Sexual Assaults

Editor's Note: This is a two-part piece related to sexual assault. The first installment, related to policy and procedure, may be found here. For more background, please review this post from last spring.

By Senior Staff Psychologist Kristin Eisenhauer

The Education and Prevention Subcommittee of the Coalition for Respect is comprised of students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and is led by Dr. Sheryl Tynes.  The committee met four times this semester to address issues related to assessing campus climate around issues of sexual assault; coordinating a cohesive educational campaign for our campus; and exploring ways to hone our sexual assault prevention efforts in a meaningful way.  At this time, the following progress has been made:

- We have reviewed feedback from the 2014 NSO Sexual Assault Prevention program and have made recommendations for modifications.
- We have decided to administer the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium’s Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey to Trinity students when it is finalized by the consortium in the spring of 2015.  The HEDS survey is rooted in the White House’s guidelines for measuring campus climate around issues of sexual assault and relationship violence.  Trinity’s survey results will shape our future education and prevention efforts.
- We have selected a keynote speaker to come to campus in the spring of 2015.  This speaker will address all students about issues related to sexual assault and relationship violence in Laurie Auditorium and will also provide special training sessions on these topics for student leaders and members of the Coalition for Respect.
- We have begun to map out the content and timing of campus programs and assessments related to sexual assault and relationship violence prevention and are working to brand an overarching theme for these efforts.  Our goal is to launch a cohesive educational campaign that includes active programs, passive programs, and ongoing assessments.  In this vein, we are in the early stages of exploring a Valentine’s Day event that will encourage healthy relationships.
- An assessment of First-Year and sophomore students’ bystander behaviors is currently under way.  This is part of an ongoing assessment of students who have participated in the Step Up bystander action program during their New Student Orientation.  

The Education and Prevention Subcommittee has four meetings scheduled in the spring semester to continue building our campaign.  We invite individuals who would like to become involved in our efforts to contact Dr. Kristin Eisenhauer.

Sexual Assault Continues to be a Difficult Issue

Editor's Note: This is a two-part piece related to sexual assault. The second installment, related to educational efforts, is by Senior Staff Psychologist Kristin Eisenhauer. For more background, please review this post from last spring.

With regular reports of victim re-victimization, lack of fairness, campus bungling, and government over-reach, sexual assault on campuses continues to be an important topic nationally. While most campuses have grappled with this issue for a long time, the 2011 Department of Education's Dear Colleague Letter, related to Title IX, offered guidance for processes to be more deliberate and transparent.

This has been positive in that it reinforces that schools must continue to address violations of sexual misconduct policies. Institutions generally deal with student conduct to to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment. It is appropriate for campuses to deal with any claims of student harassment and violence.

The rapid changes in legislative requirements and guidelines and the amount of press on the topic have sent administrators scrambling to keep up. It is important for campuses to follow and adhere to legislation while still thinking for themselves. Chasing laws and bowing to public pressure can be confusing for institutions and their constituents. On our campus two guiding principles will always inform our policy and procedures. First, the process has to be fair, and second, it must be executed with compassion.

In the summer of 2014 Trinity's policy was re-written, presented to the University community for comment, and approved by the Standards Committee. This was the second change in three years and the new policy has been generally well-received. It is likely that the policy and our process will undergo annual revisions as both evolve.

The new investigative model places less emphasis on hearings and more on fact-finding in advance. This helps staff members discern important information, and make recommendations, in a more private and more thorough manner. With the sharing of statements and reports, the process is fairly transparent. A pool of faculty and staff members serves in multiple roles as investigators, hearing board members, and process advocates. More and better trained people are involved with multiple facets of the process, which will hopefully instill confidence in the broad ownership of our process. This group will meet each semester to review cases and suggest procedural improvements and policy changes as needed.

Our standard remains "the greater weight of the credible evidence," which means there must be some evidence, whether it is direct, indirect, circumstantial, based on aftermath reports, and takes into account the credibility of the parties involved and the information presented. Once viewed, the decision-makers must determine whether or not that evidence presents the likelihood that a violation did or did not occur. Part of the tension around assault cases is that there is little evidence to begin with. At times it may appear that a student has brought forth a legitimate complaint, but the process must reveal that a policy violation occurred. This presents tremendous challenges for the accused and accusing students and the decision-makers.

At a forum this fall, students and staff discussed one of the many vexing issues related to assault. Deciding when a person is incapacitated is extremely challenging. When alcohol is involved communication are decision-making are confounded by conflicting, incomplete, and inaccurate recollections. Two themes emerged from that forum and will likely be incorporated in the policy in the future.

First, any time a person engages in sexual activity with a person who has consumed any amount of alcohol, that person may may face an allegation of sexual misconduct. This may be be in conflict with an alcohol-fueled hook-up culture, but it does put students on notice.

Second, intoxication and incapacitation need to be more clearly defined. Being drunk, or even blacked-out (when a person may seem coherent but later have no memory) does not necessarily mean that someone is incapacitated -- or that another should know the person is incapacitated. Incapactiation generally means that someone cannot function on their own. An intoxicated person can drive a car or send text messages, while an incapacitated person probably can't.

Unless force or coercion are involved, sexual interactions between those who have been drinking are likely not considered violations of policy. In many drunken hook-ups students are taking advantage of one another for their own gain. If they would not have done so if completely sober is in many ways immaterial.

At first glance it may seem these elements are contradictory. Any sexual interaction with someone who has been drinking can place someone at risk of an accusation, but incapacitation goes beyond simply being buzzed or drunk. In part, this will set-up some general expectations and express caution to students. These areas will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Further complicating matters, a person who has ingested a date rape drug is likely incapacitated, though this may not be clear to others. It is imperative that anyone who feels they have been given a drug be tested immediately as such drugs leave the blood system in a relatively short period of time.

Student empowerment remains the most potent weapon against sexual assault on college campuses. Policies and procedures are of limited and reactionary value compared to student action. In the context of binge-drinking and parties, students must step up to protect themselves and others, unfortunately, from one another.

Most importantly, the biggest issue of all is the impact that this issue has on accusing and accused students. Student versus student conflicts produce some of the most challenging conduct cases on campuses. In most other cases (alcohol, drugs), where university policy is in conflict with student behavior the university is not emotionally invested in the outcome (of course the student is). In student versus student cases, at least one student will walk away feeling unheard and unsupported. When students square off against one another, with attorneys and parents often involved, and high emotional stakes and consequences on the line, there will almost always be negative or ambivalent  feelings. Even students cleared of policy violations sometimes can never see the institution in the same light. And for accusing students, though a finding of "not responsible" only means that there was no evidence of a policy violation, these decisions often result in feeling great disappointment, anger, and a lack of support.

For the institution, it is common to hear from those unhappy with a decision that they find the process to be flawed. The blurry lines between policy violations and crimes, and their consequences, make matters worse. Many erroneously expect legal standards in a process that is anything but.

Given all that is at stake, one thing remains certain. There will be winners and there will be losers. In the end, that means we all lose. The campus community has a responsibility to not just be engaged in this topic in reaction to high-profile cases. Students must work with the faculty and staff to create a safe and respectful campus climate to reduce and eliminate issues of sexual assault.And when cases arise, the institution must conduct thorough and professional investigations and hearings.

In January the Coalition for Respect will re-convene to review the work and cases from the fall.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Doin' the Trinity Shuffle

Some of the crew following the 10-11 mile taco run.
One of the joys of my work is the annual Dean of Students Half Marathon Challenge and Food Drive. You get to know students well when you log lots of miles together. Generally on our group runs we eschew music, but last month we mixed things up by doing an iPod Shuffle run. Literally, we shuffled our music gadgets at various points during the run. It was a nice way to break up the routine and to hear what others listen to when they run. We also have had a Hunger Run, Taco Run, and Halloween Hill Hell Run. (Please come support us on December 7 as we run through Trinity!)

I had some very good stuff, IMHO, on my iPod Shuffle. Below, Sarah Kate references the song "Sexy and Free" which I think is called "Domino," by Jessie J. It has been a long time since I would ever have claimed a song called "Sexy and Free." Like never. She did get through a little Springsteen, for which she receives extra credit. I also have to laugh that our students think "Call Me Maybe" is a classic. I just don't think a song from a 17-year-old could already be considered classic, but it kinda is. Finally, Simba is not on Facebook but he did report that hearing jazz on someone's iPod was troubling. This from the guy who never met an explicit lyric he didn't like...
So I asked everyone involved to post their thoughts on our Facebook group. Without further adieu:

The Dean
My Trinity Shuffle was SO fun. I first listened to Simba's music and was happy to hear a song by the Neon Dragons. It was followed by a song called "Selfie" which made me laugh but which I never hope to hear again. We shuffled again and I landed on Joseph's tunes and was generally pleased. Totally Joseph - a little predictable and a little quirky. Quite happy to hear a song by the Imagine Trees. Okay, I actually have that ID CD and it was settling to hear. Then a song came on by Gaslight Anthem. It was called Meet Me By the River's Edge and I guarantee that Joseph has no idea this is a Bruce Springsteen tribute song! Mostly though, Joe would have been very comfortable with 80's hair bands, modern REO Speedwagon, and maybe even Head East. I was prouder of my self than I should have been for announcing that Jared Leto was the led singer from 30 Seconds to Mars, also on Joe's phone. (And Joe, I was just kidding about getting my dog's poop on your phone. As far as you know.) Thanks for the tunes Big Joe!

My shuffle run was with Mikki's iPod. Not a big Nikki Minaj fan, but at least wasn't stuck with anaconda. Loved hearing some coldplay and empire of the sun though.

My Trinity Shuffle was Katie's iPod, and I loved it. I really like the Red Hot Chili peppers, although after a silly mistake we realized it was on the wrong shuffle... once we changed it to her REAL workout mix I was listening to Flume and Madonna and other great pump up songs! I added them to my own workout mix. EVEN BETTER than this story though, was getting to listen to a few minutes of what KATIE had... ahem... Dean Tuttles' playlist!!! I'll let her tell you the entertaining details, though.

The iPod shuffle run was quite a hoot. I really enjoyed listening Call Me Maybe on Dean Tuttle's iPod shuffle. That song is a classic!!! I'm glad we have a Dean of Students that recognizes that. Galve's playlist was quality as well. Some dude named like Young Gangsta or something got me in a flow state for like the last couple miles so that was good. Young Gangsta is quite a talented guy. Overall very fun run!!!

Correction by Galve:
His name is Young Sinatra. Might as well be a G though, ya hear me?

For the iPod shuffle run, I'm always slightly nervous. Maybe that people won't like my music, or that maybe we will all get hit by a car crossing the street because we were listening to music instead of traffic. After a while and the nervousness passes, I relax and enjoy the run. I had Joseph's iPhone for a bit at the beginning, and he had some great workout tunes, some that I have to download myself. I also noted the possible danger of running with an iPhone in hand. For all those that run with electronic devices, it's safest to have it on your arm or in a pocket. In chance of the potential fall (unless you are skilled and have never tripped when running) you should have both hands free to break your fall, instead of breaking your phone and/or a possible bone. Also if you are running with dog poop, then you have less chance of getting it on your phone if it's on your arm or in your pocket. In final, there was no Taylor Swift played on any of the playlists I listened to, so I was able to completely enjoy the rest of the run.

Sarah Kate
The iPod shuffle run was pretty great. I really enjoyed listening to Young Sinatra and Dean and Ravo on Galve's playlist, especially the song "Walkin Around" by Dean and Ravo. I also got to hear Dean Tuttle's playlist, my favorites being "Call Me Maybe" and "Sexy and Free". I also got to jam out to some Bruce Springsteen as well. Overall a super fun run!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yik Yak Yuk

Let's be clear about this. People have been crude and rude forever. I mean, just watch Game of Thrones. The internet has simply changed the nature of boorish and hostile behavior. Just read any comments section on any post to witness the pattern of trolls stirring up trouble, counter-arguing, policing grammar, and getting all charged up over nothing. It is like Disney. It's mostly make believe.

When JuicyCampus came on the scene people were outraged. Indeed, bullying and other horrible things have happened as a result of the internet and social media. That site was shut down because of the resulting harassment and personal attacks on students. But other sites have replaced it. Currently Facebook's Trinity Confessions and Overheard at Trinity pages are making way for a new site called Yik Yak.

This is a location-based app that allows people who are in proximity to one another to post anonymously. It has some advantages to it, in that posts are pretty fleeting (as new posts come in, old ones drop off). People can up-vote or down-vote posts as well as reply. If a post is down-voted five times it disappears. Generally people cannot be identified by name.

As far as these things go, Yik Yak isn't the worst. Generally, people want to invite others to have sex, bemoan having a cuddle buddy, or try to be witty. Popular posts often start with "When..." as in, "When you are at a party and they run out of beer..." 

Obviously I check out Yik Yak from time-to-time. I think it is important to know what is out there that is engaging some of our students. If you are on the app you can search for other schools to see what is being said. Most reasonable people will immediately wonder how it works... for people on an anonymous site to ask for sexual favors, because it makes zero sense. But that hasn't stopped the masses. 

My biggest issue with the app is that while I have only posted once or twice, my posts have been down-voted into oblivion. One of them was of the "When..." kind, which I clearly had not thought through. Here is another example. Because of our proximity to SAC and Incarnate Word, it is difficult to sometimes discern the higher education institution of origin. The posts are co-mingled. I am often hoping the worst of the posts are not from Trinity. So my post was simply this: "If the source is not otherwise obvious, why not use #Trinity or #UIW?" This was a very productive suggestion. But boom. Off. Like, immediately.

I told my wife about this on our way to a movie that night. And we did not have a fight about it that she won. But she said that I shouldn't "play in the students' sandbox." I was not playing in their sandbox. I just wanted to understand it. She said students could sniff out a grown-up in a second. So, I was voted down by the students and my wife - who told me not to take it personally. And yet "Just applied to be Wacka Flacka's blunt roller. Wish me luck" is trending up with 35 affirmative votes as I write this. What a stupid sandbox.

But I had a plan, which was to post this: "This is the Dean, and I thought my post about using a hash

I no longer become angry or get all high and mighty about these sites. The arguments for or against are always the same. But here are some observations gleaned over the years:

1. Most of what is out there is trashy: sexual, fecal, and anti-social. It is like a Student Affairs meeting.
2. Most of the things are posted to elicit responses.
tag to specify the campus being cited was a great idea!" Then someone would have posted: "Is this Dean Tuttle from TU or Dean Moore from UIW?" To which my response would have been: "Exactly!" That would have been my throw down the mic moment on Yik Yak. But my wife, who is NOT the boss of me, wouldn't let me post any more. And she IS my cuddle buddy after all.
3. Most of the responses are meant to elicit reactions.
4. Many of the things posted on anonymous social media sites are not true, are exaggerated, or unverifiable.
5. If the electronic mob follows it, then people will engage with it. If you don't like it... Ignore it. Rock beats scissors, mob beats reason.
6. You can't permanently stop these sites unless they are literally criminal. It emboldens people and they find other channels to migrate to anyways.
7. It will pass. It always does, because it eventually becomes boring. And then a new platform arises. And then it passes.
8. Even if someone posts as a female, it is probably a male.
9. This is like a sport for bored people or those taking a break from work and study.
10. Sometimes grown-ups, or even deans, get sucked into these things.

Last year I was pretty much run off of Overheard at Trinity when I simply joined to retrieve memes of me for a blog post. Geesh. I have learned my lesson. I may check out Yik Yak from time-to-time, to, er, be effective at my job... But I won't be playing any more. Too much sand.