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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: Recent Articles Highlight Sexual Assault Issues

Editor's note: There will be a general campus forum on sexual assault at 6 pm on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 in the Fiesta Room of the Coates University Center.

Nearly everyday I receive a forwarded article about sexual assault on college campuses. While many contend that there are university efforts to cover-up assaults and there is gross incompetence in the handling of cases, I find these assertions to not be true in the majority of cases. These are really complex issues and situations and results can be second-guessed on any side of any given case. Processes should be evaluated in full, not based on outcomes of high-profile cases. While I have given much attention to this topic, here, over the last year, I think it deserves it.

So here are some of my choices of really good recent articles that I recommend:

How Drunk is Too Drunk to Have Sex?
By Amanda Hess, February 11, 2015

What I like: This reinforces to me that our newly proposed behavior-based policy hits the mark. In it, in the absence of force, coercion, or a lack of consent, drunk sex is not a violation. Incapacitation essentially means just that. A lack of control of motor skills. This change has been vetted by the Coalition for Respect and sent for comment to all students, faculty, and staff.

It's clear to all reasonable people that it's cool for two sober men and/or women to enthusiastically consent to sex and that when one person in unconscious, that's assault. But there is an ambiguous middle ground between clear-eyed sober and passed-out drunk where one or both parties may become too intoxicated to meaningfully consent to sex, and school have now been tasked with discerning that line for themselves. In doing so they've been forced to confront a host of philosophical, moral, physiological, and practical questions -- none of which have easy answers.

On a Stanford Man Who Alleged a Sexual Assault
By Connor Friedersdorf, January 28, 2015

What I like: This is a thoughtful, non-judgmental piece that asks more questions than offers answers. And, it makes it clear that in a word, it's "complicated."

How we ultimately define sexual assault is a choice–one that combines elements of prevailing culture and law, of connotation and denotation. Insofar as a community adheres around a notion of sexual assault that tends to involve high degrees of predation and trauma, the stigma against it will remain relatively powerful. As "sexual assault" is broadened to encompass gray areas that combine low degrees of predation with victims who aren't traumatized, the stigma may diminish.

Why It's So Hard to Talk to Our Daughters About Campus Rape
By Susanna Schrobsdorff, January 29, 2015

What I like:
Everyone understands (or should understand) that women have the right to go to a party and drink and choose to hook-up. It is never their fault if they are assaulted. And yet, we should be able to arm them with risk reduction tips. If it is precautionary it isn't victim-blaming.

It’s not fair, but it’s reality. I realize that I need to have some version of the talk that so many African-American parents have with their sons about being careful of what they wear and how they behave so as not to put themselves in danger.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why a four-year advising model might be a good thing


Four years since the process began, we are seeing some aspects of the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan come to fruition. Encouraging plans are underway for the soft launching of centers related to international initiatives, student success, and experiential learning. Other components in the plan, such as those related to academics, marketing, and admissions are well in motion. One recommendation yet to be addressed is a review of Trinity's advising model.

According to the plan there should be an initiative:

"...to revamp the advising process to include conversations about students' current and future goals - academic, professional, and personal. While these conversations certainly occur in some advising interactions, they are not as universal as they should be. Effective advising enhances student learning, promotes professional development and a healthy work-life balance, and strengthens student retention."

As someone in the Student Life area this is very appealing. The question is "how do we get from here, to there?" I hope that this issue can be reviewed with robust conversations that go beyond the fringes of the issues, but that might start with this premise: If we could rebuild advising from scratch (which we could), how would we rebuild it? And how could we meet the aspirations in the strategic plan?

I believe that the vast majority of our faculty members are exceptional advisors. I think most issues with student advising are systemic, in part, because there isn't even agreement about the advising role.

The University has shown that it is committed to having faculty, rather than staff advising. There are many advantages to this. First, the faculty are already employed and we don't need to hire full-time advisors. Second, most faculty members generally are experienced with the curriculum. And third, and most important, it is in the ethos of the institution that our faculty advise our students. This is what students want when they come here: personalized attention from our faculty. And though I can't speak for the faculty, this is what I think draws many of them here too. These advising relationships can be very meaningful and the potential to develop them further is hopefully on the horizon.

As we are currently situated, advising is primarily academic, intended to assist students in course selection and registration, fulfillment of requirements, and consideration and completion of majors and minors. Many advisors take this further, naturally, by showing concern for the welfare of their advisees and continuing mentoring relationships.

When students declare majors, they generally switch advisors. In place of the (usually) random initial advisor, they choose -- or assigned -- someone in their major. Essentially the advising process that begins in year one is truncated in the sophomore or junior year. Then the process begins anew.

In order to achieve the goals laid out in the strategic plan, I propose consideration of a four-year advising model. Under such a plan, a faculty member would work with a small group from "cradle-to-grave" if you will: From new student orientation up until graduation, and maybe beyond.

Here are some potential advantages:

1. With a four-year advisor, each student will have one person who assists them, not only with the mechanics of registration, but with the full arc of their experience: academic, personal, professional. An advising syllabus would probably need to be developed so all advisors could cover all of the elements that make for a student's experience, not just the academic ones. Personal touchstones could include sleep, time management, health, substances, relationships, family, and more. Professionally advisors could discuss with students their involvement in activities, service, plans for going abroad, internships, and resumes as well as offer advice related to graduate school and employment. This would dovetail well with our residential model that builds over a period of time and is developmentally based.

2. If a student stops out for a period of time the advisor, under this model, is perfectly situated to keep in touch. Each advisor will have a better sense of their advisees and be able to track what is happening with their students, even if they leave. At times, a simple nudge from someone, anyone, when a student is six weeks out, six months out, or a year out may help get students back on track.

3. One program mentioned in the strategic plan is a reflections seminar. Ideally, the full experience here would have several points of natural reflection. Imagine an opportunity for advising groups to convene each semester -- or at least annually -- and to do some sort of informal and formal reflection and discussion. One of the exciting things about working with students is to watch their growth over four years as they mature into adulthood. By having a support group to address successes, challenges, and developmental issues in a sharing environment, students could put their experiences in context chronologically and with others.

There are clearly some logistical impediments, but none that couldn't be addressed:

1. Having a person who advises students on their major is currently important for upper-class students. In this model, there are no such roles. Formally. An advisor working with a person who has declared a major takes on some of the academic responsibilities, but often serves as a kind of informal role model and mentor. There is no reason that students couldn't still get the kind of mentor-ship from one or more faculty members in a department. Indeed, I suspect this happens routinely, especially as students take on multiple majors and minors. Given our culture and environment, perhaps the role of "major advisor" can be reconsidered. Concurrent to whatever transpires in a student's majors and minors, the student would continue the important advising relationship developed since day one.

2. The numbers still work. If professors don't serve in a "major" advising role, then that reduces their number of formal advisees. At any given time (2,400 students and 240 faculty) each faculty member would have one advising group. Perhaps the advising might be more intensive and fruitful, but not likely more time consuming.

3. There are areas that require very structured and specific advising. Engineering Science seems to be the most structured. We could continue with matching prospective Engineering students with that faculty. In Health Professions, most first year students who start there don't end there. For them, having four-year advising could be really beneficial. For those continuing in Health Professions, they will find the mentoring they need. I know there are certain structural pathways to navigating the Health Professions curriculum. But if those things can't be read in curricular bulletins they are likely too complex and subject to individual interpretation anyways. Certainly group sessions on the curriculum could supplement what transpires in individual advising.

4. Some feel that they, as faculty, are more oriented to their disciplines than to holistic advising. I would challenge that. I have yet to encounter a faculty member who isn't student-centered. With appropriate orientation, training, and resources - such as an advising handbook and syllabus - everyone here could be effective in a four-year model.

Though I am not a student or faculty member I do hear about these issues regularly. I don't feel unqualified to suggest something different. Advising as an issue was raised in a 1999 task force on student life and again in 2006 in the upper-class task force. That the issue has surfaced again in 2011 suggests that we have an obligation to do something different and bold. After all, our approach should be first and foremost student-centered, focused on creating an advising model around them. Perhaps it is something like this or something vastly different. I hope we can have energized and creative discussions around this topic. It is time.

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

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8.
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.