Student affairs / student services

National Conference on Student Leadership

Thu, 11/15/2018 to Sat, 11/17/2018


9801 International Drive
Orlando , Florida 32819
United States

National Student Success Conference

Wed, 02/21/2018 to Fri, 02/23/2018


Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, 2900 Bayport Drive
Tampa , Florida 33607
United States

Advice for how colleges should handle sexual assault after the revised government guidelines (essay)

The Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era guidelines for how colleges and universities should decide misconduct cases under the gender-equity law Title IX will likely lead to fewer disciplinary actions for students accused of sexual assault. For victim advocates and others concerned about the effects of the rescission, fewer disciplinary actions represents a step back. Without a doubt, higher education institutions must carefully consider whether to raise the standard of proof. At the same time, and equally important, they must continue working to create safer campuses.

What happens when the standard of proof changes for administrative procedures involving allegations that are hard to prove? Generally, it’s difficult to examine the impact of the standard of proof in many areas of the law because standards are the same in all 50 states and seldom change.

But we are able to predict fewer disciplinary actions will occur in campus sexual assault cases based on our recently published research on a particular procedure -- the substantiation of reports of child abuse -- in which the standard of proof does differ across states and recently changed in several states. We analyzed eight million reports of child abuse and neglect across the United States from 2000 through 2012. And we found that when the standard of proof increased, it became harder for those tasked with evaluating evidence to substantiate reports of child abuse. It became particularly hard to substantiate the hard-to-prove allegations, including sexual abuse. Indeed, the likelihood of substantiation of reports such as sexual abuse dropped by about 17 percent, according to our analysis.

Clearly, standards of proof matter and have an impact on the outcome of procedures. Our findings serve as a cautionary warning for colleges and universities because substantiation is similar to a campus Title IX proceeding -- in which trained professionals must decide if sufficient evidence exists to determine that allegations of misconduct are accurate and impose consequences connected to those findings. Consequences can be serious, if less severe than punishment handed down by a court. In a Title IX proceeding, for example, a perpetrator can be expelled from a college or university.

The Trump administration says higher education institutions may now choose to require that there be “clear and convincing” evidence to discipline students in Title IX sexual assault cases. (It’s a choice that raises the standard of proof and reverses Obama-administration guidance that colleges enforce discipline when the evidence shows that the accused is “more likely than not” to have committed sexual assault.) Because the proceedings on campuses and in child welfare are similar, our research provides the best available estimate of what is likely to happen in the campus environment. If colleges choose a higher standard of proof and there is a 17 percent decline in findings that sexual assault occurred, as we found to be the case with child abuse, then roughly one in six alleged sexual assault perpetrators who would have been disciplined under the previous guidelines will avoid such discipline.

So how should institutions approach the choice of standard? Essentially, college administrators must decide how to allocate the risk of error between the accuser and the accused. A college that accepts the invitation to switch to the higher standard of proof has decided to increase the weight it places on the possibility that an alleged perpetrator experiences some undeserved cost. The costs include expulsion and transfer, or other discipline, and the attached stigma. In fact, such a college has decided that protecting innocent students from enduring these results is more important than protecting sexual assault victims from enduring the impact of an inaccurate exoneration. In contrast, a college that maintains the standard of “more likely than not” has decided that the shared interests in protecting all students from sexual assault and sexual misconduct balance the interests of the accused in avoiding an erroneous finding.

If colleges choose to increase the standard of proof, they should recognize the impact it will have and prepare to mitigate it. After an increase in the standard in child welfare, states were more likely to provide family preservation and other social services to a child and family that was the subject of an abuse report. That is, states that changed the standard also worked harder to keep at-risk children safe with their families.

Colleges and universities that raise the standard in Title IX proceedings should follow that lead and work harder to create the safe campus environment that the authors of Title IX envisioned in the first place. One of our colleges, American University, encourages its community members to stand up for each other in social situations, for instance, by preventing an inebriated peer from being alone with someone who may be likely to take advantage of their inebriation. Such bystander intervention can both prevent individual instances of possible assault and change cultural norms that permit assaults. For more ideas to reduce the incidence of campus sexual assault, colleges can look to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s -- such as intervening in pockets of hypermasculine culture and increasing monitoring of unsafe areas on the campus. Due process and public-health protections go together in child-welfare law, and the same should hold true for colleges that choose to raise the standard of proof.

Josh Gupta-Kagan is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and Mary Eschelbach Hansen is a professor of economics at American University and the author of the forthcoming book Bankrupt in America (University of Chicago Press).

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International students need different education programs on sexual assault and other issues (essay)

Sexual assault on college campuses continues to be a major focus of news media and to demand serious attention from campus administrators. In spite of, or perhaps due to, recent efforts by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to cut back on the government’s Title IX oversight and enforcement, many campuses are recommitting themselves to following the best practices for protecting against and dealing with sexual assaults.

Regardless of any changes in oversight, we all know sexual assault is a pervasive problem on college campuses. We’ve read the stories, we’ve seen the statistics. Campus administrators generally agree that a college or university should continue to serve a distinct role as both an active educator and as a reactive support system on issues ranging from sexual health and behavior to assault and misconduct.

While institutions offer a variety of resources and support, one-size-fits all, blanket approaches intended to reach all students may very well miss a vulnerable population on the campus: international students. They come to our campuses from all around the globe looking to seize the rich and rewarding opportunities that our higher education system provides. In turn, they bring with them a cultural diversity that can be seen and felt across the institution. And when it comes to sexual education, international students have distinct needs that programs designed for their domestic peers don’t typically address.

Colleges and universities must take appropriate steps to educate, support and protect those students, taking into account varying levels of sexual education as well as cultural and social norms that may differ greatly in students’ home countries. A lack of understanding of what domestic students consider to be social norms and sexual cues -- like “no means no” -- can lead to confusing or awkward situations. Or worse, those misunderstandings can make international students vulnerable to victimization.

As colleges develop sexual health resources and support programs, they must consider who on campus is best equipped to lead those efforts for international students. Even though many campuses have established specific positions and sometimes entire departments to prevent and respond to sexual violence, those officials aren’t necessarily trained in the nuances of international student experiences and may overlook crucial elements in discussing sexual education with this distinct population. We would argue that a better and more comprehensive approach brings together a variety of campus departments -- including the international students office, the violence prevention office, campus police and the mental health and counseling center -- to develop and deliver programming that doesn’t make assumptions of prior knowledge and establishes a strong foundation of understanding.

It’s not enough to simply hand international students a pamphlet or give them a 15-minute safe sex lecture. In talking about sex with international students, not only will institutional administrators be talking about topics the student has potentially never discussed, but there are also language and cultural barriers to overcome. A student might not know the proper English term for a vagina or penis, or that slang like “Netflix and chill” is a euphemism for sex. Programs must address topics that may be considered common knowledge among domestic students, such as the definition of sexual assault and what a culture of disclosure means.

Further, international students may not have a strong understanding of the laws and rights that protect them or those that make them potentially vulnerable. For example, a finding of misconduct can result in their being dismissed from the campus or removed from certain classes, which can threaten their visa status. Those are pieces of assumed knowledge among domestic students, but if not explained to international students, it can lead to potentially dangerous situations and result in an increased risk of mental health issues. It can also significantly hinder student retention and persistence.

A required program at Fraser International College at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, incorporates sexual education into the transition curriculum for all new international students. The material is embedded in a course that lasts a semester and covers everything students need to know to get used to their new lives. The sexual education portion covers consent and healthy communication, sexual health and gender orientation, and the cultural and societal norms around sex.

With each topic, the program starts with ensuring that all students have a common understanding and realize the importance of communication around such issues. The key is making students feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Students are able to submit questions anonymously and discuss the answers together, which helps to build a safe community through peer support. It’s important to open up a dialogue and demonstrate there is a wide range of views, from conservative to more liberal, about sex and to ultimately help students navigate those views so they can make safe and healthy decisions.

In addition, the university takes great care to let students know that they can ask questions throughout their academic program. It actively recruits instructors who teach other subjects, like accounting or media studies, to facilitate sexual education workshops and classes. Having a familiar face opening the conversation up about sex, relationships and identity builds a rapport between instructors and students and reinforces a culture of disclosure. Each interaction helps open the door a little wider so students know they do not have to approach uncomfortable, serious or dangerous situations alone.

Creating a safe campus experience for all students is a major priority for colleges and universities. Campuses that start to recognize and embrace the power of creating dialogues through sexual education will be helping protect vulnerable populations like international students while simultaneously making their campus a safer and more positive environment for all students.

Sharla Reid is the academic director at Fraser International College, a partnership between Simon Fraser University and Navitas, a global provider of university pathway programs for international students. Jill Dunlap is the director for equity, inclusion and violence prevention at NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Prior to joining NASPA, Jill was director of the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus advocacy, resources and education program.

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