Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We've Moved!

Thanks so much for visiting us.

We have redesigned and relaunched the CampusClarity blog in a new location as "The Campus Think Tank." We moved all our old posts there and will be publishing all future content on the new site. (Sadly, we will no longer be updating this blog.)

Please check us out at our new site. We have some exciting plans to develop it further. We hope to see you there.


The CampusClarity Staff

Friday, January 31, 2014

A White House Call to Action

In an unprecedented move, President Obama added his presidential powers to the pressure building on colleges and universities* to teach students, staff, and faculty how to prevent and respond to rape and sexual assault. 

What type of education program is required? The White House is working on providing guidance on this question. On January 22nd, President Obama announced that he had created a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to provide schools with best practices and step up enforcement of federal laws requiring colleges to address the problem of campus sexual assault.

Adding to the urgency, the Task Force must deliver to the President by April 22, 2014:
  • examples of prevention programs, and training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty, as well as policies and procedures for responding to sexual assault complaints
  • recommendations for measuring institutions' prevention and response efforts and making this information available to the public
  • proposals for maximizing the government's enforcement activities

As soon as these examples, recommendations, and proposals are available we will have a better idea of what a compliant education program looks like. Going forward, the Task Force is required to submit annual reports to the President regarding implementation of its recommendations.

On the same day as the White House formed the Task Force, the President's Council on Women and Girls presented its report, "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action."  This report focuses on the Administration's "major effort to better enforce" federal laws that require institutions of higher education to prevent and respond to campus sexual assault. 

As the report points out, both the Department of Education and the Department of Justice are charged with enforcing these laws, including the Campus SaVE Act which requires colleges and universities to provide prevention education programs for students and employees on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Currently, the Department of Education is conducting negotiated rulemaking proceedings to draft regulations implementing the specific education requirements of the Campus SaVE Act. Final regulations are expected to be issued by November 2014.

In the meantime, when the Campus SaVE Act became effective on October 1, 2013, the ED said: "we expect institutions to make a good faith effort to comply with the statutory requirements in accordance with the statutory effective date." While we wait for the final regulations, we'll look for the Task Force report to provide further guidance on what constitutes a good faith effort.

* All institutions of higher education that receive federal funds are covered by Title IX and the Campus SaVE Act. These institutions include colleges, universities, community colleges, graduate and professional schools, for-profit schools, trade schools, and career and technical schools.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Think About It Wins Gold NASPA Excellence Award

Think About It, CampusClarity's online substance abuse and sexual violence training program for colleges and universities, has won the 2014 Gold NASPA Excellence Award for Violence Education and Prevention.

NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, is the leading association of student affairs professionals in the United States. The NASPA Excellence Awards are presented annually in recognition of NASPA members who are "transforming higher education through outstanding programs, innovative services, and effective administration."

The awards, which are presented in Gold, Silver, and Bronze categories, recognize excellence in a variety of fields related to student affairs and higher education. Winners are determined by a panel of veteran student affairs professionals, who judge each entry by criteria that include:
  • Impact on student learning
  • Success in addressing student needs
  • Use of innovative and creative methods, practices, or activities
  • Application of available or emerging theoretical models and practical research

Think About It is a collaboration between CampusClarity and the University of San Francisco's Division of Student Life. In addition to training students to confront and prevent serious campus problems such as sexual violence and substance abuse, the program helps schools comply with the training requirements of the Campus SaVE Act and Title IX, while also providing administrators important insights into the culture of their campus and student body.

More than thirty-five colleges and universities use Think About It to train their students.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Intoxicating Camera

It's coming to your campus.

I'm Shmacked, founded by Arya Toufanian and Jeffrey Ray, two twenty-something aspiring filmmakers, turns college campuses into music videos, although perhaps not in the way administrators or parents might hope. In between jump cuts to students crowd surfing and shaky cam shots of students grinding on the dance floor, the videos might showcase a few noticeable campus buildings or cheering crowds at sports games. Academics and classrooms, of course, are noticeably absent. (Though the founders claim they'd like to show them too.) 

They insist they're merely there to document the college scene and to help prospective students learn about colleges by showcasing the social life. According to Toufanian, “Kids don’t want to read anymore...Seeing a video is a much more fun way to learn about a school.”

Of course their motto is "I'm Shmacked: It's a movement," which makes it sound less like a documentary project and more like...well, a movement.

The problem is the filmmakers host the parties they claim to document. Indeed, the very name I'm Shmacked suggests their focus. It's not something you say after a hard test. It's something you say after a few shots of hard liquor. At the bottom of their videos, the company claims that "no alcohol or illegal substance is used during filming, just props." Perhaps the camera itself acts as a kind of intoxicant.

Indeed, students eagerly perform for the camera. The camera is not an objective lens onto campus life, but an invitation to perform. Much as alcohol can be used as a kind of permission slip to misbehave, so can the camera and the thrill of being on screen. Perhaps students are compelled by some strange sense of school spirit that measures a university's success in cups of beer. One of the parties, held at University of Delaware, devolved into what police described as a near riot.

Co-founder Arya Toufanian admitted as much in an interview, saying, “I have cameras and a budget now, and a bunch of college kids who will do anything to be on camera.".

Indeed, USA Today quotes one student who claims that I'm Shmacked gives students the ability to "express themselves" differently.

Other students are sensitive to the ways video and social media coax students into performing: "I'm worried that filming it will just exacerbate (students') dangerous behavior so they look 'cooler' on camera," said one student in the same USA Today news report.

Students are also divided on how appearing in one of these videos might affect their professional lives. One student thought it unlikely that he could be identified in the video:  "If my future employers were to watch the video," he said, "I doubt the likelihood of them recognizing me."

Meanwhile, another student told the New York Times, “To do this on a video that can go viral, you must have a train-wreck mentality.”

At the same time, we can't completely discount the co-founders claim. I'm Shmacked does document something, though it may not be an entirely accurate reflection of campus life. It seems to open a view onto students'  attitudes regarding campus partying and their motives to party in the first place.

I'm Shmacked offers students a chance to be seen and to "represent" their school. It's perhaps no coincidence that the videos often include shots of sporting events and/or shots of campus gear. The parties themselves are a kind of performance and competition. In several of the videos students proclaim their school is the "best." Undoubtedly a sense of competition fuels students to act crazier.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't get so worked up. Much of the actual footage is rather tame. Students screaming, dancing, or crowd surfing are pretty typical. A lot of the motion and action is in the editing.

Perhaps, then, I'm Shmacked offers campuses a way into a more nuanced discussion with their students about why they party. Why is this the story so many students seem to want tell about college? And if partying is about letting loose and forgetting yourself, why would anyone perform or show off for a camera?

In fact, I'm Shmacked has itself tried to open conversations on campus by adding short interviews with students about topics like "one night stands or relationships" or "drunk versus sober."

We don't have answers, but your students might. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Is There a Right to Cross-examine in Campus Sexual-Assault Hearings?

When Brian Harris was found responsible for sexual assault and expelled from St. Joseph's University, he filed a complaint against the school, claiming he was denied an opportunity to "question and confront his accuser and witnesses to test their veracity and credibility" in violation of provisions in the student handbook and "basic due process" (Complaint, ¶¶ 55 and 82(k)).

Harris and other male college students accused of sexual assault have filed lawsuits, alleging that campus investigations and hearings are unfair and biased in favor of their accusers, depriving them of their right to due process.

As we discussed in our post on the standard of proof in disciplinary proceedings, many of these cases center on the credibility of the two parties. The specific question we'll look at in this post is whether in a conduct hearing a student accused of sexual assault has a right to "question and confront his accuser" under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:
    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him …
The U.S. Department of Education has been clear that in campus sexual assault hearings allowing the accused to directly confront the accuser could cause more harm to the victim. ED's 2001 Sexual Harassment Guidance says "schools should ensure that steps to accord due process rights do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX to the complainant." In its April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, the ED is more specific:
    OCR strongly discourages schools from allowing the parties personally to question or cross-examine each other during the hearing. Allowing an alleged perpetrator to question an alleged victim directly may be traumatic or intimidating, thereby possibly escalating or perpetuating a hostile environment.
While the ED enforces Title IX compliance in responding to sexual assault complaints, it does not have the last word on the constitutional right to cross-examine witnesses in disciplinary proceedings where the accused faces expulsion. Federal courts have reviewed cases involving due process rights in student conduct proceedings and stopped short of requiring the right to cross-examine witnesses when a student faces expulsion, though the issue has not been finally decided.

Before his appointment as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall represented Alabama State College students who claimed a denial of due process because they were expelled for misconduct without a notice or hearing. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed that due process required the school to give the students notice of and a hearing on the charges before they could be expelled. However, the court said the nature of the required hearing varied, depending on the circumstances. [Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education (5th Cir. 1961) 294 F.2d 150, cert. denied, 368 U.S. 930 (1961)]

While the Dixon court concluded that a student misconduct hearing (such as one on sexual assault) would require more than a hearing on a failure to meet academic standards, it explained that "more" did not include the right to cross-examination:
    By its nature, a charge of misconduct ... depends upon a collection of the facts ... [and] an opportunity to hear both sides in considerable detail ... This is not to imply that a full-dress judicial hearing, with the right to cross-examine witnesses is required.
Citing the Dixon case with approval, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a case involving a 10-day suspension from high school and found the students were entitled to "some kind of notice and ... some kind of hearing," but the Court also acknowledged, without elaborating, that "[l]onger suspensions or expulsions ... may require more formal procedures." [Goss v. Lopez (1975) 419 U.S. 565, 579 and 584]

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also cited the Dixon case when it acknowledged "[t]he right to cross-examine witnesses generally has not been considered an essential requirement of due process in school disciplinary proceedings." [Winnick v. Manning (2nd Cir. 1972) 460 F.2d 545] Since Glen Winnick admitted that he participated in disruptive behavior in a classroom of students taking a final exam, the court said cross-examination of witnesses would not have changed the outcome and have "been a fruitless exercise." However, the Winnick court left open the possibility that "if a case of a substantial suspension of a state university student has resolved itself into a problem of credibility, 'cross-examination of witnesses might [be] essential to a fair hearing.'"

Following its Winnick decision, the Second Circuit again did "not find it necessary to decide the point" of whether students were entitled to cross-examine witnesses in a conduct hearing involving unauthorized use of a residence hall for a "sleep in." [Blanton v. State University of New York (2nd Cir. 1973) 489 F.2d 377] Again, the court left open the possibility that in student misconduct hearings where the central issue is whether to believe the accused or the accuser the right to cross-examine witnesses may be required.

In a case decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, two veterinary students who were accused of academic dishonesty sued their university for violating due process. They were not allowed to directly cross-examine adverse witnesses but were allowed to ask questions through the hearing officer. The court found, while due process required the university to allow the students to respond to the charges, due process didn't require cross-examination of witnesses since student "rights in the academic disciplinary process are not co-extensive with the rights of litigants in a civil trial or with those of defendants in a criminal trial." Therefore, the court concluded that there was no denial of due process. [Nash v. Auburn University (11th Cir. 1987) 812 F.2d 655, 664]

Finally, a U.S. District Court in New York found that a "higher level of formality to ensure fairness" was required to satisfy constitutional due process in a case where a male student accused of rape faced a two-year expulsion. The court described this "higher level" as:
    At the very least, in light of the disputed nature of the facts and the importance of witness credibility in this case, due process required that the panel permit the plaintiff to hear all evidence against him and to direct questions to his accuser through the panel.
Absent a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue, the ED's position allowing questioning of adverse witnesses through the hearing officer — but not direct cross examination — does not violate constitutional due process.

Moreover, the ED's position is consistent with the policy of encouraging students to report incidents of sexual violence. The possibility of facing cross-examination by their assailants would discourage many victims from reporting sexual assault contrary to the goals of the Campus SaVE Act and the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. These are laudable goals: protecting victims from secondary trauma, encouraging reporting, increasing accountability, reducing sexual assault, and making campuses a safer place to learn.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sextortion, Tweets, and other Dangers of Social Media

This past fall, the FBI arrested 19-year-old Jared James Abrahams, a computer-science student in Southern California, for "sextortion."

Abrahams had infected young women's computers with malware that allowed him to control their webcams and collect compromising pictures of them. He then blackmailed his victims by threatening to go public with the images unless they sent him nude pictures or videos, or did his bidding for five minutes on Skype.

According to newspaper reports, one of his victims pled with him to stop. "Please remember I'm only 17. Have a heart," she wrote. He replied, "I'll tell you this right now! I do NOT have a heart!!!"

Abrahams threatened one young woman by telling her that her "dream of being a model will be transformed into a pornstar."

In November, he plead guilty to extortion and unauthorized access of a computer and now faces up to 11 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Nor is Abrahams the first sextortion case. In March 2010, another young man, Luis Mijangos, was arrested for similar crimes. After searching his four laptops, the FBI found "15,000 webcam-video captures, 900 audio recording, and 13,000 screen captures" gathered from more than 230 victims, according to GQ magazine.

Meanwhile, as the Abrahams case was unfolding, on a Boston College Confessions Facebook page, where students post anonymous messages about their college experience, a student confessed to raping three women.

In the post, according to the Boston Globe, the student admitted to raping three young women while they were drunk and incapacitated. "On the one hand," he wrote, "I know that I need to get help, but on the other hand, I can't help but be driven to do it again."

After the post caused an uproar, the student who posted it turned himself into the Boston College police, claiming it was a hoax. The student was referred to the student conduct system.

These are admittedly sensational cases. But they illustrate the bewildering and potentially dangerous problems social media can present for college students. We've already written about social media and sexual assault, but cases like those described above make it clear that there are other dangers as well.

In their 2010 annual Campus Computing Survey, the Campus Computing Project found that roughly a sixth of participating campuses reported an incident (such as cyberstalking) related to "student activity on social networking sites." Over a quarter of public universities reported incidents related to social networking sites, almost double what had been reported in 2009.

As we enter a new year, it seems clear that the number of such incidents will continue to rise as more and more students arrive on campus thoroughly engaged with social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. According to the Pew Research Center's "Pew Internet and American Life Project," 72% of adults online use social networking sites. For young adults, the numbers are even higher: 89% of 18-29 year old internet users use social networking sites. 30% of 18-29 year old internet users tweet.

Interim Measures

Students already have a variety of advice columns, classes, and programs they can take to learn or even major in social media. But in response to the prevalence of social media use, some scholars and administrators want to go further by adding courses on digital identity to the core curriculum.

Writing for InsideHigherEd, Eric Stoller speculated,

Digital identity may be the next addition to 'the core'. The manner in which we engage, share, promote, and present ourselves online has become a major facet in many of our lives. No longer seen as being separate from 'real life', an individual’s digital identity is intricately connected to their overall identity... It’s no longer optional for institutions (and their administrators) to passively engage students via social media. Actively creating learning spaces that foster positive development of digital identity should be our mandate.

Interestingly, one place to look for guidance might be college athletics. Because of the high profile and role student athletes perform as representatives of their schools, their social media use has come under particularly intense scrutiny.

Last year, star Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel ("Johnny Football") announced he was leaving Twitter. Manziel had over 330,000 followers on Twitter at the time. He was leaving because his tweets and social media posts had caused too much controversy. "It's fun to have," Manziel told ESPN, "but it can get to be distracting."

The self-imposed ban didn't last. The young star now has over half-a-million followers.
Some schools actively train athletes on how to use social media effectively. Recognizing that a ban on social media is unrealistic, programs encourage students to use social media more self-reflectively by asking them to set goals for social media use and then sticking to them.

In a blog post on athletes and social media, Kevin DeShazo of Fieldhouse Media, a firm that helps student-athletes and coaches manage social media, poses two essential questions for athletes to ask themselves: "Who am I? What do I want to be known for?"

DeShazo elaborates:

We all have different goals and reasons for using social media. Regardless of why you use the platforms, the answer[s] to those two questions are still important. While the answers may change over time, as we grow and mature and goals change, they are still questions that must be answered today. They impact not only what you share online but who you interact with, who you friend/follow, your bio, profile pictures, usernames, etc. Every action and interaction impacts your identity and your reputation.

In a world where social media is becoming a crucial aspect of many students' identities, not just those caught in the public eye of NCAA sports, that's good advice for any young student.

Monday, December 23, 2013

You Can't Be an Alcoholic If You're in College, Right?

Have you heard this one before? It's not uncommon to find it on the lips of college students. For some it's almost a rallying cry.

The sheer prevalence of binge drinking and the youth of college drinkers can mislead students into thinking that heavy drinking is just a college thing, a rite of passage that they'll mature out of, and that it therefore poses little risk to them in the short or long term.

For many students that may be true. But some students won't outgrow their dangerous drinking habits, while others are already suffering the negative consequences of excessive drinking.

Young Adults and Alcohol Dependency

Contrary to college lore, there is no minimum age for alcoholism. Sadly, many young adults do meet the criteria for alcohol dependency and abuse. A 2002 study found that 31% of college students abused alcohol and 6% could be diagnosed with alcohol dependency.

A 2007 study identified five "subtypes" of alcohol dependency: young adult, young antisocial, intermediate familial, functional, and chronic severe. Only the chronic severe abusers fit into popular stereotypes of what most of us associate with alcohol abuse, yet they are the smallest percentage of problem drinkers.

Shockingly, young adults made up the largest subtype (31.5%), according to the study. They are also the least likely to seek help for their drinking.

In an interview with Psychiatric News, the researchers themselves expressed surprise with their finding "that so many of the individuals who met diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence were young adults [in their early 20s]."

Young adult drinkers drank less frequently than other subtypes, but when they drank, they tended to binge (73% of the time). Since over a third of young adult drinkers are still in school, the researchers suggested that "they may be an unrecognized part of the college drinking problem."

More recently, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has changed how they define substance use disorder.

Previously, the APA treated substance abuse and dependency as an either/or scenario: either you had a problem or you didn't. In contrast, the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) treats substance use disorders on a continuum from mild or moderate to severe.

As Dr. Charles O'Brien explained, "In DS- 4, we had essentially two diagnoses: one was abuse and the other, dependence...By doing a lot of research, we've discovered addiction doesn't work that way. It starts off mild at the beginning and becomes gradually more severe."

There was some controversy over the new standards. Critics claimed as many as 40% of college students could end up being labelled as alcoholics if the DSM 5's new diagnoses are followed.

This increase in diagnoses, critics argued, could do more harm than good. Rather than encouraging students to seek help, the diagnosis might lock them into the identity of an alcoholic or addict, causing them to act and think accordingly.

"And that poses a huge problem," wrote Maia Szalavitz for Time,  "particularly for adolescents and young adults with mild problems who may be pushed to adopt an addict identity and to see themselves as having no way to control their drinking or drug use if they ever 'relapse'. Rather than empowering those who do have control to use it, these programs essentially tell kids that if they ever have just one drink or puff on a joint, they’re lost."

But if telling students that they're problem drinkers doesn't work, then what other solutions are available?

Drinking Problem versus Problems with Drinking

Some researchers have suggested another approach that avoids the labels associated with substance use disorders. The Harvard School of Public Health, for example, has recently released a series of books that addresses the grey area between normal and problem drinking.

The series is called the "almost effect" and discusses circumstances where individuals may experience negative consequences from their drinking, such as poor sleep, depression, a drop off in work performance, or relationship troubles, but may not qualify for a formal diagnosis of alcohol dependency. They call these individuals "almost alcoholics."

Though they may not be formally diagnosed for a substance use disorder, they may nonetheless benefit from counseling or a brief intervention in order to help them see the connection between their drinking and its consequences.

Dr. Joseph Nowinski, one of the series' authors, explains that the decision that your drinking is a problem "does not imply that you admit to having a 'diagnosis', or that you are 'mentally ill'. Rather, it simply means that you have decided to make some changes in your lifestyle in the interest of your overall health."

In other words, perhaps the problem isn't that students think you can't be an alcoholic in college, but that they're thinking in terms of alcoholic or not alcoholic. Such binary thinking prevents them from seeing how their drinking is beginning to cause them problems and from doing something about it. Even if it's not an official diagnosis and even if it doesn't lead to problems later in life, college drinking can still be a problem now.