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Proactive Title IX Programming

November 18, 2016

By Karla Hignite

In their NACUBO 2016 Annual Meeting presentation "Title IX Risk Reduction and Prevention Programming" session, Lynn University Vice President of Business and Finance Laurie Levine, and Lorna Fink, the university's compliance officer and Title IX coordinator, shared specifics about the success of their institution's sexual and gender-based misconduct compliance program. They also provided tips for building an effective comprehensive prevention and awareness campaign.

Foremost, institutions need to focus on eliminating barriers to reporting, say Levine and Fink. Ask these core questions:

  • Do students feel safe?
  • Do they trust they can report to someone?
  • Do they have a choice to whom they can report?
  • Do they feel empowered that something will be done?

Building a culture that actively encourages reporting and helps students feel safe coming forward requires a multifaceted approach. Lynn University provides online and confidential reporting options, 24-hour crisis response, and on-call staff. An uptick in incident reporting can make many anxious, so try to assure others that this may signal increased awareness among campus stakeholders about how to seek help and greater trust in the process, say Levine and Fink. While leaders need to show a nimbleness of response to reported incidents, ideally the bulk of your efforts should be focused on prevention, they add. At Lynn University, prevention efforts include behavioral intervention and threat-assessment teams focused on identifying problem behaviors in advance, and customized training in a variety of formats.

CUSTOMIZE YOUR PROGRAMMING

Levine and Fink stress that it's important to customize your policies and procedures and your prevention and awareness efforts based on your student population and campus culture. Knowing the demographic makeup of your students, including where they come from, where they live, and how they engage with the campus community and surrounding community, will help you tailor your approaches to develop an intentional, culturally relevant, and inclusive program, they say.

For instance, approximately 25 percent of Lynn University's 2,500 students hail from 100 different countries outside the United States. With such a large international population, extra attention must be given to ensuring that information provided about sexual assault issues translates in a culturally relevant way to such a diverse student population accustomed to a wide variety of social norms. Likewise, Lynn's south Florida campus is located in close proximity to a bustling nightlife, including ready access to alcohol and drugs. While the institution doesn't have a prominent athletics program or a large Greek population, institutions with a strong tradition of sports and sororities and fraternities must factor these dynamics into their training and awareness programming. And, institutions that have a large commuter base or largely online learning cohorts must account for the unique needs of these student populations. Lynn University is also developing specific training targeted to graduate students and adult learners, whose awareness levels and situations may be different than the concerns for incoming residential freshmen.

DIVERSIFY YOUR FORMATS

For best results, incorporate multiple formats for training, such as online training modules, videos, role playing, and lectures. Lynn University's customized informational videos are designed not only to introduce institution requirements and options for students and employees to report an incident, but they also let viewers see the faces of those who can provide assistance, and they include animated maps for students to know where on campus to go.

Consider having institution policies read in each class at the beginning of a semester, along with facilitated discussions, town halls, and focus groups throughout the year. A customized "healthy behaviors and decision making" component is now embedded within the curriculum for all Lynn University freshman and transfer students. While Fink admits that this may not fit with the culture of every campus, institutions should consider how to reach students early in their campus experience, since most incidents are likely to occur as new students are cycling in to the institution.

The university has likewise focused on streamlining advocacy and reporting options by incorporating digital forms and apps that allow students to report online. While marketing staff aren't likely to want information about reporting a sexual assault on the main page of the institution's Web site, this information should not get buried, notes Levine. Lynn University employs a "three clicks" rule to ensure that students can still find the information they need quickly.

ENGAGE YOUR LEADERSHIP

Foremost, leaders must understand the institution's legal requirements, but the ultimate aim should be to go beyond minimum compliance, notes Levine. When she and Fink brought their proposals for action to their president, his priority was to be proactive and do the right thing and not be legislated into complying to avoid negative consequences, notes Levine. She suggests that, in addition to your president, make sure cabinet members are on board to lend their support, including vocal support to reinforce that sexual assault prevention is an institutional priority. Likewise, keep board members informed about prevention efforts as well as incident reporting metrics.

As leaders consider the costs of compliance and prevention efforts, they should not forget to factor in related potential "hidden costs," say Levine and Fink. These include loss of student retention and tuition revenue, since oftentimes students at the center of an incident don't return to campus. There may also be hefty costs associated with retaining a public relations firm to address press and public inquiries. Levine and Fink cited research linking multiple mentions of an institution's sexual assault scandals within the mainstream press with a significant downturn in enrollment applications.

REACH OUT TO OBVIOUS PARTNERS

Look for ways to make programming, and funding of those programs, sustainable. For instance, if you are receiving grant funding, think through how to sustain that funding once the grant runs out, because this isn't a once-and-done effort, say Levine and Fink.  Like many institutions, Lynn University doesn't have ample resources to devote to programming, so leaders have sought to partner to maximize impact by tapping into existing resources of campus and external partners. This includes orientation staff, HR, student affairs and student life, health center staff, campus safety, and athletics.

Off-campus partners may include local police officers, victim advocate and crisis centers, and other institutions of higher education. Lynn University partners with a local rape crisis center to provide training to university staff and has even built relationships with local bar owners and bartenders to help them know when to intervene if they think someone has had too much to drink and needs a ride home. Don't reinvent the wheel, say Levine and Fink. Take stock of willing and like-minded partners.

Karla Hignite, editorial consultant to NACUBO, is editor of NACUBO's HR Horizons; e-mail: karlahignite@msn.com