Mar 262015

March on ISU Quad

So I guess it’s time for me to start catching up on the blogging again. There’s been plenty to blog about of late but precious little time to do so.

What spurred me to get back to writing was a terrific event held by our students at Illinois State last night. Given all of the recent bad news that fraternities have been on the receiving end of lately, almost always at their own invitation, it was quite refreshing to see our Greek community stand up last night and say they don’t want to live in an environment where racism is acceptable. The conversation began when members of our Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) colony, the same group under fire at the University of Oklahoma, went to our Interfraternity Council and sought to lead a dialogue on creating a safe and inclusive campus environment. Our IFC includes organizations typically housed in a National Panhellenic Council (NPHC, for black Greek organizations), as our NPHC is currently offline as we work on chapter development. The conversation went on for an hour with IFC, and caused IFC to ask their Chapters to look at national policies on diversity and inclusion, and to explore the development of policies within IFC to improve the fraternity system.

But the group didn’t want to stop there. Wanting to have a public conversation among all groups, this past week IFC worked with our sororities, our Multicultural Greek Council, all of our cultural governance groups, and a number of others to lead a march on our Quad, which included two laps on the Quad and a signing of a pledge to create a safe and inclusive campus environment.

The best part of the evening however, was immediately following the march. As white students gathered in their councils on the bridge spanning College Avenue, a group of black students gathered on the Quad to ask questions and air concerns to our IFC leadership. Joe Laskey, our IFC president, did an excellent job of giving students room to speak, air their concerns, and talk about how  important it was to take the next steps together as a community. The two groups then merged on the bridge, and about a hundred students spent the next thirty-five minutes in a large circle sharing perspectives and having an honest dialogue about differences in the ISU experience based on race. It was a difficult conversation for many to have, but all of our students engaged passionately and respectfully, and listened to each other’s points of view. It is a first step of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue, and it was entirely driven by our students. Our staffs in Fraternity & Sorority Life and Diversity Advocacy did a great job supporting our students, but as an educator it was heart-warming to see our students engage because they believed it was the right thing to do.

I am not affiliated with a fraternity, and my colleagues and friends find delightful irony in the fact that I supervise fraternities and sororities on our campus. And since I get to see all of the conduct side of our Greek system, it would be easy to become jaded about the value of Greek life on campus. But last night was a very welcome reminder that Greek communities on campus can serve as catalysts both for community and for change.

In sharp contrast to what took place on our Quad last night, I noted this week that fraternities have joined at the national level to create FratPAC, and the group is lobbying Congress to make it harder for colleges and universities to investigate sexual assaults in the collegiate environment. From my perspective, this is a rather obvious ploy, under the guise of deferring to the criminal process, to shield national organizations from blame and (more importantly) lawsuits. These “leaders” of fraternities know full well that the criminal burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” will mean that most accusations will never make their way to a courtroom, so now they are seeking to insulate themselves from administrative legal proceedings without even the most basic understanding of the law. At a time when fraternities are under fire for racism, sexual harassment and assault, and alcohol and drug abuse, this is exactly the wrong response. It is time to CHANGE fraternity culture, not protect it. “Boys will be boys” is no longer an acceptable response for egregious behaviors that harm members of our academic communities and threaten many others. Maybe these “leaders” should be more concerned with the actions of individual Chapters and fraternity members as a whole, rather than with infringing on the legal rights of reporting parties. Apparently however, it’s easier to contest federal law than to make cultural change inside of fraternities from the perspective of the national organizations.

I wish these people could have seen what took place on the ISU Quad last night; I rather suspect our students know more about leadership than they do.

Note: For those interested, here is an article on the march from The Daily Vidette, our student newspaper.

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Sep 092014

Ray Rice videoAs a student affairs practitioner, it has occurred to me this week watching the Ray Rice fiasco unfold that, in most university settings, things would be handled drastically differently. Unfortunately I do have to use the word “most” as a modifier here, because there are still a number of large Division One FBS programs conducting themselves more like the Ravens and the NFL, despite the federal government’s direction and justified intrusion into these matters. So with that modifier in place, in most cases Mr. Rice would be charged with physical abuse (in this case a Title IX offense) and be subjected to a thorough investigation and adjudication process. Mr. Rice’s due process would be protected, and there would also be a thorough investigation… not the shoddy and incomplete investigation conducted by the National Football League. And, simply based on the video evidence that I have seen with my own eyes, I am presuming that Mr. Rice would be found in violation of university policies. The sanctioning phase would consider the nature of his offense, his prior history, institutional precedence, and other factors. Based solely on the nature of the offense, in my professional judgment I think it is safe to say that Mr. Rice would be expelled from school.

Beyond just addressing Mr. Rice’s behavior in proportion to his offense, the sanction would have the added benefit of being consistent with sanctions for other offenses. At most institutions, we don’t throw students out of school for a semester for a first drug violation, nor do we typically allow those who serve time for vehicular manslaughter and other crimes to immediately return to a campus environment without great assurance that the guilty party no longer presents a threat to other members of the community.

If only life in the NFL came close to these standards. Continue reading »

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Aug 192014

First day of school, 2014We have survived opening and a new school year is underway! There was lots of activity this summer as the Dean of Students Office saw a change in leadership, with Dr. Art Munin coming in from DePaul University. This came amid a flurry of other changes in the Division of Student Affairs that have kept us all hopping over the past several months.

It is my intent to update this blog a little more frequently this year. There is still more to come in terms of Title IX commentary, as the issue continues to hold the national spotlight. I was recently interviewed on our local NPR station, and NPR itself is in the midst of an in depth review of this topic. Some of the legislation coming down the pike is going to make for some interesting conversation in the months ahead. I will also be tackling some other topics of interest as time permits this fall.

The fall promises to be a busy semester. In addition to making progress on my dissertation, I will be heading to ATIXA’s Title IX training in Phoenix in September, and then will be presenting at the joint ATIXA/SCOPE joint national conference in Orlando in October. Additionally, Brian Van Brunt and I will be repeating an NCHERM webinar on adjudicating “drunk sex” cases this October, and I will be off to The College of Wooster in November to provide conduct board training and professional development seminars.

And yes, this pic above is from the first day of school earlier this week. Not only was everyone up and ready to go this year… they were actually early! It was an unexpected but welcome surprise. I hope everyone else’s semesters are off to a good start, and I’ll see you soon in the virtual world.

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Apr 292014

us-whitehouse-logoAs the media is widely reporting this morning, the White House has issued its anticipated report on campus sexual assault. Entitled, “Not Alone”, the 20 page report addresses the need for campus climate surveys, engaging men in the prevention of sexual assault, developing effective responses when an assault is reported, and improving transparency and enforcement. For convenience, I have linked the report here.

Just as importantly, the Office for Civil Rights has also released its long awaited set of guidelines in response to many questions raised in the wake of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. This is a far more fascinating read, as many practical questions directed to OCR during the past three years have received either mixed answers, or resulted only in verbal guidance. This 46 page document (linked here) addresses very practical and immediate questions on school obligations to respond, students protected by Title IX, procedural requirements, responsible employees and reporting, confidentiality, investigations and hearings, interim measures, remedies and notice of outcome, appeals, and several other topics.

Obviously, many of us will now spend weeks scouring these documents to look for ways to make improvements to our processes. The reports come in the wake of Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s issuance of a survey to 350 college and university presidents to determine how schools handle rapes and sexual assault on campus. McCaskill indicated she is focusing in particular on how those crimes are reported and investigated and how students are notified about the services available to them.

I have only given each document one reading so far, but my initial reaction is that both documents can be of great value to colleges and universities. In particular, I was glad to see a number of very specific situations addressed in the OCR guidelines, and expect OCR’s many concrete answers to be of value to policy makers and practitioners alike. I will post with more details once I have read them again and can spare some writing time.

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Feb 212014

White HouseAs has been well publicized, President Barack Obama recently established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The overarching goals of this group, by order of the President, are:

(i) providing examples of instructions, policies, and protocols for institutions, including: rape and sexual assault policies; prevention programs; crisis intervention and advocacy services; complaint and grievance procedures; investigation protocols; adjudicatory procedures; disciplinary sanctions; and training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty;

(ii) measuring the success of prevention and response efforts at institutions, whether through compliance with individual policies or through broader assessments of campus climate, attitudes and safety, and providing the public with this information;

Continue reading »

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