Improve Campus Safety by Involving Students and the Community in Sexual Misconduct Training

iStock_000045181976_Large-320029-edited.jpgIt is easy to think that compliance is about laws and regulations. It is—and it isn’t.

It is true that sexual misconduct is not a simple matter. It is nuanced and circumstantial and confusing. It is also very serious.

That is why sexual misconduct training is so important. We have to reach students and help them understand what sexual misconduct is, how it affects campus culture, and why they need to be aware of the issue and respectful of their peers.

And compliance is not enough. Training programs might not successfully reduce the incidence of campus sexual misconduct unless they are effective—even if they are technically compliant.

That is why Philip J. Ruthkosky, the associate dean of student affairs and deputy Title IX coordinator at Wilkes University, developed some strategies to help student affairs professionals conduct more effective sexual misconduct training programs. His approach? Showing us all how to think a little differently about compliance and how to engage in our efforts the very audiences we are trying to reach: our students.

Below are five of his recommendations for improving your sexual misconduct training.


  1. Don’t evade drugs and alcohol

Changing Campus Culture on Sexual Conduct: Phil Ruthkosky Alcohol issues are present on nearly every college campus, and alcohol and other drugs can interfere with student learning and success in many ways. They certainly come into play with sexual assault. That should hardly surprise anyone.

That is why sexual misconduct training is not complete unless it includes drug and alcohol training.

It is a sensitive issue. Some student affairs professionals hesitate to discuss the role of drugs and alcohol because they do not want to blame victims for what has happened to them. But avoiding the elephant in the room is not the answer.

The key is to be consistent in delivering the message about drugs and alcohol and sexual assault to students, and the message is this: When an individual is sexually assaulted, there is only one person to blame, and that person is the perpetrator. It is never the victim. Yes, it is important to let all students know that using drugs and alcohol will make them more vulnerable, but it does not make them responsible for a sexual assault.

  1. Tailor programs to your campus climate

There is a lot to cover in sexual misconduct training. Tailoring training to your campus will make the training more relevant and therefore more successful. Use campus climate surveys to find specific issues that are concerns for your constituents. For example, are there certain campus or off-campus events that are known for excessive drinking or other high-risk behavior? Incorporating those events into training or using them to frame communication would make your messages more relevant to your students.

Another approach is to produce your own training videos instead of buying them. Students respond better to scenes, locations, and students they recognize. Keep in mind that good video is expensive, and quality affects efficacy. (In other words, you get what you pay for.) And don’t forget to discuss the video after it is shown. A great video is great only if you give students the opportunity to digest the material, react to it, and explore it with a skilled leader.


  1. Partner with local agencies

Most institutions have access to local agencies that support victims. Working with those organizations gives students an opportunity to hear from victim advocacy experts with vast experience. It also exposes students to additional sources of confidential support.

Some schools are even reaching beyond agencies and are working with local bars to offer bystander intervention training to staff members. It’s a great way to make sexual misconduct training and awareness a community issue and not just a campus issue.

  1. Make training an institution-wide imperative

While a specific individual or department may be responsible for implementing and managing a training program, the communication should not come from just one person. Institutions need to use a variety of voices to deliver consistent messages. If everyone on campus is talking about sexual misconduct and they are all saying the same things, the messages and their importance become hard to avoid or ignore.

  1. Make upper-class students the faces of the program

Let’s face it: most undergraduates are a lot younger than most student affairs professionals, whose assessments of student behavior and campus culture are easy to dismiss as irrelevant, old-fashioned, or out of touch.

Administrators likely have a better sense of campus climate and culture than students realize. However, peer messages—particularly those regarding how students should communicate and act with each other—are often perceived as more relevant and are thus more powerful. So whenever possible, consider enlisting campus student leaders such as athletes or representatives from student government to help deliver messages, participate in conversations, and even lead training.

Keeping training student-centered

Campus safety is about more than compliance and checklists. It is also about communicating with students in relatable ways so they understand the seriousness of sexual misconduct and violence and how it undermines safety and security and prevents students from learning.

We can do more with our compliance work by changing the way we think about our compliance efforts. Perhaps when we start looking to students and community members as partners in the solution and not as the heart of the problem, we will improve campus safety for all of us.

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