There is more to sexual misconduct training than compliance. Student affairs professionals know—even if they need to be reminded of it from time to time—that creating and maintaining a safe campus so that students can learn and thrive are what make compliance so important in the first place.
And training works when it enhances students’ understanding of sexual violence—what it is, what it means, why it is such a serious issue, how it threatens everyone’s security, and how respect for fellow students is so critical to safety.
So while compliance requires that we create and implement training programs, we do not get safer campuses unless those training programs are effective. Once again, doing something and doing something well are not necessarily the same thing.
Philip J. Ruthkosky, associate dean of student affairs and deputy Title IX coordinator at Wilkes University, developed a framework to help higher education professionals determine whether their sexual misconduct training actually works. Below are five of his recommendations.
Establish measurable learning objectives
It is not adequate to simply present and complete required training. Every training program should have measurable learning objectives so that institutions can determine whether students actually learn the material presented in the training.
For example, instead of establishing a policy that requires students to complete a 60-minute bystander intervention training, institutions could require that upon completion of a 60-minute training, students be able to describe signs that indicate a peer may be at risk of sexual violence and identify tactics they could employ to intervene.
Continually reinforce messages
Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are complex issues, and it is unlikely that students will fully grasp all the details and nuances in a one-time freshman orientation training. Institutions need to identify key training points and reinforce them throughout the year. An important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the incidence of first-year sexual violence is greatest at the beginning of the semester. Front-loading the programming is prudent.
Utilize diverse pedagogical approaches
We already know that different students learn in different ways; it is no different here. In addition to continually reinforcing messages, schools can enhance student comprehension and increase the likelihood of reaching all students by employing a variety of training styles and training leaders. For example, a comprehensive program might include a 90-minute, large-group overview; two different online training sessions and assessments; and an interactive, small-group session with public safety officers handling a Q&A.
Address gaps in student learning with formative assessments
Schools put a lot of energy and resources into sexual misconduct training without ever determining whether the training works. It is not enough to ask students whether they believe they know more at the end of training than they did at the beginning. Institutions should use tools—formative assessments—that actually measure student-learning outcomes during the program. Schools can use the assessment findings to adjust future training events to cover gaps or to revisit information that might not have been clear.
Stimulate high levels of cognitive complexity
While memorizing some information is certainly part of any sexual misconduct training program, schools should also work to create training programs that stimulate higher levels of learning. Students should have the opportunity to apply what they learn, analyze situations, and discuss possible solutions. This kind of thinking is necessary if students are going to apply training information to their lives and experiences. And if they don’t do that, then the training will not have any impact on campus safety or climate.
Students at the center
The key is to remember that compliance is not the point of training. Making campus a safe environment where students can pursue their education—that’s really what compliance is all about.