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April 3, 2014

CSU Trustees pass new policy on discrimination and harassment

ASC 101 to include new interactive training modules to raise awareness about non-consensual sexual contact

By Mara Biggs

Cleveland State University’s Board of Trustees approved a new policy on discrimination and harassment March 25, which defines and denounces forms of sexual violence, including relationship violence and non-consensual sexual contact, among other things. Sexual assault occurs epidemically, with one in four American women and one in six American men being victims in their lifetimes.

The university is even going a step further to address the issues surrounding the culture of violence by implementing sexual violence training modules into new students’ curriculums starting this fall. The training modules are intended to raise awareness of sexual violence and prevent it.

“It’s a very interactive training,” said Yulanda McCarty-Harris, director of the Office of Institutional Equity.

Training modules will be incorporated in ASC 101, a required course for all freshmen. The Office of Institutional Equity will work independently with transfer students and incoming law school and graduate students to ensure that anyone beginning a program at Cleveland State receives the training.

To get students to understand the issues surrounding the culture of violence, the training needs to be “closer to an experience,” and must be gone about sensitively, perhaps individually, said Brian Orlando, an electrical engineering major who is close to people who have been victims of dating violence.

Mike Conroy, also a senior studying electrical engineering, agreed with Orlando, saying that he doesn’t think sexual violence training is something that should be presented in a student orientation-type setting, as McCarty-Harris said it likely would be for law school students. Conroy said he feels that students won’t pay attention or be involved in the training if it’s taught before a large group.

“I don’t know if you can get [the training] in a classroom,” he added. “Unfortunately it’s an issue that you can’t dance around.”

McCarty-Harris said she hopes that putting the training out there will compel people to actually file reports of sexual assault. Only 12 percent of these crimes ever get reported, as victims of assault often fear biases and unfair judgment from the judicial system.

“I think if [the training] is something they’re going to include, it should be very interactive and something students can relate to,” said Melissa Bresnahan, who is working on a Masters of Social Work at Cleveland State. “I think it should be something where students understand why it’s important.”

The Office of Institutional Equity is currently getting quotes from outside companies that have been contracted with other Ohio universities to provide sexual violence training. McCarty-Harris said that the company Campus Clarity is a top prospect.

Campus Clarity provides comprehensive online training containing student focus group-tested storytelling and interactions to maximize user engagement and retention, as stated on the company website, campusclarity.com.

The company claims to take a nonjudgmental approach to helping students navigate difficult and risky situations and to empowering students to make informed decisions.

Campus Clarity’s training program has two courses for students, called “Think About It: Part I” and “Think About It: Part II.”

“Think About It: Part I” covers sexual violence, healthy relationships, sex in college and partying smart. “Think About It: Part II” is a sexual assault and substance abuse prevention program that immerses students in scenarios relevant to their college experience so that they can take the knowledge they gain from the course and apply it to real life.

McCarty-Harris also said her office has been talking to Athletic Director John Parry about possibly doing a sexual violence training session for athletes.

“We certainly could and will add a session about sexual violence,” which would be part of the athletic department’s “Welcome Back” program that kicks off at the beginning of every new school year, said Parry.

According to McCarty-Harris, not many comments were made on the new discrimination/harassment policy while it was in the comment period, but some contained positive feedback for the inclusion of gender identity and/or expression as a basis on which discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated.

Other comments raised concerns that the policy is too broad and may be an infringement on First Amendment rights, McCarty-Harris reported.

The Office of Institutional Equity is looking to put together pamphlets with information on sexual violence and assault as well.

Note: The spelling of "harassment" was corrected in the headline. It was misspelled as "harrasment" in the print version. John Parry's last name was also misspelled the second time that it appeared in the print version and was corrected in the online version.