Rethinking Online Sexual Harassment Training for Students

One in four college students reports that sexual assault and sexual misconduct were either “very” or “extremely” problematic at their school. And while 81% of students say they have participated in training modules or information sessions on sexual misconduct, only 62% say they learned how to prevent sexual assault or other sexual misconduct.
Besides national regulations that require sexual misconduct prevention information to be presented to college students, there clearly remains a need to prevent these behaviors and equip students with the tools to handle challenging situations.

Why Students Need More Than An Online Sexual Harassment Training

Student services professionals know that there are many options to train students about sexual misconduct prevention. The range of information and skills involved is more complex than presenting “online sexual harassment training” that might involve advancing slides or watching a video.

They also know that students are discerning. Oftentimes when this topic is presented during orientation, it can be one of the first times that a student interacts with or participates in campus programming. So the selection of this training sets a tone for the quality of education and services that a student will receive, for expectations, and for making connections with peers – sometimes before they even set foot on campus.

In a recent webinar from Inside Higher Ed, a group of subject matter experts discuss the potential of virtual sexual misconduct training for students.

Besides going beyond a more traditional online sexual harassment training, COVID-19 and new Title IX regulations are new elements in the mix that will affect how students receive this information and how the content presented will resonate with them.

New Realities of Prevention

Right now, the tone that student services professionals set is more important than ever. This is because there remains a possibility that students will be completing new student orientations online, and potentially spending the semester off-campus. Megan Heckel-Greco, Associate Director in the Office for Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Support and a Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Students at the University of Chicago, notes that the current virtual landscape can still lend itself to experiences of online harassment, and that students may still be dealing with past instances of trauma or misconduct.

She cites these key areas of prevention:

  • Continued emphasis in training for new students (including transfer students)
  • Consent and healthy relationships, both in-person as well as virtually
  • Navigating domestic violence resources during COVID-19
  • Better serving marginalized student identities in prevention education (e.g. trans communities, students of color, first-generation students, non-traditional students, etc.)

While there have been recent changes to Title IX guidelines, Glen Kraemer, an attorney at Hirschfeld Kramer LLC who is exclusively devoted to higher education and employment law issues, comments that “If anything, the new Title IX reg[ulation]s underscore the absolute importance of training. And not just training, but training that’s really focused…on bystander engagement.”

Meeting Students Where They Are

What if every student gained the knowledge and skills to navigate difficult situations related to sexual misconduct in a safe practice environment?

Students are coming from many backgrounds and many experiences, holding different attitudes and beliefs. This can be why a one-size-fits-all, more traditional online sexual harassment training can be ineffective when situations are not always black and white.

Kim Wieland, Product Manager at Kognito, shares that with a simulation platform:

“It allows students not only to learn about these skills and the key information that they need, but also gives them a place to practice these skillsets, to really deeply embed that. Within this model we’re able to make sure that they are getting to make choices that we are then able to provide them feedback on and really meet them where they are. We’re not only promoting positive health behaviors, but we’re also able to reduce some of the negative ones as well.”

How Simulation Training Is Designed for Effectiveness

Kim says that it’s important for students to understand the importance of preventing sexual assault and understanding what the warning signs are. But ultimately, it’s about empowering every student to feel like they have the ability to have an impact on the overall safety and culture of the campus in a positive way.

How can this be accomplished?

In the development of Sexual Misconduct Prevention for Students, a new simulation from Kognito, interactive elements of the learning experience were intentionally incorporated to make this a unique learning experience for students:

  • Room for active experimentation: by being able to choose what they’re going to say next and practice those skills, the science of learning shows that that’s actually going to help students turn abstract concepts into something much more concrete and embed that learning.
  • Allowing for critical reflection points: it gives students the ability, as they’re thinking about what to say next or receiving feedback from a virtual coach, to think about how they need to tweak their behavior and what changes they need to make, allowing for transformative learning.
  • Seeing ideal behavior modeled: after practice scenarios, students see a dashboard based on the feedback they chose. They then have the opportunity to go through a modeled ideal path and see what that would look like, with a check for understanding where they can apply those skills to scenario-based questions
  • Listening with empathy: talking with virtual humans with real personalities and stories helps build empathy to make a stronger connection to the training content. In this case, one of the virtual coaches, Alex, is a victim of sexual assault.
  • Providing realistic experiences: the scenarios in the training capture complexities that are close to what students experience. In the case of bystander intervention, if there is a moment where they want to intervene, they have truly felt that they were able to practice and therefore have a higher level of confidence and self-efficacy to take action in the moment.
  • Receiving dynamic first-person feedback: Feedback is delivered directly from characters to encourage an empathetic response in absorbing feedback. In a scenario about consent, they intentionally describe when they were feeling good, when they weren’t, and what makes them uncomfortable based on the learner’s choices.

Glen shares:

“I do a lot of training. I create training programs and I’ve seen them live and I’ve seen them digitally using actors. But this is content that strangely…I found my empathic response to these characters was almost more profound. In dealing with intimate, awkward, or challenging issues, the use of simulation technology if anything was more effective and more poignant.”

With these elements incorporated into this training, students move beyond a narrow definition of sexual harassment to the broader aspects of sexual misconduct, feel empowered to make the right decisions for themselves, and feel more ready to assist or intervene in situations with their peers.

Getting Ready for Fall

Student services professionals may be hesitant to present a training program to their students with scenarios that take place in-person and on-campus during a time when that may not be the case. But ultimately, the definitions presented, the communication skills taught, and the emphasis on healthy student relationships presented in Sexual Misconduct Prevention for Students can be applied universally, regardless of location. Megan adds an important reminder:

“It’s really important that even in this sort of virtual world that we’re all operating in right now, to know that on-campus resources are absolutely still available for students no matter where they’re living…I think it’s really important that students know they can still reach out to their campus resources even if they are far away from campus.”

To access the full webinar and learn more about how new Title IX regulations will impact campuses, watch it on-demand here.

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