Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Administration debuts Think About It online orientation program

Whitman’s new Think About It online pre-orientation program will join the variety of other social orientation programs at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year. The course is aimed at first-year students as an introduction to elements of college culture and focuses heavily on preventing sexual assault.

The online course, created by CampusClarity, an online training subsidiary of LawRoom, covers four broad topics: “Sex In College,” “Partying Smart,” “Sexual Violence” and “Healthy Relationships.” Beginning next year, completion of the course will be required of all incoming students before their arrival on campus in the fall.

Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell says the course is motivated by a desire to accelerate the orientation process while increasing its efficacy.

“We’re trying to make the orientation process more productive by introducing new students to the topics covered by orientation programming before they even arrive at Whitman,” said Maxwell. “Hopefully this will help new students retain the information we’re trying to give them a little bit more effectively.”

Between the years of 2011 and 2012, instances of reported sexual assault on campus doubled from three to six.  Reports nearly doubled again the following year, with 11 forcible sexual offenses reported on campus in 2013. Junior Katie Steen, an active member of Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE), speculated on these statistics.

“I would guess that the dramatic increase in reported sexual assault numbers is not because more assaults are happening on campus every year, but rather because students have become better at recognizing assault and reporting it,” said Steen. “It’s important to remember that a large number of assaults may actually be going unreported as well.”

Whitman’s sexual violence prevention programming has not dramatically  increased in recent years, though there has been a steady trend towards more effective forms of programming. Because of the private nature of sexual violence, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of measures against it. Maxwell highlighted the importance of instituting truly efficient and adequate forms of sexual violence and alcohol education.

“What we try to do is stay on top of what’s out there and what’s proven effective. For me it’s all about what does good, versus what just feels good,” said Maxwell. “I’m very much interested in things that work.”

In her search for tools to improve Whitman’s campus culture, Maxwell solicits feedback from students and tries to ensure that students feel measures are working. Think About It also generates feedback from students about the effectiveness of the course. Responses have been limited by low participation –– of the 219 students that started Think About It in its pilot phase, less than a third have finished the course. The survey feedback from those 61 students was generally positive. 

Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn endorsed the course’s attempt to ingrain important messages before orientation.

“Think About It provides us with one more avenue to educate students about the campus cultures revolving around sexual activity and alcohol and/or drug use,” said Dunn in an email. “I think it is very clearly designed to provide students with an opportunity to apply their knowledge to situations that they may encounter while in college or beyond and with the tools to think about how to engage in such behaviors in a healthy manner.”

Steen is not convinced that programming like this will have a significant impact on campus culture.

“To me, it seems as though Think About It is simply more of the same kind of programming that we already have,” said Steen. “Students are saturated with bystander-intervention and consent-focused programs, and this doesn’t seem to be radically departing from those strategies. While those programs are important, I think it is clear that they are not enough. Think About It has also been designed for broader usage in colleges across America and may not be specific enough to Whitman culture. I’m also very skeptical about the effectiveness of individual online programming as a tool to promote cultural change.”

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