Thinking about ‘Think About It’

As the semester comes into full swing, students’ inboxes are flooded with hundreds of emails with club information, newsletters, university announcements, and even a few reminders to complete their yearly Think About It online training.

Think About It is a required online educational training course administered to students through the University of San Diego’s Title IX Office. In association with the Federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination SaVE Act, the program aims to help create a safe environment for students.

Hannah Healey, a senior and the Transfer Scholastic Team chair, stated that the online training is not effective in educating students.

“I think the training is redundant and too lengthy for students to pay attention,” Healey said. “Many of the scenarios are very long and time-consuming, which causes students to zone out or not pay attention and just click through the slides.”

The course examines issues of sexual relationships, sexual violence, and healthy interactions.

While some students may want to be more informed about Title IX, the required online Think About It training seems to be ineffective in doing so. Students can just click through slides while watching TV or cooking dinner, but the amount of information they are actually retaining seems to be up for debate.

The program takes about 45 minutes to complete and draws on interactive scenarios that students are able to pause and come back to at any time. This year’s program must be completed by Oct. 1, or students will be charged a $250 non-compliance fee.

Although Title IX is mentioned via email to students, its significance is not clearly communicated. According to the overview of Title IX on USD’s website, federal law prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Healey noted the possible  types of situations where sexual discrimination might be likely to occur on campus.

“I think there are always situations where sexual assault is likely to occur,” Healey said. “It can occur at parties, just as it could occur for a woman walking to her car late at night. Although sexual discrimination seems to be less likely to occur here at USD, I think it happens more indirectly than directly. But I do believe there are situations where students can potentially find themselves in sexual discrimination or assault problems.”

Within the Think About It training, students follow a series of interactive scenarios and then answer questions based on what they watched or listened to. Students weighed in on whether  the Think About It training helped them to better understand Title IX concepts.

Healey suggested that changing up the training would make students want to participate in learning about Title IX.

“By shortening the online training, or requiring students to sit in on an interactive course once a year, I think students will better grasp the concepts and actually learn the material,” Healey said.

Public Safety reports that on the USD Main Campus from October 2016, there have been five total forcible sex offenses, and zero total non-forcible sex offenses.

Students may have been confused or concerned as to why this online training must be completed annually. In a letter to the campus community, President James T. Harris stated that “as a Catholic university, the University of San Diego is committed to creating an inclusive and collaborative community that protects the rights and dignity of all individuals.” This includes respecting one’s own self and others in efforts to prevent sexual violence.

Helen Kaiser Smith, J.D., the Deputy Title IX and Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator, is responsible for monitoring compliance with Title IX and related laws to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as administering the Think About It online training to students and staff.

“The goals of Title IX are equity and ensuring that students impacted by discrimination are able to continue in their educational experiences,” Smith said. “When a student is impacted by sexual violence or other forms of sex discrimination, a university has a responsibility to respond to the discrimination, end its occurrence, and remediate its effects.”

Smith indicated that over the years, Title IX has expanded to include sexual harassment and sexual assault as forms of sex-based discrimination. Title IX also protects pregnant and parenting students, transgender, and gender-nonconforming students from discrimination.

As far as the effectiveness of “Think About It” goes, Smith believes that the required online training is useful for informing students on Title IX and increasing their awareness of related topics.  “The online training is one tool that is helping to increase awareness,” Smith said. “Over the years, the number of reported cases has increased.  We attribute this to an increased level of awareness about Title IX and university resources available to impacted students. We also offer many in-person workshops, trainings and events that add to the conversation around these important topics.”

However, sophomore Avery Repsher said that there is room for improvement for the Think About It training in order to be more effective.

“The online training is more repetitious than it is effective; most people try to pass through the training as fast as possible,” Repsher said. “I do not think that it is a good place for students to learn as it is fairly easy to multitask while completing it. I think that they need to refocus their material as most of it is focused on the most extreme cases, and not everyday cases.”

To improve effectiveness, Repsher suggests a more interactive approach would deepen students’ understanding.

“I would suggest that we should be required to take a class or go to a seminar about this,” Repsher said. “You are more likely to learn in a class setting rather than being able to complete it on the computer. If you are to continue with the online training, I feel like it would be more effective if they were more than once a year. At this rate, it just is not that effective.”

Although the online training may seem effective to the coordinators of the program, students are not satisfied with the way in which the Title IX information is facilitated to them in online training. The Title IX Office also offers many resources that students might not be aware of.

Smith explained that the Title IX office at USD offers help to students, including working with individuals to provide academic, housing, or employment accommodations. The office also provides referrals to on- and off-campus resources, such as the Counseling Center at USD and the Center for Community Solutions off campus. Public Safety also has connections with the office, and they can facilitate on-campus escorts and personal protection devices.

“We provide information to students about USD’s internal investigation process and conduct proceedings if they would like to pursue an internal investigation,” Smith said. “I believe that many students are aware of these resources and there is always opportunity to increase awareness on campus.”

Because of the multitude of resources that the Title IX Office provides to students, Smith believes that it is appropriate for the training to be mandatory for all students, not just for those involved in certain activities such as Greek life or athletics.

“We all have a responsibility to prevent and respond to sexual violence in our community,” Smith said. “While certain groups on campus may be more at risk, no one is immune from sexual violence and we all should be equipped with information to help our peers and community through prevention efforts, such as bystander intervention. Additionally, we should all be aware of how to assist students who are impacted by sexual and relationship violence.”

A more interactive course in a classroom setting could perhaps be an effective alternative to the online program. Some relatable and common examples could be placed into the online scenarios to garner students’ interest. Students are looking for a change in the way Title IX information is presented to them, and clicking through slides may not suffice in the years to come.

Victoria Zielinski | Asst. Opinion Editor | The USD Vista