By Sean P. Mulhall – Editor-in-Chief
Every Grand Rapids Community College student recently received an email containing a mandatory Title IX training exercise that must be completed by Friday.
Former Director of Student Life and Conduct, Sara Dorer, played a major role in developing the training video and introduced it in her last week at the college.
“It’s a federal mandate that we train all of our students on sexual misconduct, sexual assault, the resources available and reporting options,” Dorer said. “There has always been a law out there, but these very specific requirements, that are more detailed than they have been, hit this year, in July … If we don’t follow those requirements … we could see some significant fines from the federal government. We could also put our federal financial aid program in jeopardy. Those are two huge things we want to avoid.”
Because GRCC is a community college, on a downtown campus, with students of all ages, it was a difficult task to find a way to reach all of the students, while at the same time try to engage people from all different walks of life.
“Community colleges are a little bit behind because we don’t have the students all in one place, ever, at one time,” Dorer said. “We have not traditionally had the kind of prevention education that you would find at a four-year institution. We had to find a solution to present that.”
After deciding on an online training module, the next hurdle was to find a way to appeal to each student and their own personal experience.
“At the very beginning it says, ‘You will notice that some of these apply to you and some don’t,’ because we know that we have a lot of non-traditional students,” Dorer said. “It really challenges the students at the beginning to, even if this specific situation doesn’t fit where they currently are in life, think about the overall message and what they can take from that. Regardless of where our students are in life, they are all experiencing relationships at work and at home, some of them are making choices about drinking or using drugs. Regardless of where they are in life, these things are still there.”
Dorer explained that the most important thing is to start the conversation and make people feel more comfortable about it. When looking at the frequency of sexual misconduct cases on college campuses, the numbers are staggering.
“The statistics right now are one in four women in the college environment have already experienced or will experience some form of sexual misconduct or sexual assault, sexual harassment of some nature,” Dorer said. “With men they are saying it’s as high as one in six to seven. The biggest problem right now is that a lot of these cases have been going unreported. Our biggest goal is to let people know this is a safe environment to report and that we have resources for them. That’s not always what’s happened.”
If a student does not complete the training by Friday there are many possibilities that could result.
“We are not tying it to enrollment this fall, because it’s new and we’re trying to figure out what our process is,” Dorer said. “Right now what were saying is, if they don’t complete it, they’re gonna get annoyed, because were gonna send them a lot of emails, to say you need to complete this. There is a possibility that we’ll put a hold on registration for winter. That is still being determined. In the future it could be that it’s attached to actually being able to start classes.”
Dorer hopes that students won’t see this training as a hassle, but instead will understand that this issue is important and needs to be talked about and dealt with.
“I hope students will care because they want for this to be a safe environment,” Dorer said. “We’re focusing on education and where you all could go and what you’re going to do in the world. If sexual assault is here, it is standing in the way of those things. It’s standing in the way of people having access to their education.”
Although she is on her way to Hope College, Dorer still seems very excited with the effort put into this cause and the dialogue created as a result.
“We haven’t had these dialogues on this campus,” Dorer said. “It’s a part of college life. Community colleges haven’t ignored it. There just hasn’t been that opportunity. This is giving us a really great opportunity to start dialogue around these really important conversations. This is an opportunity to have some awareness and dialogue that we haven’t before.”