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Arts and Sciences Faculty Address on Student Life

November 18th, 2013 - Remarks as delivered

Good afternoon. And thanks again, everyone, for coming here for this very important discussion of student life on campus.

Certainly one of the most complex, important challenges facing every institution of higher education is to create a campus environment that encourages students to develop the skills needed for success in the world by learning not only from great faculty, but growing through their experiences with one another and with the world.

This requires a campus that is, on the one hand, welcoming, inclusive and safe, but on the other hand offers students the freedom and opportunity to create their own social structures, communities and activities. So that balance is a tall order ... one that demands creativity, thought and ownership by the entire community.

It is not a job for the faculty or the administration alone – it is one that requires partnership between students, faculty, staff, administration, alumni, and parents.

You've heard me state before that I believe Dartmouth offers the finest undergraduate education in the nation – and with every conversation that I have with a student and faculty member, I believe this all the more. And I have made clear my commitment that we should remain best-in-class in our educational mission.

Towards that end, in my recent remarks to the General Faculty, you heard me envision a future in which student life is characterized by efforts to make a difference in the world, working with peers and faculty on artistic and creative works, academic research and taking ideas into action through social ventures and business start-ups.

In order to do that, we have to ensure the out-of-class experience is every bit as engaging and rewarding – every bit as empowering – as the in-class experience.

My plan is to talk about that aim for about 30 minutes or so. I'm going to give you my thoughts on opportunities we have to make student life more intellectually engaging, build stronger community and create a greater variety of social options for our students. I'll turn then to critical safety issues: high-risk drinking and sexual assault and violence. I'm going to talk about what we're doing, where we're making progress, and how we can do better.

To conclude, I'm going to suggest some ways that you and I can be more engaged as faculty members – positive actions we can take to make an impact well beyond our classrooms.

At that point we're going to hear from Dean Charlotte Johnson and Professor Rob McClung from the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability about the committee's recommendations moving forward.

And then we'll open the floor for questions, to hear from all of you, to hear your thoughts and get your input.

In many conversations with students, faculty, staff and alumni over the past six months, and there have been hundreds and hundreds, I've posed the question: "If you could do one thing to improve student life at Dartmouth, what would that be?"

Without doubt the most common answer I've gotten is to create a greater diversity of social options – options to build community, generate a circle of friends or just hang out. Some people expressed this as a concern – that Greek life is too dominant on campus. But I heard just as often from the staunchest supporters of the Greek system that the campus would benefit from a richer variety of social options. So let's begin with this challenge – let's talk about how can we create a more robust marketplace of social opportunities for our students?

Of course, one thing we can do is sponsor events in our own college facilities. Already, the Dean of the College staff have been partnering with students to expand college-sponsored events and opportunities.

Collis After Dark is one example – late night programming of concerts, comedy, food, as well as numerous other events throughout the year.

About 3,000 students have attended late night events at Collis After Dark this term ... and this has prompted other organizations to start programming later in the evening, creating positive social opportunities on campus late into the night.

And we are committed to doing more in this area. This fall's outdoor concert was a highly successful experiment and the Collis Center is making additional grant monies available to students who want to design and host events at the student center. So we will continue to look for ways, using our own college facilities.

Investment in college-sponsored events is a good idea, but at the end of the day, it's student organizations that provide much of the social structure for students on this campus. Greek houses and affinity houses are examples, and they are strong sources of community. But of course other kinds of organizations also provide students the opportunity to build friendships and community – sports teams for example, or student-led organizations like the Outing Club, the Rude Mechanicals and the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network. There are hundreds and hundreds of others.

Student organizations provide a positive instance of experiential learning, with learning outcomes that can include independence, confidence, and leadership.

Student organizations enrich our campus community in many ways, and many seek to make a meaningful impact on the region or the world.

My goal for every student organization, from the Outing Club to Greek houses, is that they contribute in as positive a way as possible towards student learning and campus community.

Of course, we must set and enforce limits on behavior, but I am driven by an affirmative philosophy towards student organizations – our job is to support them to be the best they can possibly be.

In that spirit, a second tactic we can take here, we should be intentional and strategic in building support for those student organizations that advance community-building amongst students, as well as intellectual engagement outside the classroom.

Let me give you one example, so you have something in your minds about what I'm talking about. We know that creativity, innovation and the artsare topics around which many student organizations are centered. In response to that interest, imagine that we develop an arts and innovation district centered around the Hood, Hop, Black Family Center, and the new student entrepreneurial center at 4 Currier Place.

Already this sector of campus is active. But suppose we take it to the next level through deliberate investment of program support, inviting new spaces and yes – richer venues for food and drink. Suppose we make this a compelling destination on campus – a vibrant hub of creative activity and interaction that pulls in thousands of students late into the night.

In this vision, spaces matter. The Black Center is already a magnificent anchor. The entrepreneurial center, currently being designed by a team of students, imagines much the same – a welcoming place for students with a shared interest in social and business entrepreneurship. And the Hood and Hop are imagining future forms that would create student-friendly spaces to engage the arts, perform, build, create and socialize.

My point is that we can be deliberate and intentional in how we support the growth of student organizations.

The Arts and Innovation District is but one possibility. Going forward, I would like to stimulate our campus – students, faculty and staff – to generate ideas on how we might, through intentional investment and focus, create the infrastructure and direct investment in student organizations that contribute positively to the marketplace of social opportunities for our students. So that's a second possible tactic.

Compared to some of our peers, to several of our peers, what's really missing from the social mix on our campus are strong residence-hall based options as a source of ongoing community and identity. East Wheelock is one example, of course.

But still, in my conversations with students, I have been struck by the number who have told me what strong friendships they built with their freshmen floor-mates. And how they failed to create or maintain tight relationships with their upper class dorm-mates or floor-mates.

I see great opportunity to build sustained community within our residence halls. What are our tools for doing this? Certainly programming is one tool.

We can create theme-based residences, centered around academic pursuits and societal interests – entrepreneurship, STEM and undergraduate research, the performing and visual arts, creativity and design, global scholarship, writing – these can pull students with like-minded interests and attract direct faculty involvement. In addition to faculty involvement, Jon Kull is working with the Dean of the College team to think creatively about how graduate students can be incorporated into undergraduate housing.

As was recently announced by Mike Wooten, our Director of Residential Education, his team will be starting up two or three pilot programs next fall.

That is a possibility, but fundamental challenge to building community in our residence halls is continuity – in our current practice, students do not have the option to return to their current residence halls after a leave term. So, why can't they? And the reason we can't afford that luxury right now, is there is no slack in our housing during the fall and spring terms. Without that slack in housing, we can't assure there is room in individual residence halls to accommodate everyone who might want the right to return.

I am persuaded that Dartmouth would benefit from a more balanced enrollment over the four terms so that we can, amongst other things, allow students greater opportunity to remain in a particular residence hall from term to term – to build identity with the residence hall and a circle of friends in that community.

To give you some idea, right now, there are about 4,000 students on campus. We are maxed out in our housing. There are nearly 4,000 in a typical spring term; there are about 2,800 in the winter, and about 1,100 in the summer. It's highly unbalanced. Just imagine if we could create greater balance. We could create slack in our residence halls and allow the right for students to return to build identity as a North Mass person with my circle of friends and community in North Mass.

It is worth noting that The D endorsed this idea already in an editorial on October 18th. And I have launched a small study group consisting of faculty, students and staff to advise me on how we might take full advantage of the D-plan, including options that would arise should we more evenly enroll over the four terms.

So, that's the first set of topics I wanted to talk about: building a more robust marketplace of social options is a key strategy we should follow and I have highlighted three approaches to this: continued investment in college sponsored events; building infrastructure and programming support for growth of student organizations; and creating greater community within our residence halls.

I'm going to switch gears now and talk about a different topic and different set of opportunities – and that's how we can build a more welcoming, inclusive campus community.

You heard me speak, in my Inauguration Address, about the fundamental importance of community to our institution. It is, in fact, the essence of the Dartmouth experience. So this is an area where we must excel.

People very often ask me what has changed the most since I was a student at Dartmouth. Without a doubt, it is the diversity of the student body. It's a wonderful thing, and this transition to a more diverse student body, though not complete, brings us great strength as an institution.

But greater diversity only heightens the imperative that we create a more seamless, more supportive and more welcoming environment of inclusivity on our campus.

We do this in many ways already – importantly through the work you do: through your teaching and our curriculum. Also at the forefront of this effort is the Office of Pluralism and Leadership – OPAL – and they're doing great work supporting individual students and the communities within Dartmouth. The affinity houses, as well, play a key role in this effort.

But like all communities, we have much room for improvement. So we are moving on new fronts this year.

In September, the Trustees approved construction of a new affinity house, the Triangle House, that will support the LGBTQIA community.

And the Dean of the College has launched the InterGroup Dialogue pilot program this year. For those who are not familiar with this, InterGroup Dialogue is a well-established method that brings together students in face-to-face facilitated discussions on difficult issues: issues of social identity. They encourage exploration of identity, diversity, and inequity, while building skills for social responsibility and action.

Currently, on this campus, dialogues are exploring race, sexuality, and socioeconomic class, and the response of the initial students has been very positive, with 90-percent of respondents saying they would recommend IGD, InterGroup Dialogues, to their peers.

Intergroup Dialogue is a strategy, proven to work through rigorous research. That research, much of it done at the University of Michigan, shows students come away from an IGD experience with a greater commitment to social responsibility, reduced stereotyping, more complex thinking, better communication and conflict resolution skills.

And next year, the Institute of Writing and Rhetoric will incorporate IGD experiences in their for-credit course, "Rhetorics of Race."

And you can help. As the IGD program expands to larger student populations, I'd ask that you become personally interested in its success by nominating students to participate in an InterGroup Dialogue – or even consider becoming a facilitator yourself.

I think IGD may have even originated at the University of Michigan. It was certainly an active program there, and research shows that it has had a very profound impact.

Now let me turn now to challenges, and talk about some of the student safety issues that our campus, like all others, confronts. Two of the most pressing are high-risk drinking, and sexual assault and violence.

Let's admit that these problems are humbling. They favor no campus or region – they bedevil virtually every college and university in the nation, as well as communities across the land. They're persistent, having continued unabated for decades despite many thoughtful and creative attempts at solution. They are truly amongst the most urgent and complex challenges that our nation faces.

But saying that should not diminish our interest in taking them on.

Indeed, that's exactly what great colleges and universities do – they take on the world's most important and vexing issues.

And in doing so, as members of the academy, there are certain things we value. We demand rigorous research and evidence-based practices, and we value practice – the insight and wisdom of those who have been in the trenches working on the problems, employing strategies that both fail and succeed, and then using these real-world results to inform their research.

With that as a backdrop, let's talk about high-risk drinking – a problem that touches an estimated 4-out-of-10 college students nationwide. At Dartmouth, this is an area where we've been particularly active looking for collaboration and evidence-based approaches.

One of the most promising approaches we are employing is the BASICS program – BASICS is short for: "Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students." This is not our program. The program was developed in the late-90s at the University of Washington, and it's based around motivational interviewing and the concept that no student wants to have an alcohol problem.

BASICS consists of having a student do a 20-minute online assessment of their alcohol use, followed by a one-on-one coaching session. Then there are follow-up sessions at 3, 6, and 12 months to see how they're doing. Rigorous research, conducted at multiple institutions, has demonstrated the effectiveness of BASICS training. That was one of the things that brought it to our attention and made us want to implement it here.

Dartmouth initially started BASICS in 2011, reaching out to students who had been cited for drinking violations.

As of December 2012, results at Dartmouth have mirrored those found in national studies. Within 90 days of that first counseling session, students had significantly reduced their alcohol consumption.

The average number of drinks during their heaviest drinking episodes went from 8 before BASICS, down to 4, three-months later. The average number of drinks per week went from 8 down to 5 – and the average number of drinks per occasion dropped from 4 to 2. So we've grown the program now, well beyond students who have alcohol issues.

Under Harry Sheehy's leadership, the Athletics Department has been an important partner in this effort. Through their Peak Performance program, they have initiated BASICS training for all student athletes before any alcohol issues have ever occurred. Undergraduate Advisors are also going through BASICS this year because they play an important role in referring our students. To date, and the program has grown from there – to-date approximately 1,300 sessions have been held on our campus. Our objective is to expand BASICS training more broadly even than that.

Beyond BASICS, other things have been done. We have sharpened our focus on first-year students. In terms of high-risk drinking, we know that they are a particularly vulnerable population – historically, about half of the medical transports for alcohol have been first-year students.

We have worked with them on social norming – helping them learn more about the social scene at Dartmouth before they land in it. To do so, we have reformed the training we provide incoming students. Through an online program prior to their arrival on campus, they're given information, actual facts, to correct misperceptions about how much their peers will be drinking when they get to Dartmouth.

Many come with misperceptions about how much their upper class peers are drinking – it's the college keg-party mythos – but these are smart kids, and once they see the actual data, we know that they recalibrate their own sense of what's acceptable.

The Greek Leadership Council and the Inter-Fraternity Council have been important partners in this effort. I commend them, as well, for their experiment this year to keep freshmen out of fraternities through Homecoming weekend.

As I mentioned, Dartmouth has enhanced late night social options through things like Collis After Dark.

And members of the Green Team – these are students who monitor events where alcohol is served at the request of the party's host – the Green Team has also been another tactic that's been successful in intervening in high-risk drinking situations.

So those are some tactics we've employed, but what you want to know is, what's the effect?

In 2011, Dartmouth made a commitment to reduce the number of medical encounters for high blood alcohol content – BAC above .25, a potentially harmful level of intoxication.

Two years since, we've seen dramatic progress, actually. The number of such encounters went from 80 in 2011, to 61 in 2012, to 31 in 2013.

How about this year to date? How are we doing this year? If you look at medical encounters for excessive BAC in the months of September and October, those numbers have gone from 29 in fall of 2010, to 18 in fall of 2011, to 18 in fall of 2012 to just 5 this fall, the fall of 2013! That is definite remarkable progress.

And I want to note, in case you're wondering: the rate of Good Sam calls has remained stable during that time. So, it's not that students are, all of a sudden, reluctant to call for peers who they think need help. Those calls have remained at the same levels. But the actual incidents of dangerous blood alcohol content levels are down, indicating that students are more controlled in their drinking.

So on this – on high-risk drinking – I believe that our efforts are showing progress. We are appealing to students; we're appealing to their decision-making, their intellects. We're giving them the tools to evaluate their own drinking, and in turn, they're choosing to drink more responsibly. And the numbers are bearing this out. We can't take our foot off the accelerator. We have to continue this. We have to keep at it. I'm not here to declare victory or anything like that. But I am here to say that we are trying a lot of things and they're having an effect. So that's good news.

Let's turn now to sexual assault and violence, which is a national tragedy, as you know, afflicting an estimated one-in-four women nationwide. We know that it's a widely under-reported crime – national data shows that only one-in-ten rapes are reported. And we know that this is a complex and persistent problem. Despite many efforts within many communities across this country over a period of years, frequency of sexual assault has been undiminished for the past 40 years.

Do we have work to do at Dartmouth? On that, let us be completely clear. To have even one sexual assault on campus is one too many. So yes – we need to be unified as a community in taking responsibility for this issue and making it clear that sexual assault will not be tolerated on this campus.

Important efforts are underway already. And I am energized by the idea that Dartmouth can be a leader – can actually model practices that make a difference in preventing sexual assault on residential campuses.

Let me begin on the prevention side, talking about the work we're doing with a nationally-recognized expert in the area of sexual violence, Dr. Jennifer Messina, a clinical psychologist and Director of Training and Development at the organization GreenDot.

I first heard about Jen when I was back at Michigan, because I used to meet from time to time with the Director of Michigan's Sexual Assault Prevention program Holly Rider-Milkovitz. And in one of those meetings, Holly told me that if I really wanted the nation's expert on sexual assault prevention on college campuses, I should talk to Jen Messina at GreenDot.

So I cold-called Jen and introduced myself. In talking with her, I found out that she was actually already involved at Dartmouth – helping us develop the DBI program.

Jen has worked with a number of universities, non-profits, major corporations, the military and others. She is a passionate believer in research-based approaches. She will tell you that many kinds of common-sense approaches to prevention – like raising awareness – have been shown through research to have virtually no effect.

Jen is helping us think through programs and initiatives that will lead to broad-based community mobilization against sexual assault and violence, a method that has been shown to have a positive effect. One approach that we've been implementing, at her advice, is bystander intervention training. The idea is to train a critical mass of members of your community on how to intervene as bystanders – in other words, how to identify when a social encounter is likely to lead to an assault and then equip the bystander with tools and methods to intervene. Jen helped us craft the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, or DBI, based on that approach.

Training began this past summer, and the initiative has been embraced by the Athletics Department, the Greek Leadership Council, and the Student Assembly – so far, more than 600 leaders, within Greek houses, athletes (including the football and rugby teams) and more upper-class students have participated, so about 600 students have gone through bystander training, with more than 150 students completing the more advanced six-hour leadership training program.

And the feedback from the training is extremely positive – so far 99-percent of participants in the program report that they would recommend bystander training to a friend.

And this is key, because participation across all the various sub-communities on campus is essential to have a truly effective investment in getting in front of instances of sexual assault. The hope is to see about 800 students receive further bystander training by next summer.

Beyond prevention, we've also been active on improving mechanisms to report sexual assault, support for survivors, and enforcement/accountability processes.

We've expanded the staff dedicated to preventing sexual violence and supporting students who experience it.

The Sexual Assault Awareness Program is in the process of hiring a Survivor Advocate who will provide direct support to survivors – they are currently interviewing finalists; we've dedicated a Special Investigator position within S&S to address sexual assault complaints.

And Charlotte and her team are working on improvements to the College judicial system that will create a more specialized process with a more highly trained judicial panel to hear these highly complex cases involving sexual assault. We continue to seek out the best ways to organize and staff our system of prevention and response to be most effective.

We've had help from many corners. I want to commend the work of the COSSA group, which we're going to hear their report momentarily. But also the Greek Leadership Council, which put in place a policy on sexual misconduct, and the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault for their thoughtful and broad-based recommendations to campus, as well as their continued work in this area. Because that is the approach that we need to take. We need to take broad-based community mobilization.

Jen Messina met with the Board of Trustees of Dartmouth in September for three hours. She told them that Dartmouth is doing as much or more to combat sexual assault than any other elite college or university.

And our efforts have been noticed by others. Recognizing our leadership position, David Lisak – another leader in the study of sexual assault on college campuses – has asked us to co-host a conference with him on strategies for the future.

Being a leader is great, but making real tangible progress is what it is all about.

And we've begun the programs, we've put them in place. And I am optimistic – we have a campus, I believe, that's galvanized around this issue, we are tapping the nation's best experts to help design our approaches and we have an amazingly dedicated set of student leaders, including leaders of the Greek community, staff and faculty who are focused on this.

And I would caution, over the next couple of years, that if we are truly effective in our efforts going forward, we may well see reported numbers go up before they fall, as reporting becomes more accurate and survivors feel, hopefully, freer and more encouraged to reach-out. It's something worth remembering – because what it's telling us is that we need to be patient with our efforts even if the numbers appear initially to be increasing.

My commitment is to keep our efforts sustained, to keep this issue front-and-center, because the cost of failure is simply way too high.

Let me pause again.

I've spoken now about my interest in creating a greater variety of social options for our students and some strategies we might follow. I've spoken about ongoing and new efforts to improve climate and inclusivity. And I've spoken about the efforts we are making to work on student safety issues – ones that seem to be having a positive effect in dealing with high-risk drinking and ones that show promise in the area of sexual assault and violence.

Let me conclude by talking about some ways that we as faculty can be better engaged.

Nominate students for the InterGroup Dialogues and consider becoming a facilitator yourself.

Second: encourage students to engage in the full Bystander training – the full DBI.

We've discovered that nominations from a respected faculty member actually increase the student's willingness to participate in the longer six-hour DBI leadership training.

Charlotte's team is working to develop training for faculty and staff on how to be a first responder to a sexual assault – in other words, how to advise a student, a survivor how to direct them when you are the first person they confide in. Consider volunteering for that training.

Become more involved in student organizations – particularly those that provide experiential learning for students in an area of your scholarly interest and expertise. Help develop programming for the new theme-based residence halls as we begin to put those online.

And help us with the instructional implications of bringing greater balance to enrollments – this will require some re-thinking of the timing of when we're offering courses and you can help with that.

But most importantly, we need your support – support the efforts we're making and the approaches we're taking.

In all your interactions with students, make it clear that you care about safety and inclusion, that this is a campus that will not tolerate sexual assault, that you expect them to make responsible choices about life on this campus. Improving student life is a difficult, complex undertaking and we sure need to be all rowing in the same direction if we're going to be making progress.

From my perspective, today is an important starting-point – a chance to begin discussions with all of you, the faculty.

So thank you for listening. I'm now going to turn it over to Charlotte and Rob. And then, we're going to be back after they report out to take questions and comments.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 11/20/13