September 30, 2019

Spotlight #002: An Interview with Michelle Disson, Title IX and ADA Coordinator, Florida Polytechnic University

At a small, fresh institution like Florida Polytechnic University — which opened for instruction in 2014 and has fewer than 2,000 students, faculty and staff — establishing a campus culture that upholds Title IX protections, along with other equity missions, is crucial. Michelle Disson serves as Florida Polytechnic’s Title IX and ADA Coordinator. When it comes to Title IX, Disson said she is “a party of one.”

“I do everything from initial intake at this moment, I do investigations, I do the training,” Disson said, “and I oversee the programming as well.”

With ADA compliance, Disson oversees other campus offices the Office of Disability Services, facilities and human resources to ensure the appropriate policies and procedures are followed. The intersection of Title IX and ADA compliance is centered on giving students equitable experiences.

“We want to make sure that students can continue their educational journey and have options and resources,” Disson said. “With the ADA, you want to make sure that everyone’s treated fairly and has an equal opportunity to continue their education and experience programs and activities within the university.”

Those options and resources, Disson said, present themselves through various student-life-centric offices like Florida Polytechnic’s Academic Success Center, Counseling Services and CARE Services, which handles student health and wellness along with crisis and safety concerns.

Those campus resources are supplemented with online information about Title IX and a reporting tool available on Florida Polytechnic’s website.

Florida Polytechnic provides Title IX education and training, Disson said, for students, faculty and staff. Each year, Florida Polytechnic employees complete Title IX training through Get Inclusive. New employees also receive training in their new hire orientation as well.

“For students, we are involved in orientation,” she said. “All of the new students who attend orientation get the training … They are provided, from Get Inclusive, Voices for Change. So, all students have to complete Voices for Change before they’re allowed to register for the following semester.”

In addition to the student body’s education through Voices for Change, Disson provides open sessions for faculty to learn more about Title IX obligations and programming for students on topics like healthy relationships, sex education, sexual violence prevention and intimate partner violence prevention.

With Get Inclusive, Disson said they are the only system she has implemented that receives positive feedback.

“Most people understand that, yeah, I have to do this every year, especially the employees,” Disson said. “But I typically hear, ‘This was horrible, this takes so much time, I didn’t really get anything out of it.’ With Get Inclusive, I have found more people recognizing … it got the point across, and ‘Hey, I’m remembering now I need to do this. I have this exact scenario.’”

Disson added that she appreciates the types of questions that are asked in the training modules. Evaluating answers to open-ended prompts allows her to identify what is important to students and learn more about them.

“I was very hesitant in the beginning of my time with Get Inclusive of the many open-ended questions,” she said. “I have found that has been almost invaluable when I go through them, just even [to] get a sense of what is the tone … that has been very helpful with students. I learned so much about our student population that you wouldn’t typically get from a first-year experience survey.”

Moving forward, Disson said Florida Polytechnic hits a lot of aspects in regard to Title IX compliance and education, with Get Inclusive in that mixture of resources. A goal she identified: continuing to get information out to students and remind faculty about reporting options. Progressing this outreach harkens back to the inherent values of Title IX and ADA.

“It is important to provide an equitable experience for students,” Disson said.

August 30, 2019

Voices for Change: A Critical Analysis of Get Inclusive’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Bystander Intervention Program

As a college student, I know conversations around critical issues like sexual assault, drinking and drug use, discrimination and institutional inequality happen in various settings. Some of these happen organically among students, and others are prompted through university led workshops and online trainings. Unfortunately, one important topic that doesn’t get enough discussion is bystander intervention as a method to address critical issues like sexual assault and discrimination.

Review: Voices for Change

Bystander intervention is a core theme in Get Inclusive’s new sexual violence prevention training program, Voices for Change. I recently had the opportunity to review Voices for Change to better understand its unique approach to prevention education. 

Voices for Change focuses on four main topics: Identities and Inclusion, Consent and Sexual Violence (Title IX and Campus SaVE), Alcohol and Other Drugs and Hazing and Intimidation. What I appreciated off the bat was the tenets of identities and inclusion were presented at the beginning and in a straightforward manner. Because our social identities (real or perceived) can affect how we respond as a bystander to events later discussed in the program, starting with discussions on identity is smart, as students can apply those thoughts to the other three main topics as they go through Voices for Change.

In the program’s videos, four different narrators who seem to be in their 20’s lead the discussions and information given about these topics and how bystander intervention can play a positive role in problematic events. The aspect of having peer narrators is important; college students are going to listen better to people that are similar to them. And their dialogue hits the nail on the head — the narrators don’t sound overly scripted. As they relay important information and concepts to the viewer, they’re also real about it. The narrators speak to each other and talk about the nuances of an issue in a believable way. One woman confesses that she said something racist in the past, but realized later that her statement was harmful. There’s a sweet spot between a straight-laced lecture and overly conversational dialogue that almost satirizes how young people converse, and Get Inclusive’s narrators fit in that sweet spot.

The examples of real-life, impactful events related to each topic are good and well-constructed. The dialogue from the bystanders in each incident sounds real and captures what someone’s thought process might look like as they witness microaggressions, hazing or gradual alcohol abuse. They have doubts. They have reservations. They realize the nuances of a situation without ever denying that something harmful was happening. This is how real students think and feel and reflect; these vignettes, I believe, are effective at engaging the viewer in a story that sounds true-to-life.

Beyond Listening 

Voices for Change’s education on these topics goes beyond listening to definitions and conversations. The program also supplies statistics about sexual assault, hazing and drug abuse. The information provided is not framed in a scare-tactic manner, but it does reveal the hard facts about these sensitive topics. For example, in the consent and sexual violence portion of the program, the participant is met with the shocking commonality of sexual violence: 1 in 5 college women will be assaulted, as will 1 in 4 trans/gender non-binary folks and 1 in 13 men. It also lists the statistics of how often sexual violence is reported and what keeps survivors from seeking help and justice.

Combining the approaches of statistical information and nuanced, real dialogue presents students with a compound consideration of each topic. If they’re doubtful about the alcohol abuse vignette, for example, perhaps the information about how binge drinking and alcohol abuse is defined will give them the perspective they need to understand the problem.

Voices for Change doesn’t beat around the bush, and from a college student’s perspective, I appreciate that. We don’t need analogies to talk about these topics; these issues affect our lives and bodies, so we need to talk about how they can affect our lives and bodies. This program understands that its audience frankly wants mature, informed discussion of these topics. Dialogue catered to an emerging adult audience that does not talk down to them is, honestly, hard to find. Voices for Change recognizes the reality that college students are adults, just less experienced and aware generally than college graduates.

Self-Reflection

Lastly, the portions of Voices for Change that ask for the participant to interact with questions and trivia are centered around reflection. The most common interactive activity is a form of journaling — the program asks the participant to type their responses to questions in a text field. This ties into an overarching theme of the program: imagination. Imagining potential scenarios and reflecting on the information given can be an important learning tool, and it is at least more memorable than clicking on bubbles to answer a multiple choice quiz. Voices for Change prioritizes individual responses and reflections, something that reflects pedagogy that students will run into in at least one class, if not multiple times over their college career.

By providing relatable narrators, realistic dialogue, pertinent facts and reflection-based learning methods, the creators behind Voices for Change have grasped what works for college students. Nuanced conversations and the frank and mature presentation of problematic topics mirror what kinds of dialogues students will have in real life with friends, resident assistants, club members, teammates and professors.

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