COSSA report targets high-risk student behavior

by Roshan Dutta | 11/18/13 3:22pm

After College President Phil Hanlon’s speech about his vision for an improved campus culture on Monday, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson led a discussion focused on the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability’s final report, which was released on Friday in a campus-wide email. Faculty members had mixed reactions to the report’s findings.

COSSA’s report outlined a series of “cross-campus” recommendations to help reduce high-risk and unsafe behavior. The report addresses high-risk behavior in all facets of the undergraduate experience, with a focus on community-oriented solutions.

“We had the objective of producing recommendations that touch on a wide swath of the community, as a nod to our belief that we are facing shared problems that require shared solutions,” Johnson said.

Biology professor Rob McClung, who co-chaired the committee alongside Johnson, agreed.

“The problem is broad,” he said. “It is a problem of the community, so the solution will come from the community. It is an issue of shared values, and I think the idea now is to identify strategies that will help the community help itself in that regard.”

Alcohol and other drug education program co-coordinator Brian Bowden, who runs the BASICS program, received direct feedback from the COSSA report. He said the “shared values” that are the premise of the report are related to the College’s primary role as an institution of higher education.

“The academic mission of the college is the top priority,” Bowden said. “All departments act to support that mission. BASICS supports individual student choice in reducing high risk alcohol use. Reducing high-risk behavior supports student health and safety so that they might excel academically.”

McClung agreed, adding that students’ personal lives could affect their quality of learning and impact the educational output of the College.

“Clearly, many things happen in the lives of college students that have the potential to adversely affect their educations,” McClung said. “From the death of a grandparent — and it’s a huge range of things — to certainly a sexual assault.”

The 2013 COSSA report focused on strategies to prevent and react to sexual assault. It recommended that faculty members go through some level of training to handle students affected by sexual assault and other traumatic experiences.

In an interview on Friday, mathematics professor Alex Barnett said some members of the faculty would protest the idea of taking mandatory classes outside of their academic responsibilities.

“I think some faculty would be happy to do this training and others will resist and say that this is beyond [their] job description,” Barnett said.

McClung and Johnson said they did not notice any vocal dissent from faculty present during their discussion of the report’s recommendations. McClung added attending the training will help him grow as a teacher, by being able to better relate to his students.

“If a students comes to me troubled, of all things I don’t want to do harm in my response,” McClung said. “I relish the idea of better training so that when I deal with students in situations like this, I am can follow correct practice and know what to do to make it better, and not make it worse.”

Johnson cited the College’s size and emphasis on undergraduate education as key reasons that faculty are expected to consider their students’ educational experience from a holistic perspective.

“We pride ourselves in tending to the student experience inside and outside of the classroom, and faculty are included in that experience,” Johnson said. “It’s not just the Dean of the College or the staff, but also the faculty that plays a role in our student’s undergraduate life.”

The COSSA report also discussed high-risk alcohol consumption. Bowden said he and his team are excited to expand the implementation of the BASICS program.

When asked whether or not he believes that COSSA was an effective use of College resources, Bowden replied, “absolutely.”

Geisel School of Medicine professor Lee Witters said he sees the recommendations as a strong first step but thinks the report does not go far enough.

“There are structural and systemic issues at Dartmouth,” Witters said. “This was a good first step, but I think we need to get some help from experts. Issues that have been recurring for decades here, such as high-risk drinking, sexual assault, sexism, homophobia, and racism cannot improve without ongoing dialogue.”