By Dan Fotoples, J.D., M.A., Director of Content Development, TNG Consulting
Following significant enrollment declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions are renewing their focus on student retention. One common obstacle stems from students’ lack of awareness of support resources. In the past, institutions introduced and reinforced campus resources during orientation and other required programming. Now, with increasing participation and learning via remote modes, students may have fewer shared experiences than they had in the past, equating to fewer opportunities for institutions to impart critical information. Thus, the question facing many institutions is: how can institutions share crucial information about safety and support resources in a way that will cause more students to take advantage of them, thereby increasing their chances of retention?
All students have the shared experience of receiving a syllabus in each course. A course syllabus communicates much more than assignments and assessments; it also provides insight into faculty communication styles, their pet peeves, and their ability to support the student experience. Faculty members who include statements about safety and support resources such as the institution’s Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) and Title IX office can be an integral component of an institution-wide messaging strategy around student success and wellbeing.
How can institutions balance communicating consistent and correct information to students while accounting for different levels of Title IX and BIT awareness among the faculty?
Many institutions answered this question by developing sample/templated Title IX and BIT syllabus statements for faculty use. Generally, an institution develops a comprehensive statement and requests or requires faculty to copy and paste the statement into their syllabi. Most institutions already require similar statements related to disability accommodations, so faculty are familiar with the practice.
Although the exact structure and format varies from institution to institution, Title IX syllabus statements usually begin with the institution’s commitment to creating safe learning environments and include references to the faculty’s responsibility to report, the appropriate policy, any confidential reporting information, and the Title IX office’s contact information.
BIT syllabus statements typically raise awareness of the BIT and its mission, cultivate a culture of reporting, and conclude with instructions for accessing the reporting form or contacting the BIT.
In addition to their ability to provide information about BITs and Title IX services, faculty also represent a significant reporting/referral source for Title IX offices and BITs, given their frequent interactions with students during an academic term. First, faculty see students at regular intervals over the course of several weeks. They may be perfectly positioned to notice changes in student attendance, appearance, effort, and demeanor, which could signal a concern. Second, academic performance is often one of the first things to change when a student experiences harm or other personal challenges. Often, students will ask faculty members for academic adjustments to attempt to make up for missed assignments and may indicate that they are experiencing personal challenges. Further, faculty members often develop relationships with students through advising appointments, office hours, a series of courses, or co-curricular organizations, especially if the student’s interests or major align with the faculty’s expertise. Coursework also occasionally yields content or discussion that intersects with Title IX or BIT-related topics. Finally, faculty may be the only contact a student has with the institution, especially if the student commutes or is in an online-only program.
Many campuses have already harnessed faculty’s front-line knowledge with academic Early Alert systems. If such a system is already in place on your campus, encouraging BIT and Title IX reporting may only be an incremental step beyond Early Alert obligations. That said, Early Alert systems often rely on passive detection, whereas the syllabus statement approach more actively empowers faculty to build student understanding and access to campus support systems and resources.
Including a syllabus statement provides faculty members with an opportunity to review the statement during “Syllabus Day,” ensuring consistency in practice and content across the institution and providing a simple and measurable expectation for faculty. This simple strategy raises awareness of two critical resources and reduces barriers to access for students.
Click here to view ATIXA’s Model Title IX Syllabus Statement.
Click here to view NABITA’s Model BIT/Care Team Syllabus Statement.