Home » Sections » News » Numbers all ‘too high’ in results of other schools’ climate surveys

Numbers all ‘too high’ in results of other schools’ climate surveys

By Elianna Spitzer

Section: News

November 6, 2015

Brandeis released the results of its “Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Violence” on Oct. 8, 2015. It is one of many schools around the country to release the results of a survey on sexual misconduct.

The initiative to conduct Campus Climate Surveys was put forth by the Obama Administration. In January of 2014 they launched the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which produced its first report in April of 2014. This report encompassed ways in which schools across America could improve their handling of sexual assault cases. It included assessment, prevention and response.

Universities began implementing various versions of the White House’s climate survey in April of 2015. When it surveyed its students in April, Brandeis reported a response rate of 34.3 percent. This percentage was similar to that of other schools in the Boston area. According to a fact sheet released by Brandeis, “the Association of American Universities (AAU) reported that their survey response rate was 19.3 percent; Harvard’s was 53 percent; MIT’s was 35 percent; Boston University’s was 22 percent; and Tufts University’s was 28.7 percent.” Though the response rates were somewhat similar, the surveys themselves were inherently different.

This semester, the AAU and universities across the country released the results of their surveys. Schools chose to display their results in different ways. Wellesley College, for example, displayed its survey results in three pages, while Harvard University’s climate survey spanned 253 pages. Wellesley asked broad questions such as whether their students had experienced sexual assault and presented the results in colorful graphs. Fourteen percent of students at Wellesley answered that they had in fact experienced sexual assault.

One survey similar to Brandeis’ is MIT’s climate survey. Both surveys featured a section on students’ experiences on campus, both inside and outside classrooms. In an email to The Hoot, Sheila McMahon, the sexual assault services and prevention specialist at Brandeis, wrote, “We asked questions about ‘sense of community’ among our students and about perceptions of gender issues that we believe important to understand.” Additionally, she said, “MIT, which also conducted its own survey, included similar lines of questions.”

Both surveys asked students if someone had “made sexist remarks or jokes about women in your presence” or if someone had “told you about their sexual experiences when you did not want to hear them.”

Both MIT and Brandeis used explicit language when referring to sexual misconduct or assault. MIT asked its students if they had experienced sexual assault, but further narrowed the question into sections: sexual touching or kissing, attempted oral sex, oral sex, attempted sexual penetration and sexual penetration. According to MIT’s results, “Overall, eight percent indicated being either sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and/or raped.” Brandeis used parentheses in its questions to define terms such as rape and sexual assault. Both sets of survey results used a mixture of graphs and text.

Brandeis’ results were broken into two categories: sexual assault and rape. In a release of the report, Interim President Lisa M. Lynch wrote, “22 percent of women, five percent of men and 35 percent of students who identify as trans* or other indicated they had been sexually assaulted, including inappropriate sexual touching, fondling, grabbing and groping.” She added, “Of undergraduate respondents, six percent of women and one percent of men said they had been raped (non-consensual penetration). Overall, 1.3 percent of graduate student respondents indicated they had been sexually assaulted or raped.”

Harvard’s survey also chose to break terms such as sexual assault into categories. It first asked if students had experienced penetration, then whether it had been by physical force, incapacitation or both. Harvard also asked whether the act had been “completed” or “attempted.” Harvard’s results were presented in block format, dominated by text and tables. They showed that “4.2 percent of all students who responded to the survey reported that they had experienced some form of ‘nonconsensual sexual contact’ during the past year.”

Harvard chose to highlight a particular statistic, stating that “By senior year, 29.2 percent of female undergraduates reported experiencing non-consensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation.”

Harvard used a survey developed by the UAA. The AAU implemented a version of the task force’s survey at 27 universities in April of 2015. According to their results, “Overall, 11.7 percent of students across the 27 universities reported experiencing non-consensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation since enrolling at the [institution of higher education].”

According to McMahon, any comparison of results between universities or with an average is difficult. In an email to The Hoot she wrote, “With different universities using different survey instruments, it is impossible to exact comparisons. That said, the numbers are all in the same ballpark, and they are all too high … any number of sexual assaults on campus is too many.”

Members of the Brandeis community are looking for ways to better address the results. Lynch, in an email to the Brandeis community, wrote, “As painful as these data are, we are not afraid of the self-examination and action they demand.”

In response to the results, McMahon wrote to The Hoot, “We are committed to redoubling our efforts to improve our education programs and make information more understandable and accessible.” She added that Brandeis would put more effort into outreach programs for the undergraduate trans* and other communities, as well as for graduate students.

Menu Title