Administrators hold listening sessions following release of Campus Climate Survey

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November 22, 2019

Coordinators for Brandeis’ various inclusion and equity organizations held listening sessions on Friday, Nov. 15 and Sunday, Nov. 17 to answer questions and hear concerns from students following the release of the Campus Climate Survey on Thursday, Nov. 14. Although the events were meant for the entire student body, no students on Friday were there for the sole purpose of voicing their concerns. Instead, the only students who attended that event were a peer advocate from Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC) and a reporter from the Brandeis Hoot. 

There was higher attendance on Sunday, with seven students, including a reporter from The Hoot, a reporter from the Justice and a representative from PARC. Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas, one of the leaders of these sessions, cited the length of the report and a lack of time between the release of the results and the event for the low attendance on Friday.

The survey was created to better understand the climate of sexual misconduct and violence committed by and against Brandeis students. The survey took 20 to 30 minutes to finish and was released to the Brandeis population through email on March 5, 2019. The results showed that LGBTQ people, other marginalized populations, those involved in Greek life and varsity athletes are groups that are more affected than the larger population. “These issues impact our community in inequitable ways,” Brimhall-Vargas said about the survey’s results concerning student demographics.

Brimhall-Vargas highlighted the fact that the statistics on varsity athletes have improved and attributed this to the extensive training athletes go through, especially following the termination of Coach Meehan in 2018. Brimhall-Vargas said that Vice Provost of Student Affairs Raymond Ou “is thinking about how to engage Greek life more to make sure they receive the kind of training and support that would be needed to improve the kind of results that we’ve seen here.”

A student said during the listening session on Sunday that she was concerned with the lack of data provided about the sexual violence facing disabled students. “I’m appalled,” they said about the study’s failure to assess the trends in sexual violence among students with disabilities. “To not see [statistics] even reported is upsetting to me.”

Eighty-three percent of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives, according to Disability Justice, whereas in general, 33 percent of women will experience some form of contact with sexual violence in their life, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 

Brimhall-Vargas said that he wasn’t sure why that measure was not included and that he will look into it.

A student on Sunday asked why the word “trans” was put in quotes in the report whereas the words “men” and “women,” were not. Brimhall-Vargas said that he wasn’t sure but he speculated that it was because several different categories in the report are “rolled into” trans.

Brimhall-Vargas also highlighted the responses of LGBTQ students. “The GSC [Gender and Sexuality Center] is going to have more staffing, and that’s a result of a need that we have been aware of for some time… We’re trying to be proactive about meeting the needs of students in particular that are telling us that they experience and observe things at a higher rate than other students.”

According to Brimhall-Vargas, a lot has changed since the first campus climate survey in 2015, especially since the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) did not exist at that time. There have also been changes in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) infrastructure to support people of color and LGBTQ people. Brimhall-Vargas said that these changes show that Brandeis is working to address the problem.

Director of the Intercultural Center Madeline Lopez said that a lot of the credit for the university’s improvement goes to PARC and the support they give to the community. Because of PARC, Lopez said, “the word is out about who to turn to.” Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Sonia Jurado attributed bystander awareness and training efforts to PARC as well.

Brimhall-Vargas admitted that there was a selection bias in the report, since a relatively low percentage of students took the survey—22 percent of the total student population—which is not a large enough sample size “to generalize to the larger Brandeis population.” However, as there is no way to know what that bias is, the results still tell “a clear story about student experience,” said Brimhall-Vargas. He added that regardless of who or how many students have experienced sexual misconduct, harassment or rape on campus, “we do know that members of our community have said ‘this happened,’ and we have to take that seriously.”

Brimhall-Vargas also proposed the possibility of extending invitations to clubs or organizations to have private meetings to discuss the climate survey and give them a brief update, since he had previously mentioned the length of the report as a barrier to student awareness. He said this might make it easier for students to engage with the survey and with the ODEI. 

“We are a part of the larger society,” Brimhall-Vargas said. “We are not immune by virtue of the fact that we are at a university and we hold certain values.” According to Brimhall-Vargas, although Brandeis’ values may not make it invulnerable to influence from the larger society, they do ensure that the university will attempt to provide the resources and support necessary for students to handle these issues. 

Jurado said that they are constantly trying to find the best way to inform the community about available resources in the most effective way possible. She said that they don’t want to bombard students with information, but they want to make sure that they know where to go to address their needs. Brimhall-Vargas said that the flyers on bathroom stalls have proven to be very effective.

Brimhall-Vargas gave credit to the team of Brandeis faculty and students that have improved the campus climate in the years since the last survey. Lopez added that even though students did not attend this meeting, anyone is welcome to come to the ODEI, the Intercultural Center, the OEO or PARC—which is a 24/7 resource—to discuss the report.

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