To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Climate survey illustrates rape, assault and harassment experiences at Brandeis

Brandeis released the results of its second ever campus climate survey on Thursday, which described respondents’ experiences with rape, sexual assault, harassment, intervention in those situations and reporting. 

The survey asked 1,148 students—or about 22 percent of the student body—about their experiences with harassment, sexual misconduct, knowledge of how to report harassment or assault, sense of community, bystander intervention and confidence in Brandeis responding to a crisis.

“What the survey shows about sexual harassment and misconduct is disturbing and deeply troubling,” University President Ron Liebowitz wrote in an email to the Brandeis student body releasing the 237 page report. “The results remind us that preventing sexual assault and supporting survivors requires the focused work of all of us… importantly, they show how those in our community who belong to groups who have historically experienced more violence in our society are more likely to experience sexual violence, and are less likely to report it.”

The survey details that while 158 undergraduates and 21 graduate students who completed the survey had been raped, only 13 percent of undergraduates formally reported the rape and the number of graduate students who formally reported was too low for the survey to say. 

“I want people to be angry reading this report,” said Provost Lisa Lynch in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot. “This is a problem that everyone on this campus has to engage with.”

The survey was open for responses by the 5,184 Brandeis graduates and undergraduates from March 4 to March 22, 2019, according to emails announcing the survey at that time. Only about 22 percent of students invited responded—about 700 students less than the 34 percent response rate in the 2015 survey.

“It’s 1,100 students,” said Lynch. “I don’t need this to be a representative sample to know I have a problem, that’s how I look at it as a provost. But it is important for folks as they’re looking at this survey to understand that we don’t know how representative the responders to the survey are of the campus as a whole.”

To keep the survey completely anonymous, written responses and responses to questions of five students or less were left out, according to the executive summary. More women than men responded to the survey, similar to the 2015 survey. Domestic undergraduate students were also more represented in the survey than in the Brandeis community. While only 4 percent of survey respondents were international students, Brandeis has 14 percent undergraduate international students.

Climate and Harassment

The survey found that students were most likely to experience discriminatory language in social settings, and undergraduate participants saw racist, sexist or homophobic language more than graduate students.

Gender non-conforming students, transgender students and LGBTQ students were all more likely to experience or observe this type of language as compared to male and female, non-transgender and straight students respectively.

White undergraduate students were most likely to experience or witness sexist remarks about women, and Latinx students were most likely to experience or witness racist remarks. International students were least likely to experience or witness these remarks at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Students affiliated with Greek life, which included students in Greek life, who go to Greek life parties or whose best friend is in Greek life, also had higher rates of witnessing harassment behaviors than students not involved in Greek life. Varsity athletes and club sport players in most cases also had higher levels of experiencing or witnessing these behaviors. 

Athletes are some of the most trained students at Brandeis, said Sarah Berg, and might be better able to identify harassing behaviors. Berg is the director of Prevention, Advocacy and Research Center (PARC)—a group on campus which provides education and support related to sexual assault—and hopes to engage more students with bystander training on a regular basis, not just as a one time event.

Sexual misconduct (violence): some populations more likely to experience misconduct

The survey asked students about their experiences with sexual assault and rape “since becoming a student at Brandeis” rather than “at Brandeis,” which is how questions were phrased in 2015. The survey was changed because the question was meant to ask about a student’s experience in their time at Brandeis, not on the Brandeis campus, said Berg.  

More undergraduate respondents reported sexual assault. Of the total students who responded to the survey, 179 reported being sexually assaulted, and 48 students reported being raped since becoming a student at Brandeis.

Rapes occured most commonly at Brandeis campus residence halls for undergraduate students, respondents reported in the survey, and the majority of perpetrators of rape were Brandeis students. The Association of American Universities (AAU) also found that a majority of “incidents of penetration” occurred on campus housing or in residence halls, reads the campus climate survey. 

Twenty students shared the location of their off-campus rape, with 35 percent taking place in non-university housing, and another 35 percent taking place in fraternity houses. 

While sororities and fraternities are not recognized by Brandeis, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Raymond Ou hopes to work with Greek life organizations, including the Greek Awareness Council (GAC), to provide bystander training and support. Ou said that many student leaders in Greek life are interested in training their organizations’ members and wants to make sure that Greek life members know they have access to training resources even though they are not recognized by the university. 

The percentages of students who reported assault and rape were similar from 2015 to 2019. For undergraduates in the 2019 survey, 2 percent of men and 6 percent of women indicated they had been raped since becoming a student at Brandeis. In 2015, 1 percent of men and 6 percent of women reported that they had been raped. 

The AAU national survey of several colleges and universities found that 14.1 percent of women, 10.1 percent of men and 21.5 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming student undergraduate respondents experienced intimate partner violence, which includes a range of controlling behaviors from interfering with a student’s educational goals to physical attacks. Brandeis’ rates were comparable, at 14 percent of women, 13 percent of men and 32 percent of gender non-conforming students. 

The survey found that gender non-conforming students were most likely to experience harassment or rape, followed by women and then men. Transgender students were more likely than non-transgender students to experience harrassment and sexual assault, as were undergraduate and graduate LGBQ students compared to straight student respondents.

Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas spoke to The Hoot about increasing the capabilities of the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) and a training series for the entire campus, called “Doing Better at Brandeis” to address some of the disparities between student experiences with harassment, assault and rape. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and the Intercultural Center (ICC) stated that the GSC has an increased budget of about $10,000 this year along with an interim director, said Brimhall-Vargas. A search for a permanent director of the GSC will begin this spring, said Brimhall-Vargas. 

Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Sonia Jurado has trained over 2,000 students, 400 staff, 300 teaching assistants and nearly 100 faculty since June 2019 as part of the “Doing Better at Brandeis Series,” said Brimhall-Vargas and Jurado. The series, said Brimhall-Vargas, is meant to provide Brandeis community members with the language to talk about gender non-conforming students. 

Students of different races and ethnicities experienced harrassment and rape at different rates, but undergraduate and graduate black and/or Latinx students were more likely to experience assault and rape than non-black or Latinx students.

Students affiliated with Greek life were more likely to experience assault and rape than students not affiliated with Greek life. Varsity athletes and club sports members were usually less likely than those with no athletic affiliation to experience sexual misconduct, harassment or rape—although there was no data on rape for varsity athletes. 

Gender non-conforming students experienced dating or domestic violence at nearly double percentages to men and women. Transgender and LGBQ respondents also reported higher percentages of dating and domestic violence. Undergraduate students of different races experienced dating or domestic violence at similar percentages, with Latinx at the highest rate: 18 percent.

Undergraduate students experienced stalking at higher rates than graduate students, with gender non-conforming students, transgender students and LGBQ at above 20 percent rates. Undergraduate white students experienced the highest rates of stalking at 26 percent and members of Greek life and students whose best friend is in Greek life experienced stalking at over 30 percent.

Knowledge of disclosing and reporting

The likelihood of an undergraduate student informing someone of an event of sexual assault was higher for females than those who identify as male or gender non-conforming, however, only 82 percent of students told someone in 2019. The likelihood of an undergraduate telling someone of a sexual assault decreased if the student was black or Latinx. In 2015, only 55 percent of undergraduate students who experienced sexual assault told someone. 

The percentage was lower for the amount of students who formally reported an experience of sexual assault. Students who identify as women were the only ones reported to make a report at only 13 percent. There was no data provided for formally reported events by those who identify as male or gender non-conforming; the total number of reported events of sexual assault from undergraduates came from female students. There was no data provided for black or Latinx students because of the low number of students who responded. In 2015, this statistic was 3.7 percent of undergraduates.

Jurado spoke about eliminating the “lore of fear” surrounding reporting sexual assault and rape. The Office of Equal Opportunity has a new online reporting website, which allows students to anonymously file a report with OEO and receive information, resources and live chat with a member of the office while maintaining their anonymity, according to an earlier Hoot article

Graduate students experienced a similar trend in data. Seventy-seven percent of women told someone of the assault; however, there was no data provided for those who identify as male or gender non-conforming. In 2015, 30 percent of graduate students told someone of a sexual assault. For graduate students, there was not enough data to collect about the number of formal reports of sexual assault. In 2015, the statistic for formally reported sexual assaults was 9.4 percent.

Graduate student orientation was revamped after the 2015 survey, said Lynch, in a conscious effort to support graduate students in telling others or reporting sexual assault. 

The survey broke down experiences of unwanted sexual activity by race, ethnicity and international status. Undergraduate international students experienced the most unwanted sexual activity at 88 percent, followed by 82 percent for Latinx students, 67 percent for Asian students, 55 percent for black students, 78 percent for white students and 62 percent for people of two or more races. There was no data available for this breakdown for graduate students. 

When reporting a sexual assault, 79 percent of undergraduates said they knew where to go to get help, while 76 percent of graduate students said they would know where to go.

When asked if respondents knew where to go to make a formal complaint, 79 percent of undergraduate females said yes, 68 percent of undergraduate males said yes and 67 percent of undergraduates who are gender non-conforming said yes. For graduate students when asked the same question, males were the most likely to know where to go to make a formal complaint with 81 percent, 75 percent of students who are gender non-conforming knew where to go and 71 percent of women knew were to go. 

The university notes in the report there must be more transparency in its processes for making a formal complaint because 47 percent of undergraduate students and 56 percent surveyed said they would know what happens to a student who reports a sexual assault to the university. 

From the survey, 37.1 percent of student respondents felt knowledgeable about where to access helpful resources in the event of a sexual assault, and 31.5 percent were knowledgeable about how to file a report. Only 17.7 percent of student respondents felt knowledgeable about the administrative processes that occur after a report is made.

The Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) is responsible for all reporting at Brandeis, said Jurado, who hopes the centralized location will help students find where to report. The OEO is located in Swigg Hall in the Intercultural Center, though it will move buildings this summer, according to an earlier Hoot article. While the OEO’s formation was announced in 2018, Jurado did not become the first director until March 18, 2019, four days before the survey closed.

Many of the written comments on the survey which were not included in the disclosed report, said that the flyers in Brandeis bathrooms were helpful in informing students how to report an assault, said Lynch. 

University preparedness for a crisis, sense of community, bystander intervention

Only 39 percent of undergraduate student participants and 54 percent of graduate student participants agreed or strongly agreed that the university would handle a crisis at Brandeis well, according to the survey. Ten students said their safety concerns were mostly connected to the “openness” of the campus, according to the survey. The survey said that 11 students shared dissatisfaction with how crises they had experienced were handled. 

On a scale of one to five where one equals strongly disagree and five equals strongly agree, undergraduates in 2015 responded to the statement, “I belong in this campus community” reported means scores of 3.71 among women, 3.81 among men and 2.89 for gender non-conforming participants. In 2019, the mean scores changed to 3.60, 3.74 and 3.28 respectively.

In the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey, 45.1 percent of student participants who “witness[ed] a situation leading to assault” said they would intervene. In the Brandeis survey, however, 63 percent of women participants and 27 percent of men said they confronted a friend who was hooking up with someone who had passed out. This number increased from 8 percent of women participants and 12 percent of men participants in 2015. 

In considering bystander intervention, which the survey defines as “a prevention strategy that helps students recognize situations that could potentially escalate to violence and, keeping their own safety in mind, intervene to prevent it from occurring,” 49 percent of undergraduate students and 73 percent of graduate students reported assault. In nine out of 10 categories, though, undergraduates were more likely to intervene. 

Nine percent for graduate students and 40 percent for undergraduate students who had the opportunity to do so reported “confronting someone if you heard rumors that they forced someone to have sex.” 


The Support at Brandeis website consolidates links for members of the community to find resources that they may need. PARC can also be reached through the Support at Brandeis site or at 781-736-3370, 24 hours a day. 

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which oversees a variety of key departments, can connect students with resources that help them make their organizations more diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces. The Ombuds Office, which is overseen by the OEO, offers confidential support and dispute resolution for community members, according to Liebowitz’s email to the community.The Report It! Site allows students to report a variety of misconduct, including sexual assault and harassment. The university has also scheduled listening sessions on Friday, Nov. 15 at noon at the Intercultural Center and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Gender and Sexuality Center.

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