The campus climate subcommittee recently released its findings and recommendations in the Prevention of Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force Report. The report includes data from the campus-wide sexual misconduct climate survey and a campus health survey.
The subcommittee activities focused on administering two separate campus surveys, focus groups and an open forum held February 2015. The recommendations were grouped under eight topics including climate assessment, culture, leadership, communication, student subpopulations, prevention and education resources, reporting and adjudication resources and faculty/staff training. The last three topics pertain to other task force subcommittees, and the leadership and communication recommendations were incorporated into those recommendations set forth by the entire task force.
The subcommittee spearheaded the distribution of the campus sexual assault climate survey to the College of William and Mary last fall. A key recommendation was the assessment of the campus climate with respect to gender-based discrimination and violence through a campus-wide survey every other year. Although this recent survey gave the task force adequate information, according to Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs and Director of Student Affairs Planning and Assessment Jodi Fisler, the subcommittee is looking into better options, including a recent survey piloted at Rutgers University at the request of the White House’s Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
“I think the idea of surveying the campus every other year is definitely worth it, because if things change we won’t have any way of knowing that they’re changed unless we continue to monitor that,” Fisler said.
The Rutgers survey is comprehensive, but also much longer, according to Fisler. She said it is difficult to get comprehensive information without overwhelming the students. The recent campus climate survey by the College had a 27 percent response rate and Fisler said it took most people about 10 minutes to complete. Ultimately, Fisler said the survey was successful, but could be improved going forward.
“We know a lot more about the people who are affected by it in the sense that they’ve survived some kind of assault or misconduct, but we really don’t know anything about who’s doing it, and that’s a big gap in our understanding,” Fisler said. “So that’s something that, [with] future surveys, I think we would need to be keeping tabs on.”
Colleen Reynolds ’17 served on the subcommittee alongside three other students, one faculty member, and four members of the administration. Reynolds said she disagreed with the format of the survey that went out to the College community.
“I think the survey is not the one that should have been administered to students, it wasn’t as comprehensive as I think it needed to be, and at times there was language that I disagreed with in the survey,” Reynolds said.
Both Reynolds and Rachael Kaufman ’15, who also served on the subcommittee, said they had negative views of the administration’s handling of sexual assault prior to working with the task force. Reynolds said that working with the task force was both inspiring and comforting because she saw the extent to which the administration cares for student safety.
“I really had to self-reflect about my reasons for thinking the administration was an entirely malicious entity trying to avoid providing survivors the help they wanted and deserved,” Kaufman said in an email. “I think that it is often easy to demonize the administration and then use that as a reason to not collaborate or work with them. Although I definitely think the administration has taken some serious missteps while I have been out of college, I ended up finding through my work on the task force that this is more due to unawareness of student wants and needs with regard to the issue rather than malicious intentions.”
Kaufman said she was initially invited to join the committee after Fisler discovered that she was researching campus sexual assault for her thesis revolving around how speech about sexual assault can affect actions on campus about the issue. She said the leaked Sigma Chi letter and the reaction to it prompted her interest because of the significant impact it had on the College’s culture.
“One of the more applicable conclusions of my thesis is the need to match administrative language in the sexual misconduct policy to the language used in freshman educations programs about sexual harassment and assault,” Kaufman said in an email. “I found that there were serious discrepancies in how administrators talk about sexual assault and then how students are taught about the issue when coming to W&M. From informal interviews with students and linguistic analysis of these documents, I think that this discrepancy in language is one of the reasons why there is so much student distrust in the administration’s actions with regard to sexual assault issues.”
In regards to campus culture, the recommendation included the creation of a message to address gender-based violence and discrimination that would be spread throughout the campus community, particularly by the administration. Fisler said that the subcommittee also discussed the possibility of creating a mandatory oath similar to the honor pledge promising to treat their fellow classmates with compassion and respect. According to Fisler, a common response from students was that they didn’t hear the administration discussing the issue directly.
“We just felt like it needed to be clear that the administration, whatever entities within the administration that refers to — the president [Taylor Reveley], Ginger Ambler — whoever students want to hear from, are being consistent and talking about it in a way that people are actually able to hear that these are the expectations we have for the community,” Fisler said.
Two major activities of the subcommittee were the two surveys — the campus-wide climate survey and the National College Health Assessment —which were sent out to 4,000 randomly selected undergraduates and all full-time graduate students.
For the campus climate survey, although the response rate was 27 percent of the whole population, Fisler said she does feel confident that this represents the campus as a whole. She said she doesn’t want people to extrapolate the data to a specific number of cases.
“Even though I do think we can say with a fair degree of confidence that 2 percent of the population has experienced rape, I would not want to say that means this number of students on campus have experienced rape,” Fisler said.
The NCHA had a 37 percent response rate among undergraduates and also allowed for data to be grouped by subpopulations including undergraduates versus graduates, Greek life-affiliated or not, athlete or not, sexual orientation and class year.
Unlike the climate survey, the NCHA included questions regarding alcohol, such as, “Have you ever done more sexually than you had planned because you had been drinking alcohol?” Respondents were split into two groups: one including reported non-drinkers and one excluding them. Despite the known “red zone” of college freshmen spanning orientation to Thanksgiving, which data shows is a time that they are at a higher risk of assault, all other class years answered affirmatively at a higher rate than freshmen. The NCHA did not assess whether the experiences were consensual or not.
“That issue about consent when alcohol was involved is something that really needs to get hit on with the new education and prevention efforts because we heard that a lot and I feel like if alcohol is involved they’re not sure what that means,” Fisler said.