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AAU Campus Activites Report: Developing a Campus Ecosystem

AAU Campus Activites Report: Developing a Campus Ecosystem

An earlier section of this report mentioned that surveys, while important, are only one part of a campus “ecosystem” centered on addressing sexual assault and misconduct. Other types of relevant information include counts of behaviors (for example, reports of misconduct; police, alcohol, and administrative board incidents); question-based data collection or studies that delve more deeply into specific issues raised by surveys (e.g., incident non-reporting); focus  on the experiences of particular student populations, or address other specific issues; and program evaluation data used to assess the effectiveness and evaluate impact of campus education, resources, or interventions.

Comparing, merging, and synthesizing information from different sources takes time and may require traditionally separate university offices and functions to work together.

Surveys are only one source of information, and results may be more meaningful and useful if merged with other data sets. Campuses highlighted numerous ways that they are integrating surveys into a broader information ecosystem. For example, Tulane University plans to administer a sexual misconduct climate survey every three years to all full-time undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Complementing these surveys will be annual focus groups of populations of interest (e.g., minority and LGBTQ students, athletes, and students involved in Greek life). Each semester, the university collects data on all reports of sexual misconduct and conducts programmatic assessments of bystander and other efforts targeted at behavior change. An inventory of what offices and departments are doing with regard to programs, education, and training is assembled annually. Data are synthesized by the Data Collection committee of the university’s Sexual Violence Prevention & Education Coalition (made up of faculty, staff, and students).

At the University of Colorado Boulder, the campus sexual misconduct survey has been integrated into the university-wide survey calendar maintained by the Office of Institutional Research; the survey will be implemented every four years. In the period between surveys, the university will conduct focus groups to gain a more precise understanding of certain survey findings, which will be used to revise/augment the survey prior to the next administration. To examine the effectiveness of large-scale sexual misconduct prevention interventions, the university is planning targeted assessment of sexual misconduct rates during off-survey years.

Cornell University will conduct a campus climate survey every other year, in accordance with state law. The university will continue to conduct focused studies of issues such as factors that promote or inhibit bystander intervention, and evaluations of specific programs intended to prevent or respond to sexual violence. Cornell’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning collaborates with the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives to synthesize and share the data, which are made available through presentations to various campus groups and through the web.

Yale University favors at least a four-year interval between large-scale comprehensive prevalence and climate surveys such as the AAU survey. Individual schools and departments are working with the university’s Title IX office to develop local data collection mechanisms. The institution’s Title IX coordinator publishes semi-annual reports containing statistical and descriptive summaries of complaints brought forward during the previous six-month period. These reports promote community awareness about the types of complaints brought forward and the procedures and resources available to address them. They have generated broad discussion and questions about the university’s complaint procedures. The Title IX Steering Committee uses this feedback to inform its review of the university’s programs and procedures and to enhance communications about them.

As revealed in some of these descriptions, surveys and other data may provide institutional leaders with clues about particular issues, but follow-up may be required to more fully understand the data and the issues. Institutions reported on question-based data collection or studies they had undertaken that delve more deeply into specific issues raised by surveys, focus on the experiences of particular student populations, or address other specific issues. Such studies could take a range of forms, including focus groups, interviews, follow-up surveys targeted to particular subgroups of students, cohort studies, and others.

Institutions reported on when they had most recently conducted such studies (Ecosystem–Figure 1). Nearly 75% of responding institutions reported conducting such studies, and more than half (57%) of responding institutions had done so within the past academic year. Institutions also reported on the frequency with which they conduct such studies (Ecosystem – Figure 2). Not surprisingly, a significant percentage (45%) conduct such studies on an as-needed basis. Most other institutions conduct them on a variable cycle that makes the most sense in the context of their survey interval frequency and other data collections. Virtually all responding institutions reported plans to conduct such studies in the future.

These studies have investigated a wide range of issues, including student knowledge of Title IX, timing and location of assaults, and perpetrators believed to be strangers. They have also focused more deeply on particular groups of students, including graduate students, students of color, LGBTQ students, victims, athletes, first-year students, students with disabilities, student leaders, and participants in Greek life.

Many institutions use focus groups to dig deeper into issues raised by surveys. For example, following the administration of its campus climate survey, Rutgers University–New Brunswick conducted 21 focus groups with 179 students representing the general student population and specific groups, including athletes, sexual violence victims, students from the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBTQ communities, students involved in Greek life, and representatives from cultural centers.

At the University of Pennsylvania, administrators engaged self-identified LGBTQ students in a free-listening exercise, four semi-structured interviews, and three focus groups to more fully understand their experiences and responses, as well as to assess their knowledge of and attitudes about the campus climate and available resources for victims of interpersonal violence.

The University of Colorado Boulder is conducting focus groups on reasons for not reporting, perpetrators perceived as “strangers,” most frequently reported locations where incidents of sexual assaults occurred, and timing of sexual assaults that are perpetrated in the fall semester. The university is also conducting focus groups to better understand the survey results of students from special populations, including graduate students, LGBTQ students, and first-year students.

Studies also take forms other than focus groups. One example is Duke University’s situational or environmental intervention program focused on female students of color, discussed in the section on Education and Training.

An issue of special concern is barriers to reporting. The 2015 AAU Campus Climate Survey found that a relatively small percentage (e.g., 28% or less) of even the most serious incidents were reported to an organization or agency (e.g., the university’s Title IX office; law enforcement). Yet, of those victims of non-consensual sexual contact who do report the incident to an agency or organization, significantly more than half rated their experience with the agency or organization as very good or excellent along several criteria.

One particularly alarming result of the 2015 AAU Campus Climate Survey was attitudinal: More than 50 percent of the victims of even the most serious incidents (e.g., forced penetration) say they do not report the event because they do not consider it “serious enough.” Analyses of the survey results looked in detail at student attitudes toward resources and at victims’ use of, evaluation of, and reasons for not using resources.

Institutions reported whether they had undertaken or were in the process of undertaking more detailed studies to understand this issue, and 36% (20/55) of institutions were doing so. This figure included about 40% (10/25) of the responding institutions that had participated in the 2015 AAU Campus Climate Survey, from which this was a main finding, but also a third (10/30) of institutions that had not, suggesting this is an issue of concern across all institutions.

One other interesting breakdown of responses is that, of those institutions that conducted a study on any topic within the past academic year or more recently, more than half (55% or 17/31) looked further into this issue. Of those whose most recent study was earlier, or which had not carried out a study, the figure was lower (13% or 3/23). This illustrates the growing attention to issues around non-reporting for perceived lack of seriousness in the wake of the 2015 AAU Campus Climate Survey findings.

Institutions provided examples of how they are trying to improve their understanding of this issue. The University of Rochester focused its Sexual Misconduct Prevention Week in spring 2016 on this topic, devoting time at every event to barriers to reporting. It became clear that many students place considerable weight on the potential social implications of reporting. Student concerns about whether peers would “side” with them were a significant consideration in their assessment of the seriousness of the behavior.

Understanding and breaking down barriers to reporting remain an important part of university efforts to address sexual assault and misconduct.

The University of Virginia and the University of Minnesota both conducted focus groups with students to better understand barriers to reporting. As mentioned in the previous case study, Carnegie Mellon University asked students why they did not report, and have used the findings on this question to target education and outreach programs to better define and give examples of what constitutes different types of sexual misconduct. The university also added a “why report” section to its website.

Among its other efforts at assessment, Yale University assisted students who developed [in the development] and reviewed the results of a Yale College Council and Yale Women’s Center Report on University Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures. This report was written by a team of undergraduates who gathered qualitative data with assistance from university administrators. The students’ findings gave the University Title IX Office insight into undergraduates’ perceived barriers to reporting incidents of sexual misconduct, as well as concrete suggestions for improvements that the administration could implement.

Understanding and breaking down barriers to reporting remain an important part of university efforts to address sexual assault and misconduct.