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University will administer sexual assault climate survey

AAU seeks greater campus safety

The University is planning to release a sexual assault campus climate survey this April in collaboration with the Association of American Universities — a survey which will be distributed among 27 nationwide institutions of higher education.

University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said the University’s decision to take part in the survey was not a response to the Rolling Stone article published last November but rather an attempt to comply with the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault — he said the decision was made in June 2014 and is part of a larger effort to increase student safety.

“U.Va. is pleased to participate in the AAU Sexual Assault Climate Survey,” de Bruyn said. “We believe that the survey will provide important baseline data to help inform the University’s decision-making in our continued efforts to eliminate sexual assault and to ensure that U.Va. is a safe place for students.”

The AAU survey — and the White House Task Force — is part of the federal government’s Not Alone Initiative against sexual assault across the nation. According to a University press release, the survey seeks to help schools around the country get accurate data from which to address issues of sexual assault.

“The survey aims to help institutions and policy makers better understand issues related to sexual assault as they expand efforts to prevent it and respond appropriately, and to assess students’ knowledge and perceptions of safety and support,” the survey reads.

Education School Prof. Nancy Deutsch said gathering accurate information surrounding sexual assault on campuses is an important step in facing the issue.

“It is no secret that sexual assault is under-reported — both on college campuses and in the general population,” she said. “In order for campuses to better educate students about and prevent sexual assault, as well as to respond when a sexual assault occurs, schools need accurate numbers of the incidence and prevalence of assault on their campuses.”

In addition to collecting such information, the survey also aims to understand student knowledge and perceptions of institutional resources and policies and campus climate surrounding issues related to sexual violence.

“The end goal is to provide both greater transparency and to provide information that schools can use to improve their policies and practices,” Deutsch said.

Sandra Martin — associate dean for research at the Gillings School of Global Public Health — will chair the survey committee. Martin’s team will work closely with Westat, a research firm which will help design, distribute and interpret the survey.

Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs for the AAU, said the project has been in development for many months but not fully completed due to the logistical challenges of producing a large-scale survey. More than 800,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students attend the schools where the surveys will be distributed — though the response rates is unknown.

“If you’re a student at U.Va., you will probably be seeing some sort of communication urging you to participate in the survey,” Toiv said. “The primary survey uses a census approach, and that means everybody is asked to participate, and all those results will be used.”

Toiv said the AAU’s goals for the survey outcomes are threefold.

“Our number one priority for the results of this survey is to have our individual members be able to use their individual institutional data to inform their own decision making on policies and practices with respect to safety and security and other issues,” Toiv said. “Secondly, we hope that the aggregate results that we release will be informative for policy-makers so that they have additional info on which to base their thinking. Finally, we hope that this will make an important contribution to the body of research that’s gradually forming about sexual assault on campus.”

The participating schools make up a reasonably representative sample of the American university system. Roughly half are public and half private. Furthermore, there is diversity in size and location. Rather than a generic, one-size-fits-all survey, which AAU officials believe the government will soon mandate, this particular survey is designed to provide specific, relevant insight into the issue of sexual assault at individual universities.

The questions included in the survey will not be made public until after the results of the survey are collected. However, the University said questions will be based on the discussions of the White House Task Force.

“The team will use an instrument suggested by the April 2014 White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault as the basis for the survey,” the University said in the press release. “Each school will be able to add five questions about its own specific programs and resources. The survey will assess campus climate and seek information about the occurrence of and response to sexual assault and sexual harassment, making it possible to compare data nationally.”

According to an AAU press release the organization will publicly report the results from the participating schools when the survey is complete. Westat will provide each participating campus with its own data, and each university will decide how to release those results.

De Bruyn said the University will use the survey findings to shape University actions regarding sexual assault policies and practices.

“The survey results will inform strategies and initiatives to improve effectiveness of education and eliminate sexual assault,” de Bruyn said. “The results will also shed light on students’ knowledge of sexual assault and their perceptions of safety and support. It is important for students not only to be safe, but feel safe.”

Deutsch believes the survey will ultimately have a positive impact on the University and other universities across the country.

“The end goal as I see it, over the long haul, would be both reduction in sexual violence of all types at U.Va. and education and response efforts that help us reach that goal of ending sexual violence while also best supporting student survivors when an assault does occur,” Deutsch said. “Reducing and better responding to sexual assault is imperative if we are to provide all students with equal access to education, as is our moral obligation as well as our federal requirement under Title IX.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of institutions participating in the survey. It is 27 schools, not 29. Additionally, 800,000 students attend the schools where the survey will be distributed, but fewer may complete the survey when it is distributed.