Yesterday, the Association of American Universities, in cooperation with the University, released the results of a campus climate survey on sexual misconduct. Additionally, the Office for Civil Rights released the findings of its four-year compliance investigation of the University, finding that the University was not compliant with Title IX regulations during the 2011-12 year.
Both the campus climate survey and the OCR’s review highlight troubling facts about our school. As one of 27 schools surveyed, some statistics about our University stand out. The survey shows nearly one in four women at the University experience sexual assault. Nearly 77 percent of respondents said they did nothing in a situation in which they witnessed a drunken person heading for a sexual encounter. An average of 45 percent of students from all universities surveyed said it was very or extremely likely their schools would take action against an offender in a case of sexual assault; at the University, this was only 28 percent. Whereas an average of 20 percent of students surveyed said sexual assault is a problem at their schools, nearly 39 percent of students at the University said it is a problem on Grounds.
According to the OCR, prior to the University’s revision of its sexual misconduct policy, the University lacked prompt and equitable responses to certain reports of sexual assault. Though the University has since revised its policy, it has also signed a resolution with the OCR that requires a three-year monitoring period during which the OCR can visit the University, conduct interviews and request additional reports.
Yesterday’s news revealed many details we already knew or expected, but that remain troubling: that past University policies on sexual assault were not sufficient, and that students at the University experience sexual assault in unconscionable numbers. Overall, responses to the campus climate survey did not differ tremendously between our University and the average of all the schools surveyed, demonstrating the significance of the national trends in this issue.
While students’ response to whether the University would take action against an offender is troubling, responses could have been colored by understandings about University adjudication stemming from the publication of a story from Rolling Stone detailing the rape of a University student. Though the story has since been retracted, it would be naive to say the article did not implicitly influence students’ perceptions of sexual assault.
Improvements to the University’s adjudication of sexual misconduct — which will stem from its revised policy — will hopefully encourage the University to take action against offenders and, as a result, change students’ perceptions of whether offenders receive due punishment. As bystander intervention programs such as Green Dot and “Hoos Got Your Back” become a more central part of the University experience, more students may intervene in the case of a drunk peer heading for a sexual encounter. It is important to note that this survey took place prior to the widespread implementation of many new, University initiatives aimed at preventing sexual assault. These new efforts will hopefully improve the numbers above over time.
It is also important to note just how much the University has improved its sexual misconduct policy, to the point where the OCR called it “exemplary.” In addition to revising the adjudicative process for sexual misconduct, the University has hired a new full-time Title IX coordinator, a new full-time Clery coordinator and a new associate vice president for equal opportunity programs. It has also implemented a sexual assault prevention module.
Both the campus climate survey results and the OCR findings affirm just how significant the issue of sexual assault on our campus is, and we can already see concrete steps being taken in response. We have many reasons to anticipate positive change in the near future.