The HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey is a questionnaire for undergraduate students developed and administered by the Higher Education Data-Sharing Consortium, a membership organization of private colleges and universities that share knowledge and expertise to advance undergraduate liberal arts education, inclusive excellence, and student success. The questionnaire asks students about their perceptions of their campus’s climate for unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault; their perceptions of how their institution responds to sexual assaults; and whether and how often they have experienced unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault.
The survey was administered to students at St. Olaf in late spring 2017, and to students at 75 other small colleges during either that same academic year or the year preceding it. Nearly 860 St. Olaf students responded (37% of them men, 63% of them women), for an overall response rate of 29%. While this exceeded the mean response rate of 23% for the other participating institutions, results should be treated with caution, because neither response rate was high enough to know whether the findings are representative of the overall student population either at St. Olaf or at the comparison schools.
The St. Olaf Title IX Team spent Fall 2017 analyzing results and considering their significance for the college’s efforts to prevent sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct in the St. Olaf community, and to respond swiftly and appropriately when incidents occur. The St. Olaf Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness collaborated with the Title IX Coordinator to prepare a summary of key findings from the survey, including comparisons between St. Olaf results and results from the other participating institutions. In reviewing both the key findings and the complete results, the Title IX Team sought to determine what aspects of current practice should be continued, and what aspects should be changed. The team’s response takes into account the survey’s modest response rate and the fact that it was administered less than a year after the hiring of a new Title IX Case Manager and other changes in the way the college supports students involved in Title IX cases. Here are the key action steps the team anticipates taking.
- Continue educating students about the risks of sexual assault and the frequency of reported assaults in the St. Olaf community. We noted that St. Olaf students, particularly women, are more aware than their peers at other institutions that sexual assault can happen on campus or at campus-sponsored events and programs. One interpretation of these findings suggests that our students are better informed about the prevalence of sexual violence than students at similar institutions. This interpretation would align with the content of the mandatory online training the college implemented for all students in Fall 2015 and the launching of a new Title IX Statistics page on the college website that demonstrates the prevalence of sexual misconduct at St. Olaf. We also noted that very large majorities of St. Olaf students, to a greater extent than their peers at other institutions, recalled that they had received education from the college on a variety of topics related to sexual assault, and most of them remembered the information and found it helpful. The Title IX team plans to build on these promising outcomes in our future education/prevention efforts.
- Expand education and prevention efforts that are attentive to the role of alcohol and other drugs in sexual assaults. A very high percentage of students who reported experiences of sexual assault also indicated that alcohol was a factor; 76% of these students said that the perpetrator had been drinking, and 59% said that they themselves had been drinking. These results are completely consistent with national research on the relationship between substance abuse and sexual violence. Our current education and prevention programming makes this point as well, but it appears that there is a need to emphasize this linkage even more strongly.
- Expand training and advocacy supporting pro-active and effective bystander intervention to deter incidents of sexual harassment or misconduct. A majority of St. Olaf students believe that students would intervene if they witnessed a sexual assault, and a large majority (almost 70%) of those who said they had observed a situation that could have led to a sexual assault indicated that they had intervened. However, the majority of St. Olaf students who said they had experienced a sexual assault did not receive help from bystanders, either because there were no bystanders present (47% of all cases described by survivors) or because available bystander(s) did not intervene (72% of cases described by survivors where bystanders were present). Olaf students who said they suspected they had been sexually assaulted, or who experienced an attempted assault that was averted, were less likely than students at other schools to report that a bystander had intervened. The Title IX Team would like to see higher rates of bystander intervention, and we believe that this will require more frequent training and with broader participation than is presently the case. We also believe that our approach should build on the perception of the overall campus climate as generally positive, promoting a sense of respect, safety, support, and belonging.
- Continue both to focus on first-years and to extend efforts with upper-class students. Our current practice of devoting more education and prevention resources to first-years is borne out by the finding that just over half of the St. Olaf students who reported on this survey that they had been sexually assaulted indicated that the assault occurred in their first year at St. Olaf. But this same finding also means that nearly half of assaults occurred to sophomores, juniors and seniors. The training efforts described above, including attention to the role of alcohol, education about consent, and effective strategies for bystander intervention, must be ongoing throughout the first year and reiterated in subsequent years. The data also suggest we need to increase training and education regarding our reporting and investigation processes. Moreover, we need to find ways to reach those who would be unlikely to come to a voluntary education session.
- Continue seeking feedback from the Title IX Advisory Group concerning students’ experiences with the college’s response to a report of sexual assault or other form of sexual misconduct. Consistent with national research, only a small percentage of students who stated in this survey that they had been sexually assaulted also stated that they had used St. Olaf’s procedures to report the experience to the college, and only about a third of those individuals expressed satisfaction with the college’s process. However, since the survey was administered less than a year after St. Olaf had hired its new Title IX Case Manager, and responses to the survey were anonymous, there is no way to determine whether the students who were dissatisfied with the college’s process had experienced the old process (pre-2016) or our current process. To gain a better understanding of the concerns students have regarding the college’s response to a report of sexual assault or misconduct, it will be important to continue to rely on the Title IX Advisory Group to elicit specific feedback from individuals who have participated in the college’s processes.