Brandeis University releases survey results on sexual misconduct on campus

Troubling numbers, a resolve to improve

Twenty-two percent of undergraduate women and 5 percent of undergraduate men reported they have experienced some form of sexual assault as Brandeis students, according to a Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct Brandeis University released today.

The anonymous survey, sent out to all Brandeis students in April 2015, was designed to measure the prevalence of and attitudes about a range of sexual misconduct among undergraduate and graduate students at Brandeis. The overall response rate to the survey was 34.3 percent and the number of respondents was 1,856 students. Women replied to the survey at a higher rate than men  — 37.9 percent vs. 28.5 percent.

The survey also assessed student awareness of prevention and response services on campus and showed that only 38.2 percent knew how to report a sexual assault. “The results of our survey are deeply troubling,” said Interim President Lisa M. Lynch in a letter to the Brandeis community today. “I take no comfort in the fact that our numbers are similar to other recently reported data on sexual misconduct from other universities. As painful as these data are, we are not afraid of the self-examination and action they demand.”

Data from the campus climate survey will provide the university with many opportunities to examine current processes and make the campus community a safer place, according to Sheryl Sousa, senior associate vice president for student affairs and co-chair of the university’s Task Force for Sexual Assault Response, Services and Prevention.

The survey results show low reporting rates of sexual misconduct through formal channels and lack of knowledge of available resources. When instances of sexual misconduct occur, only 54.5 percent of undergraduates told anyone and only 3.7 percent formally reported the experience to the university.

“While we have implemented a number of sexual assault prevention, education and response programs in recent years, the survey tells us that we still have a lot of work to do to strengthen our response to sexual misconduct and to build confidence in the adjudication process,” Sousa said.

Sousa noted that among other initiatives, the university has built a staff of professionals trained in prevention, investigation and counseling, including a full-time sexual assault prevention specialist; worked with trained student staff, peer advocates and professionals to create a campus Rape Crisis Center; implemented online education and prevention training for all students; and mandated training programs for all faculty and staff. A comprehensive list of campus initiatives is provided in the Campus Climate Survey Fact Sheet.

In 2014, the university created a 25-member Task Force for Sexual Assault Response, Services and Prevention to help guide and shape programs on campus to address prevention, support and reporting of sexual misconduct in many forms. They helped develop the survey along with members of the Provost’s Steering Committee on Diversity.

Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment, said that many Brandeis students have been involved in discussing and planning how the university should address this important issue.

“As we review the results of this survey, it is important that we acknowledge the tremendous efforts of our student activists and survivor community. The improvements to our support systems made so far could not have happened without their brave and thoughtful advocacy. We will continue to work with our student advocates on all that still needs to be done.”

Brandeis plans to repeat the survey every two years.  “We need to track our progress, to know what is working — and what is not,” said Lynch.

She noted that among other particularly troubling findings, the survey showed that trans* or other-identified students consistently face sexual harassment, misconduct and violence at higher rates than female or male students. For example, while 6 percent of male students and 14 percent of female students reported that they had been stalked, followed, or received repeated unwanted messages, texts, or emails from someone that made them feel uncomfortable, 35 percent of trans* or other-identified undergraduate students experienced these types of unwanted behaviors.

“It is clear that this and other areas merit greater exploration,” Lynch said.

Despite these troubling findings, the survey reported ninety-one percent of undergraduates agreed or strongly agreed that it is important to get consent before any sexual activity. Ninety-one percent of female undergraduate respondents said they felt supported by their peers when sexual misconduct had occurred.

Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon pointed out that the survey also showed strength in the sense of community students feel at Brandeis. The survey asked students their feelings of connection with the community, including their ability to influence, feelings of belonging, and fulfillment of needs. Among undergraduate respondents, close to 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I can get what I need on this campus.”

“Research has found that ‘sense of community’ correlates to students’ willingness to intervene as bystanders,” said McMahon. “Our students’ strong community feelings are an important indicator of willingness to engage in bystander behaviors to prevent sexual violence.”

The study found that students were very likely to take actions on some bystander behaviors (such as using the buddy system when going to parties).

“If we want the campus culture to change,” said McMahon, “we need to find more ways to support students to take actions such as confronting inappropriate peer behavior and accompanying friends when they report sexual assaults.”

The Brandeis survey results are generally consistent with those of a survey on sexual misconduct on college campuses released Sept. 21 by the Association of American Universities (AAU). That survey, completed by more than 150,000 students at 27 universities, revealed that 23.1 percent of female undergraduate respondents experienced an “incidence of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation.” That figure varied among the schools surveyed.

Brandeis developed and administered its own survey questionnaire in order to customize questions and all Brandeis students, undergraduate and graduate, were contacted to participate in the survey. By conducting our own survey we now have baseline data that can be used as comparison with future surveys.

The survey was developed with guidance from the “First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,” issued in April 2014, and is consistent with best practices for assessment in this area.

Categories: General, Student Life

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