PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Four years after partnering on a landmark national survey on sexual assault and misconduct on college and university campuses, Brown University will take part in a follow-up survey in Spring 2019.
Organized by the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Brown is a member, the survey will capture characteristics and frequency of campus sexual assault and misconduct and assess campus climate at 33 major research universities. It is expected to be the largest of its kind: An estimated 870,000 graduate, undergraduate and professional students across the U.S. will be asked to share information and perspectives.
In 2015, the first AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct provided data demonstrating that campus sexual and gender-based harassment and violence is a serious national issue. The 2019 survey offers campuses like Brown a mechanism for assessing the impact of their efforts in the areas of prevention and response, said Rene Davis, the University’s Title IX officer.
“The opportunity to follow up with Brown students through this new survey will enable us to evaluate our efforts in the context of a national call to action around reducing sexual misconduct,” Davis said. “For instance, if we see an increase in reports in one area, we can evaluate what might be contributing to that — perhaps illuminating an area where we had not previously identified a need to be proactive. Or in other cases, we might conclude that robust efforts might have created an environment of greater confidence in making reports.”
The survey will ask students about their experiences with sexual assault and misconduct on campus, including whether they’ve experienced unwanted sexual contact, what channels they’ve used to report the incidents and how supportive they feel their universities have been in efforts to curb those incidents.
Brown has taken a number of actions in recent years to address sexual and gender-based harassment and violence on campus, and the survey gives students an opportunity to help assess shifts in attitudes and behavior around issues of sexual and gender-based violence, Davis said.
“Ultimately, the data and perspectives we collect will inform our continued efforts to ensure a campus culture in which all community members are equally valued, respected and safe,” she said.
A strategic, sustained approach
Brown was one of 27 institutions to take part in the initial AAU campus climate survey, the first to provide data on the prevalence and characteristics of sexual assault incidents across a wide range of colleges and universities. Brown’s participation complemented the work of its Sexual Assault Task Force, which convened in 2014 with a charge to create a set of recommendations that would make the University a national leader in addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses.
Based on the task force recommendations and data from the initial survey, Brown has taken a strategic and sustained approach to confronting sexual harassment and gender-based violence on campus, Davis said. Among other findings at Brown, the initial survey showed that 25 percent of undergraduate women and 6.8 percent of undergraduate men who participated in the survey experienced unwanted sexual contact since starting college.
In the spring of 2015, the University created its Title IX and Gender Equity Office, which centralized and strengthened Brown’s protocols for addressing sexual misconduct cases and played a lead role in coordinating education, resources and support around issues of sexual assault and gender-based violence. Later that year, Brown implemented a unified policy on sexual and gender-based violence and harassment and a new approach to investigating and resolving complaints in a prompt, fair and impartial manner.
Also in 2015, Brown launched required training programs for first-year students, faculty and staff. The trainings focus not only on how Brown community members can report issues and seek help, but also on how they can identify problematic behavior in themselves and others.
“We illustrate how sexual violence is rooted in power, privilege and oppression, and make clear how to recognize and disrupt harmful behaviors,” said Tanya Purdy, director of BWell Health Promotion at Brown. “Our work aims to dismantle cultural practices that perpetuate harm and empower behaviors that create and allow for healthy relationships.”
In recent years, Purdy said, BWell has worked to support and expand Brown’s interpersonal violence prevention and response efforts. Among the office’s student-led educational efforts are the Sexual Assault Peer Education program, which is available to all students and has been required for student groups and Greek and program houses, and Positive Change, a public health consent awareness campaign.
BWell has also broadened the scope of its Sexual Health Awareness Group and has added to its staff a second SHARE (Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education) advocate, who provides confidential support to students. In the last academic year alone, Purdy said, BWell hosted more than 100 peer education events focused on preventing sexual assault and misconduct and encouraging values-based community building.
A new survey in 2019
Across all of those efforts, Davis said, Brown proactively encourages a culture in which students report incidents of sexual misconduct and seek support and assistance from the University. Non-identifying data on incidents compiled by the Title IX Office, which Davis said are used to assess and monitor patterns of problematic behavior and identify ways in which the University can intervene, show a steady increase in members of the Brown community reaching out to report incidents and receive support.
“These incidents are an unfortunate reality for every college campus in America,” Davis said. “At Brown, a willingness to report incidents and seek support indicates that we’re building trust among our community members in how we respond to sexual assault and misconduct.”
Davis said she expects the results of the follow-up survey — which will be conducted in Spring 2019 — to provide an even deeper understanding of the climate at Brown and beyond. Given the University’s focus on encouraging reporting, she said she is prepared for the fact that the percentage of students who have witnessed or experienced sexual assault may exceed what was reported four years ago.
AAU President Mary Sue Coleman said that the survey will contribute to the growing body of research on these issues to better inform campus policies and procedures across the organization’s member universities.
“Our primary goal is student safety...” Coleman said. “As university leaders and as academics, we believe that one of our best courses of action to better address sexual assault and misconduct is with data.”
AAU and the 33 participating universities have partnered with Westat, a leading social science research firm, to conduct the survey and analyze the results. Like the 2015 survey, it will be anonymous with no personally identifiable information collected from any participant.
The survey will be launched in spring 2019, and AAU will publicly release aggregate results from across the participating institutions in fall 2019. Westat will provide each institution its own data, and each will decide how best to share those results. Davis said Brown will share results as it did in 2015, when the University released the complete set of data specific to Brown along with a summary of key findings.