How do you measure where a university stands when it comes to sexual assault?
There is not a clear answer yet. In 2014, three attempts — one gauging the extent of rape culture on campus, another assessing assault on campus and a third appointed by the president to look at institutional response to the crime — were conducted in order to assess the University of Oregon’s climate toward sexual assault.
This year, more surveys will roll out both nationwide and at the UO. The goal: advising administrators on how to make campus sexual assault-free.
The Campus Climate Survey
In fall of 2014, UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd and with Ph.D students Carly Smith and Marina Rosenthal conducted an online survey of nearly 1,000 UO students about both their peers’ and personal experiences with sexual assault.
The team revealed to a Senate Task Force in September that 35 percent of survey participants had experienced unwanted sexual contact at least once in college.
Freyd and her students planned the survey for years before they got the green light from the UO Institutional Review Board.
Freyd said the survey was intended to fulfill the recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, an initiative that created a sexual assault survey template for colleges to use nationwide.
Report of the President’s Review Panel
The President’s Review Panel was created by former UO President Michael Gottfredson in May following high-profile allegations that three members of the men’s basketball team had assaulted a freshman.
The panel published a 71-page report in December that detailed the UO’s prevention and response to sexual misconduct and assault based on information from different campus constituents and reviewing current policies and practices. Among other advice, the task force recommended that UO participate in a campus climate survey.
“It is important to U of O to truly understand what the situation is on its campus and ideally a climate survey would help with this,” Mary Deits, chair of the President’s Review Panel wrote in an email to The Emerald. “Our panel also believed that a uniform survey also used by other universities would provide comparative data that could help the university assess its issues and also allow it to collaborate with other universities on appropriate issues.”
Report of the University Senate Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support
“Twenty Students Per Week” is the title of the report based on the numbers from the Centers for Disease Control that say 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college. The Senate Task Force was created by senate legislation to study the UO’s response to sexual violence.
Some changes have been made based on the recommendations. For example, interim UO President Scott Coltrane authorized a $15,000 sexual assault prevention emergency fund for the Division of Student Life.
In a November interview with the Emerald, Coltrane said that the administration would wait on more reports from the review panel and a gap analysis of education and prevention services by Student Life before making changes. Vice President of Student Life Robin Holmes was not available to comment.
Association of American Universities Survey
The UO in December announced that it would continue looking into the issue of sexual assault in 2015 through endorsement and participation in two more sexual assault surveys: one home grown, developed and designed by GTFs and doctoral students of UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd, and the other administered through the Association of American Universities.
“Our primary goal is to provide universities with the information they need to craft empirically informed policies and practices for protecting students from sexual assault and promoting campus safety,” AAU President Hunter Rawlings III said in a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Sixty-one scientists from across the country have signed several letters opposing the AAU survey. Freyd has been outspoken against the AAU survey.
“Regarding problems with the AAU survey, lack of transparency is only one of the issues,” Freyd said through email. “There are also potential problems with the methodology.”
Here are some of the major arguments against the AAU survey, as found in the four letters addressed to the presidents and chancellors of AAU-member universities, and responses from AAU President Hunter Rawlings III .
Argument: The AAU is asking for a commitment without seeing the survey.
Rebuttal: The survey is not being designed in secret and the funding method is typical of how survey research is funded.
Argument: The results of the survey will not be shared or available for comparison.
Rebuttal: Collective results of the AAU schools will be shared with the public. Institutions can decide whether or not to share their individual results.
Argument: The pressure for AAU members to sign up too quickly, which could result in spending over $5 million on the survey, if most AAU members participate.
Rebuttal: The $5 million figure is exaggerated. The AAU’s $85,000 per-university-cost is based on there being 40 participants, not 62 members of the AAU as the $5 million number suggests. Rawlings says that the cost per institution would decline if more institutions signed on, but surveys like this are expensive.
Since the publication of the first letter against the survey, three more have been published detailing additional concerns. The most recent letter, published Dec. 3, 2014, criticized the survey’s timeline, and said that the survey duplicates existing initiatives and lacks transparency.
Although it has yet to be designed, Vice President for Public Affairs at the AAU Barry Toiv says the organization is confident in its survey.
“This survey will easily be the largest survey on this issue ever,” Toiv said. “Covering a broad cross-section of our universities, public and private, small and large, and geographically diverse.”
At the University of Oregon (Campus Climate Survey)
The AAU survey is estimated to cost $85,000 per institution. Interim President Scott Coltrane said that the local survey’s estimated cost is about $70,000, which means UO will pay around $155,000 for both surveys.
Carol Stabile has objections to UO’s participation in the AAU survey. Stabile is co-chair of the Task Force to Prevent Sexual Violence and Survivor Support and a member of the Campus Climate Advisory Group.
“If the University is willing to fund a survey sight unseen without blinking an eye,” Stabile said in an email. “They should be able to fund the additional recommendations the Senate Task Force made.”
Two different committees of experts, one assembled by President Coltrane and another by Dr. Freyd, will oversee the local survey. While Coltrane’s advisory group will focus on institutional needs, Freyd said that her committee will focus on “scientific quality” of the questions, data analysis, and methodology.
Stabile said that the group will advise the President about how best to move forward with the internal survey and on the AAU survey when the details become available.
“I know that there are differences of opinion about the best way to sample, design surveys, and collect data on sensitive topics like sexual violence,” said Coltrane via email. “The committee will provide expertise and counsel to make sure both the externally-provided AAU survey and an internally-developed UO survey are conducted following best practices.”