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Campus Climate Surveys: Expert Opinions

Posted by On Wednesday, August 12, 2015

There is limited research out there on how best to develop and implement Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys because they’re a relatively new trend. “Experts” on campus climate surveys are a wide range of folks with related expertise, whether it be in government, in sexual assault prevention work, or as student affairs administrators.

On July 29th, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee heard testimony around reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would amend the broader Higher Education Act, which Congress is working to reauthorize. It would require schools to gauge how often sexual assaults occur on their campuses and offer confidential advisers for victims.  Below are a few statements detailing how the amendment would impact climate surveys as well as the opinions of some thought-leaders in the field.

Statement of Senator Dean Heller

“Sexual assault is a crime that more often than not goes unreported, which is one of the reasons why data provided by our nation’s institutions simply do not reflect the prevalence of this crime. In fact, there are many colleges and universities that have reported zero incidences of sexual offenses to the federal government. I strongly believe one of the most important provisions of our bill is the campus climate survey. This survey will improve access to accurate, campus-level data by allowing students to anonymously share their experiences related to sexual assault. Under our bill, schools will give their students an anonymous, online survey to gauge the scope of sexual assault on campus and the effectiveness of current institutional policies on this issue. The Department of Education will be responsible for developing this survey, as well as picking up its cost. Schools just need to ensure an adequate, random, and representative sample of students take the survey. The survey results will be reported to Congress and published on the Department of Education’s website. Because this survey will be standardized, the American public will be able to compare the campus climate of all schools. As a father of four children, I wish I had access to this kind of information when my kids were preparing to attend college. And, now as a grandfather of two, my hope is that when they grow up and go off to school, our nation’s campuses will be safer than ever before. The campus climate survey will be a useful, educational tool for both students and parents, as well as an invaluable resource for institutions to help create or enhance efforts to prevent sexual assault, assist survivors of this crime, and improve campus safety overall.”

Testimony of Dana Bolger, co-founder of Know Your IX

“To counteract the potential negative reputational consequences of encouraging survivors to report, Congress should mandate that schools conduct campus climate surveys and publish their results publicly. This step would provide invaluable information to students and their families – including prospective students – and would increase incentives for schools to appropriately address violence. Schools should also be required to publish aggregate statistics on how investigations are being handled, which would provide greater insight into whether or not disciplinary proceedings are being handled promptly and equitably. This will help ensure that students, parents, and policymakers can evaluate and compare how each school responds to complaints of gender violence in practice, not just on paper.”

Testimony of Janet Napolitano, President of University of California

“CASA requires that the Department of Education develop, design and administer a standardized, online, annual survey of students regarding their experiences with sexual violence and harassment every two years. Having just conducted the largest university system climate survey of its kind in the nation, I have significant concerns about the usefulness of a single survey developed for all institutions given the broad diversity in higher education institutions across the nation and the student populations they serve. UC surveyed not only students, but also faculty and staff about their experiences and perceptions of the campus or workplace climate. We now have a rich baseline of data that campuses are analyzing to identify key areas of focus. Institutions should be allowed to develop and use their own climate surveys, as long as they meet criteria and standards defined by the Department of Education and are developed in consultation with stakeholders. Further, I believe that it is inappropriate for the legislation to place the responsibility on the university for ensuring that an adequate, random, and representative sample size of students enrolled at the institution completes the survey. This requirement could compromise the perceived anonymity of the survey and would be especially challenging if the survey would be administered by the Department of Education and not the institutions.”

There are many mixed thoughts around the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act: Combating Campus Sexual Assault.  Much of this disagreement focuses around the inclusion of mandatory, government-created campus climate surveys.  In April of last year, the Huffington Post published an article detailing some of the differing views about this component of the legislation. (For more information on CASA read our past coverage.)

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