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campus climate survey

Transforming Climate Surveys From a Compliance Trend to Sexual Assault Prevention
Posted by On Thursday, April 14, 2016

College campuses, along with many states and the federal government, have all recognized the need for campus climate surveys on a near-universal level. Climate surveys provide the ability to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the sexual assault problems that occur regularly on college campuses, giving insight to perpetration and victimization trends.

Instead of just providing the administration with data, climate surveys can become an important tool for the prevention of sexual assault. As we wrote about previously, there are three different types of prevention:

  • Primary Prevention: Addressing an issue before it happens
  • Secondary Prevention: Dealing with the immediate effects of an issue
  • Tertiary Prevention: Managing the long-term effects of an issue

Climate surveys can – and should – fit in to each of the three categories of prevention for a number of important reasons. One, of course, is to stay student-centric. And another is for the importance of proving the value of climate surveys. It is much easier to convince folks to allocate funds to something that is prevention-focused rather than simply retroactive. Let’s break the value of climate surveys down into the three categories of prevention.

Primary prevention is often the only thing people consider when thinking about prevention. It is also often the hardest to fathom. Climate surveys serve as a primary prevention technique through providing definitions of words like sexual assault, rape, consent, and incapacitated. Unfortunately, many perpetrators don’t even realize what they’re doing is wrong, and so by educating potential perpetrators on the weight of their actions, they will be less likely to commit sexual assault. Also, climate surveys show that the institution is taking the problem of sexual assault on campus seriously, and thus adding a deterrent to committing sexual assault. Primary prevention (different from risk reduction), or addressing sexual assault before it occurs, can really only be done by preventing perpetrators from perpetrating. Luckily, climate surveys do this in a couple of ways.

Secondary prevention manages the immediate affects of sexual assault. Climate surveys can be considered secondary prevention because they allow survivors to disclose sexual assault in a safe and anonymous way, which is shown to be healing and therapeutic for many survivors. Climate surveys also can provide students with resources about where to get support if they have been impacted by sexual assault.

Another way climate surveys can be considered secondary prevention is through their usage as a data collection tool. The data received from climate surveys can allow administrators to strengthen and target education and programming by identifying perpetration and victimization trends on campus, thus trying to improve the immediate impacts of sexual assault.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, climate surveys are a great tool for tertiary prevention – if done correctly. Tertiary prevention manages the long-term effects of sexual assault. Distributing a climate survey shows that the institution has a commitment to preventing sexual assault, supporting survivors, and addressing the campus climate. However, one mishandling, or even the perception of such, can harshly impact a student’s trust of the institution. Climate surveys can remediate this distrust and show that resources are being allocated toward stopping sexual assault.

To develop, redevelop, or strengthen student trust, there are some beneficial actions a school can make to within their climate survey implementation.

  • Be intentional with language: Talking about sexual assault can be complicated. Not everyone will identify the incident or incidents that happened to them as sexual assault, and not everyone who experienced sexual assault will consider themselves a survivor. Make sure that you’re being clear about what the survey is about while also being careful about putting labels on people and situations.
  • Test subject lines: The subject of your emails could make all of the difference in who opens the email and who clicks on the link to the survey. If you’re missing respondents of a certain demographic, try out a different subject line that could attract a different set of students. At the end of the day, it is extremely important that the survey respondents are a representative sample of your student body.
  • Test drop-off rates: No matter how many times you think and re-think your survey questions, there could always be something that is triggering or challenging for students. If a question like this does exist, it might be important to know before a full deployment of the survey. Similarly, if the survey is too long, there might be a certain place where users lose interest in completing the survey. Test the survey with a small sample first – either students or non-students – to determine the drop-off rates and locations.
  • Use incentives: Having a large respondent pool will yield the most accurate and representative results. To get a large sample size, offer incentives for survey completion. However, make sure you know how much, or what kind, of incentive will be most appealing to your students. Simply giving out more money may not lead to more respondents.
  • Ensure accessibility: As with online courses, it is important that a survey is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant. It isn’t possible to get a true sample of the campus population if a specific demographic of students is unable to respond to the survey. It is also important to note that identities intersect, and that folks with disabilities are just as, if not more, impacted by sexual violence.
  • Design for mobile optimization: Around 30% of students take climate surveys on their smartphones.  It is important that students can take the survey on any type of device that they own (tablet, phone, laptop, etc.). This is especially important for low-income students who may not own a personal computer.
  • Include content warnings: Using specific language is important in order to achieve accurate results. However, it is equally as important to warn students about the content included in the survey so that they can emotionally prepare themselves. This helps to build trust and display transparency.

Going beyond compliance means not just creating a climate survey to meet a legal requirement, but also to benefit your students and your community. By framing climate surveys as sexual assault prevention, you’ll be able to articulate the value of it, build rapport with students, and focus on improving the campus climate.

Building a climate survey? Watch this short video.

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Campus Climate Surveys: Data Collection as Prevention & Risk-Reduction
Posted by On Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are a hot topic for student affairs administrators around the country. Some schools have administered internal climate surveys, some have utilized prepared climate surveys from the AAU or HEDS, and others are in the process of developing and implementing climate surveys. While climate surveys are not yet federally required (although some states are now mandating them and the OCR has required them of schools under investigation), the government has urged schools to adequately assess the climate on their campuses through climate surveys.

At CampusClarity, we do more than just help reach Title IX & Campus SaVE compliance. We strive to eliminate sexual and dating violence on college campuses and beyond. Because climate surveys are considered a best practice for gauging campus climate, we have developed a tool that will help campus administrators tackle the huge task of building climate surveys.

Over the past few months, our product development team has dedicated countless hours to learning from others, developing best practices, and engineering a platform that will allow administrators to simply and swiftly build campus climate surveys. Our platform has many unique features made specifically for campus climate surveys, such as built in content/trigger warnings, a landing page for IRB approval, and default settings that will help increase completion rates. Perhaps most useful is that all data collected will go into the same LMS with data from Think About It and our other courses. Data can be cross tabulated by demographic, and will be delivered with sample size protection as to not out students with underrepresented identities.

We partnered with Callisto, a sexual assault reporting tool for colleges, to host a webinar revealing our climate survey platform. Callisto allows schools to collect data all year round about incidence and prevalence of sexual assault. When partnered with climate surveys, Callisto can provide administrators the information they need to provide prevention, risk reduction, and awareness education on campus. View the below webinar to learn more about climate survey best practices, Callisto, and CampusClarity’s new product.

Climate Survey Webinar

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Campus Climate Surveys: Published Data & Results
Posted by On Thursday, August 6, 2015

As the desire for Sexual Assault Climate Surveys builds momentum on college campuses, important information can be gathered from schools who have already implemented surveys. Our first post on climate surveys last week described the purpose of climate surveys and some initial resources to consider if you’re looking to implement a survey on your campus.

Barnard College (Barnard), University of Chicago (UChicago), University of Michigan (Michigan), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) have all published results from campus climate surveys they’ve implemented on their campuses in the last few years. All of the schools except for Michigan sent out a survey to all students on their campus. and the response rates ranged from 28% to 35%.  Michigan sent out their survey to a random representative sample of 3,000 students and received a response rate of 67%. Each school had a higher response rate for self-identified females than males by 9-11%.

Below are a few summarized take-aways from the reports of these five schools.

  • Over 80% of women report hearing sexist jokes or remarks since being in college.
  • Of those who have been sexually assaulted, anywhere from 45-65% say that they told someone about the experience, however only 3-5% officially reported the assault.
  • Anywhere from 8-10% of women report experiencing non-consensual sexual penetration since being in college.
  • Over 60% of students report having a friend who has experienced sexual assault.

In April, the Association of American Universities partnered with Westat to develop a sexual assault climate survey for 28 (included Dartmouth, a non-AAU member) of its member universities to implement on their campuses. The same survey will be used for all 28 campuses, and the AAU has committed to publishing aggregate data across all survey users. A results comparison just from Barnard, UChicago, Michigan, MIT, and UNR shows that there will likely be similar outcomes across campuses, despite unique campus demographics. These consistencies lead to the conclusion that sexual assault on college campuses is an epidemic rather than many isolated incidents. Hopefully the new survey data will propel educators, policy-makers, parents, and other stakeholders into action to create societal change around the climate of sexual assault both on and off college campuses.

Our third post in the Campus Climate Surveys series will come out next week, detailing what research and experts are saying about the importance and potential impact of these surveys.

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Campus Climate Surveys and the “Information Problem”
Posted by On Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Education surveys are nothing new. In fact, the Department of Education was established in 1867 to collect “such statistics and facts … as shall … promote the cause of education throughout the United States.”1 In his 1860 education treatise, Herbert Spencer said that asking people how they “think, feel, and act under given circumstances” to solve social problems was a self-evident conclusion: “Society is made up of individuals … and therefore, in individual actions only can be found the solutions of social phenomena.”2

Fast forward to the 21st century and schools are using student surveys to help them address the epidemic of sexual assault affecting college women. In a previous post we talked about the University of Montana’s “rape-tolerant campus” and its agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to take steps to change the campus climate.

On October 29, 2013, the University of Montana used Amazon gift cards to entice students to complete an annual safe campus survey on their knowledge, attitudes, program use, and experiences. The survey will help UM develop “effective programs and [create] positive change in sexual and interpersonal violence,” said UM psychology professor Christine Fiore. This annual survey is part of the “blueprint” for Title IX compliance that resulted from UM’s settlement agreement with the ED. The blueprint also includes educating students, faculty, and staff on what is sexual misconduct and how to file complaints.

Other investigations by the ED’s Office of Civil Rights call for annual student surveys. The State University of New York reached a settlement agreement with ED on October 31, 2013, and will begin conducting annual campus climate assessments to help improve sexual misconduct policies and procedures at its twenty-nine campuses. In May 2013, the Yale News reported that the school’s second “campus climate assessment” found, based on feedback from more than 300 students, it was making progress in addressing sexual misconduct issues.

In addition to a federal investigation, there is the risk of expensive Title IX liability to victims. When schools are faced with six- and seven-figure settlements, why does it take a federal investigation to get to the root of the problem? One possible explanation is what legal scholar Nancy Chi Cantalupo calls an “information problem” about sexual assault and how that impacts a school’s reputation for safety.

According to Cantalupo, many schools are reluctant to confront the problem of sexual violence precisely because helping victims and punishing perpetrators requires reporting. Increased reporting drives crime statistics up and makes the school look like a dangerous place to send your children. On the other hand, when victims are discouraged from reporting crimes statistics go down, making the school look safer. Thus, schools have an incentive to discourage reporting to protect their reputations.

However, sociologists and criminologists who study campus violence suggest that ignoring the problem feeds a rape-tolerant culture that leads to higher rates of sexual assault.3 Fortunately, these tragic consequences are turning into stricter enforcement and grassroots action: federal complaints by sexual assault victims are increasing, Title IX enforcement is being taken more seriously,4 and student organizations like Know Your IX are focusing national attention on the problem.

Cantalupo argues that annual student surveys provide more accurate information on the incidence of sexual violence, which helps schools turn their policies, procedures, and education programs into meaningful change. Therefore, Cantalupo recommends that all schools require students to respond to a campus climate survey before they can graduate or register for classes.

Tucker Reed has filed two federal complaints over the University of Southern California’s handling of her sexual assault complaint. She agrees that exit surveys of graduating seniors would not only be a better way to find out how many students were sexually assaulted while in college, but could also “pinpoint which programs are working and which aren’t.”

Student surveys provide a direct source of data that inform a school’s Campus SaVE Act education programs, and confront the sexual assault problem with a targeted approach to reducing the rate of sexual violence in all schools, not just those featured in the latest headlines for another federal investigation.


1. The History and Origins of Survey Items for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Report of the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (2011).
2. Spencer, H. Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical, p. 70 (London: D. Appleton and Company 1860).
3. Cantalupo, N. Burying Our Heads in the Sand: Lack of Knowledge, Knowledge Avoidance, and the Persistent Problem of Campus Peer Sexual Violence (2011) 43 Loyola Univ. Chicago L.J. 205, 218.
4. Cantalupo says, “In fiscal year 2009, OCR had 582 full-time staffers—fewer than at any time since its creation. And it received 6,364 complaints, an increase of 27% since 2002,” citing Lax Enforcement of Title IX in Campus Sexual Assault Cases: Feeble Watchdog Leaves Students at Risk, Critics Say, Center For Public Integrity (Feb. 25, 2010).

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