Transforming Climate Surveys From a Compliance Trend to Sexual Assault Prevention
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.