By Rachel Brustein
Last semester, an email was sent to all students inviting them to take the Campus Climate Survey, which focused on sexual assault. The email described the survey as being “made up of several sections that ask about your knowledge, opinions and beliefs on certain topics including how you view the Goucher culture, how to react in social situations, as well as your experiences in interpersonal relations, including sexual situations.” The survey was completely electronic, and respondents were informed that some questions were explicit and sensitive in nature before signing consent to take it.
On Tuesday, September 29, Professor of Sociology Janet Shope and Professor of Psychology Rick Pringle, who conducted the research, reported the data to students. They informed the students that the survey had a response rate of 45 percent, meaning that 610 students completed the survey in full. While less than half might seem like a small number to some, “the fact that 45 percent of our students really cared enough about this to complete the survey is huge…[and] very unlike other schools…That tells me that this matters to our students,” Shope said.
Of the students who completed the survey, 457 identified as “woman,” 138 identified as “man,” 11 identified as “non-binary,” two identified as “another gender identity,” and two did not answer.
Shope and Pringle also explained their choice to use the term “non-consensual sexual experience” (NCSE), rather than “sexual assault” when describing the language used in the survey. NCSE—the language used in the college’s sexual misconduct policy (SMP)—is a clearer term than “sexual assault” and helps “gain a deeper understanding of different types of experiences,” said Shope.
24 percent of Goucher students (144 people) reported experiencing at least one NCSE while at Goucher, and 74 percent of these experiences happened on campus. Only two percent of students (three people) who experienced at least one NCSE at Goucher reported filing a complaint or report about the incident. One notable piece of data is that 47 percent of non-binary students reported experiencing an NCSE, while 23 percent of students who identify within the gender binary (male or female) reported experiencing an NCSE.
The data include a plethora of information about gender, class year, involvement of drugs and alcohol at the time of the incident, bystander intervention and support. Students who are interested in seeing more of the data can contact either Professor Shope or Professor Pringle.
In addition to presenting the data to students, Shope and Pringle did presentations for faculty and staff, as well as the administration and vice presidents.
“I think the reaction has been positive,” said Shope. “All of the groups are very glad to have this information so we can figure out what the responses and next steps are.”
Pringle added, “There’s been a strong signal from senior staff and administration that we have to be transparent with this.”
Spring 2015 was not the first time Goucher conducted a survey like this. Pringle said that in 2009, three students doing an independent study approached him about doing a quantitative survey about presence of sexual assault on campus. The students felt “as though the administration was unaware of it [and] didn’t want to hear about it,” Pringle said. He helped the students for-mulate a survey, and it was put online for students to take. The results indicated that “[sexual assault] very much was present,” Pringle explained. In 2012, Pringle revisited the data, edited the survey and once again put it online for students to take
In 2015, Pringle was on sabbatical and revisited the survey. He then asked Shope to help him with the research. Coincidentally, in 2014, the White House Council on Women and Girls recommended all colleges and universities to “conduct periodic, confidential campus climate surveys to assess the incidence, prevalence and context of sexual misconduct on campus,” as stated in the email inviting students to take the survey. The State of Maryland, starting this year, is requiring all colleges and universities to do a survey and report to the State the number of people who filed a report or complaint with the Title IX Coordinator and whether disciplinary action was enacted, as well as the type of action taken.
The third time around, Emma Cornell ’16 was a student on the research team. Since her sophomore year, Cornell has been involved in anti-sexual assault activism on campus. Anecdotally, she found that students who had been sexually assaulted on campus reported not being listened to or believed.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that people weren’t willing to believe people on this campus,” she said. She pointed out that if someone were physically beat up on campus, the student body would be notified, but when sexual assault happens, no one hears about it.
“We’ve already started to see policy changes,” Cornell said, pointing out the new policy requiring students to register all overnight guests. “I’m hoping that the new Public Safety will be a little bit more receptive to some of the conversations that are happening,” she added.
Cornell mentioned that things have gotten better since her freshman year and since Title IX was implemented. “I hope that we can work with the college to create a really clear understanding of resources,” she said.
Shope and Pringle are not entirely sure where these data will take the college, as there are still more analyses to be done on the data.
“It leaves us with the awareness that this [sexual assault] is here…and it’s going to require something different, something sustained, something creative to fix it and address it,” Pringle said.
“My hope is that this [sexual assault study] will get students’ attention. Has it? I don’t know,” Cornell said.