Survey results detail sexual assault climate at Brandeis
Correction and clarification appended.
Last Thursday, the University released the first wave of results from April’s sexual assault climate survey. The survey, which had a 34.5 percent response rate, detailed “information about community experiences, perceptions, knowledge and attitudes related to the problem of sexual assault and misconduct,” according to the email with the survey results that Interim President Lisa Lynch sent to the community on Thursday.
The University plans to release more information from the survey later this year as the results continue to be analyzed. According to the information released on Thursday, 22 percent of women, five percent of men and 35 percent of students who identified as “trans* and other” students, in the survey’s terms, indicated they had experienced sexual assault, defined as “including inappropriate sexual touching, fondling, grabbing and groping.” Six percent of women and one percent of men indicated they had experienced rape, defined as "non-consensual penetration."
Additionally, 54.5 percent of undergraduates who experienced any form of sexual harassment or assault told someone about it, 3.7 percent formally reported to the University, and only 38.2 percent said that they knew where to go to report sexual assault.
“The results of the survey are deeply troubling,” Lynch wrote to the University community. “I take no comfort in the fact that our numbers are similar to recently reported data on sexual misconduct from other universities. It is clear from all of these surveys that far too many on our campuses experience harassment and sexual assault. While this is an issue facing our society as a whole, as institutions of higher education we have a special responsibility to set the standard for responding to and supporting those who have experienced sexual misconduct.”
In total, 44.4 percent of female undergraduates and 22.7 percent of female graduate students responded, while 33 percent of male undergraduates and 20 percent of male graduate students responded. There were 18 undergraduate and 9 graduate student respondents who identified as trans* or other, but because the University does not know how many total students identify as trans* or other, it cannot determine a percentage of total respondents.
Students, faculty and staff were invited to a town hall-style meeting that night at the end of the email, in which a panel of administrators answered questions and requests from the audience in response to the survey.
Lynch began the Town Hall by addressing whether the 34.5 percent response rate may have impacted the data, saying “Some people say that the people who respond to these surveys are more likely to have experience with sexual misconduct and sexual assault, and our reported numbers are an overestimate of where the jury stands on this problem on campus. And other people have pointed out that if you have experienced this, probably the number one thing you want to do is not participate in a survey and relive that experience through a survey.”
“No one gets a pass on this,” Lynch said. “You don’t get a pass if you’re at a party, and you see somebody who’s falling down drunk, and you go ‘I’m going home. They’ll find some way of getting home.’ You don’t get a pass on that. We don’t get a pass as administrators when we say we’re putting in place programs for first-years at orientation and just think ‘okay, we did an online training, okay, we did something at orientation, tick those boxes.’ This team is not in that place, and it’s not what we’re doing.”
While 87 percent of all survey respondents strongly agreed that consent is necessary before any sexual activity, 51 percent strongly disagreed with the statement “When someone is raped or sexually assaulted, it is usually because the person was unclear in the way they said ‘no.’”
In addition, 14 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “sexual assault and rape happen because men get carried away in sexual situations once they get started.” 58 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 27 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.
Students had varying opinions on the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault. 41 percent of undergraduates agreed or strongly agreed that sexual assault can happen unintentionally, especially when under the influence, while 28 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed and 22 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.
On the topic of reporting sexual assault, 39.6 percent of female undergraduate respondents and 60.8 percent of male undergraduate respondents said that they had not told anyone about their experience of an “unwanted sexual activity.” Among students who had told someone about the experience, 91 percent of female undergraduates and 67 percent of male undergraduates reported that the person they told “responded in a way that made [them] feel supported.” However, only 14 percent of female undergraduates and 9 percent of male undergraduates indicated on the survey that their peers then “helped you gather information or find resources and services.”
At the town hall, one student asked how many sexual assault cases in the last three years had resulted in expulsions from campus.
Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel said that out of six total cases where the respondent was found guilty under the Special Examiner’s Process, five had led to removals from campus. Later in the meeting, Professor Bernadette Brooten (NEJS) asked whether some of these removals were temporary, which Flagel confirmed.
Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Grady Ward ’16 asked about what the University plans to do about the elevated rates of sexual harassment and violence for students who don’t identify with the gender binary.
Sexual assault services and prevention specialist Sheila McMahon responded that while there is little research on transgender college students and sexual assault, it is necessary to recognize that some students are more likely to experience more forms of different types of harassment. She suggested working with campus groups such as the Queer Resource Center to gather more data and to increase education on being a pro-social bystander across campus.
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Eric Chasalow responded to a graduate student’s inquiry about University support for the graduate student population, saying that he has been working with McMahon and Director of Graduate Student Affairs Jessica Basile, stating, “We’re adapting programs that we’ve already been using with undergraduates ... it’s a different kind of community, it’s not an entirely residential community, so we need to respond that as well, but we’re taking this very seriously.”
Sheryl Sousa, the Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, responded to a question about how the University planned to increase confidence in the sexual assault reporting process: “I would encourage anyone who cares to share with us about the process, and work with us to make it better, please talk to me privately. I want to make it better."
The original version of this article had stated that Flagel said how many expulsions had occurred over two years. He actually said how many removals from campus occurred over three years. Additionally, it did not include Prof. Brooten's clarifying question from later in the meeting.