The 2019 Campus Climate survey found that students with marginalized identities reported experiences with sexual violence and misconduct at higher rates than their peers. The report details students’ experiences with and attitudes toward sexual misconduct, reporting procedures and prevention resources on campus. 

University President Ron Liebowitz released the survey on Thursday in a campus-wide email, calling the results “disturbing and deeply troubling.” 

This survey, conducted in March, is a follow-up to the 2015 Campus Climate Survey, but according to the 2019 report, a comparison between the two reports cannot be reliably used to determine whether or not the University has improved in certain areas, due to the fact that the responses to each survey were provided by different people under different circumstances and at different times between 2015 and 2019. 

22% of students participated in this year’s survey — compared to the 34% who participated in the 2015 survey — though neither set of results can be used to represent the Brandeis population as a whole, but rather solely the people who participated in the survey.

“I don’t need this to be a representative sample to know I have a problem,” Provost Lisa Lynch said in a joint interview with the Justice and The Hoot on Wednesday. Sexual violence and misconduct are problems all members of the community have to “engage in and be part of the solution,” she said. “I want people to be angry reading this report.” 

Liebowitz wrote in the email that “the results remind us that preventing sexual assault and supporting survivors requires the focused work of all of us, not just those of us who are designated by job title to grapple with these issues.” He explained that students are unable to focus on their education when they fear for their safety.

Though the Association of American Universities conducted a separate, similar survey of 33 institutions, with a similarly low response rate of 21.9%, Brandeis chose to conduct its own survey. “We wanted control over a survey about our community and [that] reflected our values,” Lynch explained. The AAU survey was also shorter in some areas, and did not ask where certain incidents happened, unlike the Brandeis survey. 

The AAU survey used different gender categories than the 2019 CCS: man; woman; transgender woman, transgender man, non-binary or genderqueer; not listed or decline to state. The Brandeis survey used man, woman and gender non-conforming, with additional options to self-disclose whether the respondent considered themselves transgender, intersex, non-binary or an identity not listed as an option.  

Throughout the 2019 Campus Climate report, the survey data is broken down by different population categories, such as undergraduate and graduate students, and by gender, including gender non-conforming and transgender. In addition, race, ethnicity and international status, affiliation with Greek Life and affiliation with varsity or club-level athletics are also included in the breakdown.

Addressing gender discrepancies

2% of undergraduate men participants and 6% of undergraduate women participants reported instances of rape, the majority of which happened in on-campus residence halls (65%) and were perpetrated by Brandeis students (58%). The number of gender non-conforming participants who reported rapes was not included; the minimum threshold to include results is five students, as reporting any number smaller than that may make the individuals identifiable within the Brandeis community, according to the report.

10% of men, 21% of women and 36% of gender non-conforming participants reported having experienced sexual violence, while 10% of women graduate student respondents reported such experiences. The 2015 survey found that students identifying as “trans*/other” also reported sexual assault at higher rates: 35% of these students reported these experiences compared to 5% of men and 22% of women. The gender categories were changed in 2019 from the sex categories of male, female and trans*/other used in the 2015 report.

In order to combat these reported gender discrepancies, the University has been augmenting the Gender and Sexuality Center’s resources, according to Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas, who participated in the joint interview. This includes making the GSC a distinct center from the International Cultural Center, which it was previously a part of, increasing staffing, appointing a permanent director and evaluating the hours the center is open. In addition, the GSC already has a partnership with the Brandeis Counseling Center, with an embedded counseling service, Brimhall-Vargas said. His office has also distributed about $10,000 of its funds to the GSC, adding to the Center’s own, separate budget.

Greek life

The report also found that there is a “strong correlation” between contact with Greek life — which is not recognized by the University — and increased reports of sexual assault. The survey broke down respondents by whether they were members of Greek life, were best friends with a member of Greek life, attended Greek life-sponsored parties or were not affiliated with Greek life. 9% of members of Greek life and 11% of participants with best friends who were members of Greek life reported experiencing rape, compared to 4% of non-affiliated participants. 24% of members of Greek life and 37% of participants with best friends who were members of Greek life reported experiencing sexual assault, compared to 19% of non-affiliated participants. 

At the joint interview, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Raymond Ou said that all students should have the same access to resources regardless of affiliation status, but there can be a dissonance between perception and reality in terms of resource accessibility. He provided the example that because Greek organizations cannot reserve spaces on campus, affiliated students may assume they may also not have the same access to prevention resources. 

To tackle this problem, Ou said he has been attending Greek Awareness Council meetings, during which members have been discussing mandating their members to participate in bystander trainings. By attending GAC meetings, “I hope I am conveying we have a targeted interest” in providing that access to affiliated students, Ou said.

Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center Director Sarah Berg, who was also present at the interview, added that some members of Greek life have already reached out to PARC and that all Greek life organizations have chosen to have their pledges go through bystander training before completing the pledging process. Some have also been contemplating making all members participate in training on an annual basis.

Affiliation with athletics

For the most part, members of athletic varsity teams and club sports reported higher rates of experiencing and witnessing harassing behaviors than students with no athletic affiliation, but varsity athletes reported lower rates of sexual assault (16%) than club sports members (26%) and members of the Brandeis community not affiliated with either (22%).

Varsity athlete participants were most likely to report that they would know where to go on campus if they or a friend were sexually assaulted, at 94%. At the same time, however, they are the least likely to do so, with 27% of varsity athlete participants reporting such cases through official channels, compared to 71% of participants affiliated with club sports and 56% of participants with no affiliation.

The report hypothesized that varsity athletes’ knowledge of reporting procedures may stem from those students being required to undertake PARC or OEO training annually, a sentiment that Berg echoed in the interview. 

At the interview, both Berg and Director of the OEO Sonia Jurado expressed interest in expanding trainings to more groups on campus, but said that there are barriers to doing so. It is easier to train groups or clubs, according to Jurado, but reaching individual students is harder. In addition, the logistics of expanding bystander training outside of Orientation can be complicated, Berg said. 

“We’d want student buy-in,” she continued, saying that sitting through a training is less effective when you are forced to attend and could interfere with the training’s impact for other students. 

Knowing where to report

There was a 26% increase since 2015 among graduate student participants who said they knew where to go to find resources and where to report an assault. In the interview, Lynch said it was “horrifying to see” the 2015 results, when only 50% of graduate students reported that they knew where to find these resources. Since then, the University revamped the graduate Orientation structure, moving it away from a “one-time inoculation” process to one of continued support, Lynch explained. 

Jurado said she attended several graduate Orientations this year and that they received a positive response. In addition, she said she hopes that knowledge of where to report will go up as a result of the creation of the OEO last spring. The OEO includes the Title IX office and acts as a “simpler” central reporting location for any concerns of discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.

The centralization of this office creates a more “robust response” and makes it “less complicated to report and seek resources,” according to Jurado. The OEO is also holding trainings for a variety of groups on campus, part of the collaborative series, “Doing Better at Brandeis: Understanding & Addressing Violence, Discrimination, and Implicit Bias in our community.” This series is held in conjunction with PARC and the ODEI. Since the start of the series, over 2,000 students, 400 staff members, 300 Teaching Assistants and almost 100 faculty received training, according to Jurado.

Increasing confidence in campus response

Through the OEO, the process of reporting anonymously has become clearer and easier to use, Jurado explained. The old anonymous process could “be a dead-end,” Jurado said, because there was not enough information to reach out to the reporter and give them resources, nor for the University to take action on the report. The new anonymous reporting system, on the other hand, prompts the reporter to create a password through which they can log onto the reporting site later. This way, the OEO can ask questions, submit resources and even start a live chat, all while maintaining the reporter’s anonymity, Jurado said.

Jurado is also working with PARC to educate people on the reporting process and to remove the “mysticism” from it. Individuals having good experiences with the process and sharing these experiences with others will help with this, she added. Berg added that it is necessary for everyone “to stress the importance of believing people when they come forward and being compassionate.” This way, when people feel comfortable reporting, they will want to do so, Berg said. 

“What builds confidence is consistency,” Brimhall-Vargas added. There has been a lot of transitioning recently, he said, with the creation of new offices and restructuring of old ones, so it will take time to see the effects of these changes. “As students see a consistent response, that will create the kind of change in perception we would like to see,” he said.

Harassment

Though 78% of gender non-comforming participants agreed with the statement, “I can get what I need in this campus community,” the highest of any gender category, the lowest positive response rates for that question came from Black and Latinx participants. Brimhall-Vargas said that it is not enough to provide targeted intervention for populations who need support, but that it is necessary to educate the entire population about harassment and microaggressions.

Brimhall-Vargas added that the University has increased support and resources for students of color with programs including the Intercultural Center providing leadership trainings to people of color and the ODEI partnering with Orientation to provide conflict resolution training. In two years, all current students will have gone through the training when entering Brandeis. 

Ou added that it is important to make it safe and accessible for students, especially those with marginalized identities, to go to the OEO to report instances of harassment or discrimination. Through the OEO and advancements in anonymous reporting, there is “potential to identify hot spots regarding power dynamics,” Lynch said, referring to cases such as that of a former men’s basketball coach’s discriminatory behavior. “The more confidence people have in resources, the more headway we can make,” she added.

Listening session

In his email on Thursday, Liebowitz announced that the University would hold two listening sessions for community members to ask questions about the survey’s results, one held last Friday and the other the following Sunday. At the forum held on Sunday, Brimhall-Vargas said that he was most concerned by the fact that students in the LGBTQ+ community experience higher rates of sexual violence than the overall Brandeis population. Despite the University’s stated values of social justice, campus culture is unfortunately still “a reflection of our larger society,” he said. 

Interim Director of the GSC Cristina Dones ’14 (left), Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas and University Ombuds Don Greenstein held a listening session about the Campus Climate Survey on Sunday.


Students expressed concern at the Sunday forum about how information about resources is distributed and referenced a possible overload of information. Students also brainstormed ideas to make these resources more emotionally safe and accessible so that students would be more willing to seek help if they needed it, and to help build a sense of community around resources such as the OEO. 

Future surveys

The Massachusetts State Legislature has introduced Bill S.736, which, if passed, would require colleges to conduct campus climate surveys every two years. However, the University is careful about how often these surveys are sent out in order to prevent survey fatigue and potentially subjecting the community to trauma, Lynch said. In addition, some community members may not believe that responses to “personal and sensitive” questions could truly be anonymous, which may lead to lower response rates, Lynch said. 

Berg and Senior Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Kim Godsoe compiled the report, which was released to coincide with Kindness Day. “Kindness Day is a good reminder to us that the micro affirmations can be a wonderful [antidote] to the microaggressions members in our community experience,” Lynch said. 

In 2015, survey participants were offered a $5 Amazon gift card, but for the 2019 survey, Godsoe introduced the option to donate $5 to either REACH Against Domestic Violence, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center or the Violence Recovery Project at Fenway Health. Godsoe spearheaded the donation initiative

The report, as well as its 2015 counterparts, can be found on the Office of the Provost’s website. Unlike in 2015, when survey results were released in waves, the 2019 report is available in full. The University decided to do this in order to minimize concerns regarding which populations were analyzed first, according to Lynch.


—Ari Albertson contributed reporting.