Graduate school is hard. Students come in with certain expectations of what their experience will be: most expect they will be challenged academically, but they may not be aware of other challenges they could face. Graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population. There is also a real possibility they will suffer from Imposter Syndrome, especially if they are female. On a more positive note, female graduate students report experiencing less unwanted attention or harassment compared to females who are in their last year of undergraduate school.
Similar to sexual assault experiences among undergraduate females, it appears that time spent in college is a risk factor for a female experiencing stalking or harassment. Overall, 16.4% of senior-year undergraduate females student report experiencing repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or other form of contact that made them feel afraid while attending school. However, when we look at the graduate school population, we see the rate drops in half with 7.4% of female graduate students reporting the same experiences while attending graduate school. Based on reporting by Inside HigherEd, many of these unwanted experiences may be with faculty members.
Among males, the rate of experiencing repeated and unwanted attention or harassment also drops in half as men transition from their senior-year of undergraduate education into graduate school (2.9% and 1.3%, respectively).
Female graduate students of certain races/ethnicities report higher rates of experiencing repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or other form of contact that made them feel afraid while they are in graduate school. EVERFI data show that 13.0% of American Indian female graduate students reported experiencing stalking or harassment during their time on campus compared to 8.5% of Hispanic or Latina female graduate students and 8.1% of White or Caucasian female graduate students.
People of certain sexual orientations also report higher rates of experiencing repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or other form of contact that made them feel afraid while they are in graduate school. EVERFI data show that 15.1% of queer graduate students, 11.9% of questioning graduate students, and 11.0% of bisexual graduate students reported experiencing stalking or harassment during their time on campus.
When it comes to taking action and speaking up to prevent harmful situations, graduate students report not having the opportunity to engage in these types of behaviors as frequently as undergraduate students. We see that 35% of graduate students report speaking up when they heard someone saying something they found offensive or demeaning, but 62% report they did not have an opportunity to engage in this behavior. This aligns well with the majority (85%) of graduate students reporting that they feel like they are part of a supportive community at their school. When asked about helping behaviors, 95% of graduate students report they would reach out to offer support to a friend who they suspect is in an abusive relationship. Only 11% of graduate students report actually helping someone get support or finding resources when they were told about an unwanted sexual experience, but 88% said they did not have an opportunity to engage in this behavior.
Graduate school is academically challenging enough on its own, and it’s clear that the challenges extend outside the classroom. Stress and struggles with confidence issues may lead to difficulty adjusting to graduate school. Anxiety and depression are also major health concerns with this population. Counseling services can play a supportive role in the lives of graduate students, and helping students apply adaptive coping mechanisms can reduce some negative stressors. Programs that bolster a sense of community and belonging–and educate students on resources available to them–will also serve the needs of this population well.
Be on the lookout for EVERFI’s new course, Sexual Assault Prevention for Graduate Students, coming soon.