Leveraging Climate Data to Strengthen Institutional Commitment to Sexual Assault Prevention

Note – The subject of this post will be covered in an upcoming webinar entitled, “A Holistic Approach to Sexual Assault Prevention on Campus”. Register here to reserve your place.

Campus sexual assault has dominated headlines for the past two years, and for good reason. In addition to the oft-cited statistic that 1 in 5 college women will experience sexual assault during their time on campus, a recent EverFi study found that 1 in 30 incoming female college students will experience a sexual assault before her first midterm exam.

In spite of sobering national statistics and widespread media attention, a recent Gallup survey revealed that 78% of college and university presidents disagreed that sexual assault is prevalent at their institution. How can that be? And, more importantly, how does that impact campus prevention and response efforts with new federal mandates going into effect on July 1?

The reluctance of campus authorities to recognize and outwardly take on sexual assault at their school is not new. It also doesn’t help that many college and university leaders do not have reliable, campus-specific data regarding sexual assault to draw from. According to a July 2014 survey of over 400 colleges, led by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), only 16% of campus respondents conducted confidential student surveys to assess issues related to sexual assault.

The implementation of student “climate surveys” were a key recommendation in the April 2014 release of the “Not Alone” report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Most college and university presidents believe that all higher education institutions should conduct climate surveys, according to Inside Higher Ed, but few favor legislation that would mandate them. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a pending Senate bill with bipartisan support, would make climate surveys a biennial requirement.

Today, campus leaders are quick to avoid the label of having “a sexual assault problem.” In the absence of data demonstrating that sexual assault is widespread across the board, and with myopic focus on the 100+ schools currently under Federal investigation for potentially mishandling sexual assault cases, it’s understandable that schools are avoiding the spotlight. However, this can result in a lack of the ownership, commitment, and accountability critical to making meaningful progress. Climate surveys could be the catalyst for a much-needed paradigm shift, transforming the conversation from “ is this a problem?” to “what can we do to best serve our students?”

Climate surveys will help campuses define the problem and set appropriate goals by providing a deeper understanding of students’ attitudes, behaviors, and experiences related to sexual assault — a critical first step of a comprehensive approach to prevention. These insights will encourage campuses to be more intentional in their prevention efforts, ultimately informing the design and delivery of more targeted and impactful programming. Further, campuses could leverage these data to garner additional resources and broader institutional commitment.

At EverFi, we are committed to supporting administrators in understanding and meeting the unique needs of their students. We currently partner with over 750 higher ed institutions to help educate students, faculty, and staff on critical wellness issues, including sexual assault. Our online courses, data, and advisory services also allow institutions to meet and exceed the latest compliance requirements from Title IX and the Clery Act (Campus SaVE/VAWA).

As testament to our commitment, we are also announcing the release of an online climate survey tool as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We developed this resource in collaboration with leading researchers and national prevention experts, including several negotiated rulemakers who helped articulate new campus mandates laid out in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The survey instrument is based on a model template provided in the White House Task Force Report, and has undergone extensive pilot testing at over 60 campuses.

As mandates for compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act (Campus SaVE/VAWA) continue to evolve, institutions will undoubtedly require a more thorough understanding of their unique student population, and how best to educate, protect, and support them. We believe that student climate surveys can become an invaluable resource for those who wish to deploy them, and one that will likely be mandated shortly.

EverFi will be providing a webinar on Thursday April 30th at 2:00 PM Eastern to discuss the climate survey and other valuable tools to help campuses address sexual assault. Interested campuses are encouraged to sign up for the climate survey and webinar.