The preliminary results of the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Campus Climate Sexual Assault Survey revealed that most sexual assaults at Occidental occurred in residence halls, were perpetrated by someone the survivor knew and involved alcohol use. The results also suggested a lack of trust from students in the administration’s ability to handle formal reports of sexual assault. Title IX Director Ruth Jones presented the preliminary results in a meeting with students, faculty and administrators Tuesday.
The Office of Institutional Research and Title IX Office used the survey to collect information on sexual assault at Occidental and to gauge student perception of the college’s response, according to an email sent to the student body by Jones Feb. 3. The email stated that the college would use the data to improve future policy and education.
The first part of the survey results focused on the frequency and nature of sexual assaults at Occidental. Out of 634 respondents, 51 (8 percent) reported being sexually assaulted during their time at Occidental. Twenty-three individuals were unsure if they had experienced an assault under the survey’s definition of unwanted or non-consensual sexual touching or oral, vaginal or anal intercourse. Fifty percent of the assaults occurred in residence halls and 60 percent occurred within the student’s first year at Occidental.
“All of the statistics are concerning,” Jones said. “Sometimes we can get immersed in numbers, as if the sheer volume can give a response, but each person who answered and reported is an actual person. They may be just one number on a chart, but their impact is real more than being a number. I think of 51 people.”
Results also showed that the assaults were most often perpetrated by another Occidental student (87 percent), and 78 percent of the survivors knew their assailant. Eighty percent of assailants had ingested alcohol around the time of the assault, as well as 75 percent of survivors
Additionally, respondents reported a low level of trust in an Occidental official’s ability to handle reports of sexual assault. Though 60 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that an official would take the report seriously, fewer said the same that officials would support and protect the reporter (around 50 percent), conduct a careful investigation (over 40 percent) and take action against the offender (around 40 percent). Over 80 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they felt safe at school, and around 50 percent said that officials do a good job of protecting students from harm and that the school had a good support system for students going through a tough time.
In order to protect privacy, the survey was completely anonymous and only recorded the gender and race—classified as either white or non-white—of the respondents in the raw data given to Occidental by HEDS. The response rate for the survey, which was administered between Feb. 16 and March 6, was 31 percent. The rate of response for females was 36 percent and 24 percent for males. In addition, the rate of response for students who identified as white was 37 percent, as compared to the 23 percent for students who identified as people of color.
Teresa Kaldor, the director of the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning (IRAP), said that the inequity of respondent demographics posed an inherent limitation to the survey results, as they may not be generalizable to the entire school. In addition, the questions only asked about assaults related to Occidental.
Jones and Kaldor followed the presentation of the results by opening up the discussion to audience members. Several students expressed concern about low survey participation, and how to communicate the data to the Occidental community.
Kaldor stated that participation in surveys must be voluntary and that requiring students to participate would be illegal. Communication of the results will include posting the data to the college’s institutional research website and a mass email to the entire community.
Brian Erickson (junior), an attendee, said the findings serve as an effective starting point for further action by the college.
“I think if there’s any concrete action that should be taken as a result of these numbers then that would be a good thing,” Brian Erickson (junior), who attended the presentation, said. “I don’t know that there necessarily would be—as [Jones] said, I think that noticing trends is going to be what is most important and what is going to determine what further courses of action we should take.”
Elizabeth Seibert (sophomore) said she thought the timing of the presentation, held during the Tuesday lunch period, prevented many students from attending.
“It’s just a bad time, which insinuates that they don’t want a lot of people to show up,” Seibert said. “I think that maybe requiring campus leaders … to be present would probably be a good thing to do.”
Jones noted a tension in keeping the survey short enough for busy students to complete and obtaining detailed results. In the future the office may alternate between two climate surveys with different questions to help alleviate this problem.
She added that the Title IX Office is planning to release the number of reports of sexual assaults, we well as how the cases were resolved, at the end of every semester.
In June, the Office of Institutional Research will receive the data from similar colleges so that the results can be compared. Jones said that a more detailed and thorough analysis of the results will be held Sept. 15.