Town hall reveals sexual assault climate survey results

Jennifer Broomfield, Occidental College's Title IX Coordinator discusses recent sexual assault survey results at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday, April 20, 2018. Maria Salter/ The Occidental

Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Broomfield and Director of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning Teresa Kaldor hosted the annual Sexual Assault Climate Survey Town Hall April 18. Broomfield and Kaldor discussed the results of the campus-wide survey on sexual assault distributed in Fall 2017 by the Office of Institutional Research. Students, faculty, staff and administrators provided feedback on the sexual assault climate at Occidental and attended the event. According to the data, the reported sexual assault rate at Occidental has increased from eight percent in 2015 to 13 percent in 2017. Kaldor said this is due to the increase in counts of sexual assault reported to the Title IX Office — from 51 incidents in 2015 to 54 in 2017.

According to the data, the number of students who responded to the survey in 2015 was the highest reported rate so far at 31 percent. Since the first survey in 2015, the response rate has decreased by 10 percentage points to 21 percent, or 419 students out of 2,038, according to the survey results. Broomfield said that distributing the survey in the fall semester impacts the results, because first-year students are reporting on one to two months of experience at Occidental. A higher number of responses, 217 compared to 133, were from female individuals than male this year. Non-binary individuals were not included in the breakdown of responses.

According to the report, 65 percent of incidents occurred on campus with 52 percent occurring in residence halls. For staff, faculty and administrators, 23 percent of respondents reported unwanted verbal behaviors on campus. Of the students that responded to the survey, 11 percent of students told the Title IX Office about experiencing sexual misconduct.

The results indicate that students do not feel comfortable approaching the Title IX Office, in particular groups of students that are at highest risk. Broomfield identified these at-risk students as queer and trans people of color. Kiera Cox (senior) said she was taken aback by the numbers.

“I think that if so few students are reporting to the Title IX Office and also report low levels of institutional trust in the survey, the Title IX Office should be responding by examining its systems and processes and exploring concrete changes they can make to increase accessibility, especially for marginalized students,” Cox said. “The Title IX Office needs to take real action to better address the needs of queer students, students with disabilities and students of color especially.”

According to the report, 54 percent of students responded that they believe Campus Safety would conduct a careful investigation into a report of sexual assault. This number is still lower than other small liberal arts colleges using similar indicators, according to Broomfield and Kaldor. Broomfield said a general goal for the Title IX Office is to learn the roots of that mistrust.

“We have X number [46 percent] of responses that say I don’t trust Campus Safety and that’s a pretty high number and a significant number for Title IX too. But we don’t know why,” Broomfield said.

Broomfield said that the end goal of the Title IX Office is to be proactive rather than reactive.

“I would rather not have to have a student go through that process because they experienced sexual assault,” Broomfield said. “I would rather us find a way to prevent these things from happening in the first place.”

According to Broomfield and Kaldor, the prevention of sexual misconduct is not the responsibility of one Office: it is a community problem which merits a community response. Project S.A.F.E. Manager and Survivor Advocate Marianne Frapwell agreed and said that Project S.A.F.E. Office would need to continue its work of bystander and upstander training. In the survey, only 56 percent of students responded that they would intervene if they witnessed a sexual assault.

“The survey results underscore the challenges we all face in actually intervening,” Frapwell said. “I’d like to find ways to deepen our Active Bystander Intervention training for students, in order to provide the tools to build confidence, in-the-moment decision making and strategies.”

Cox supported the idea of student outreach, but said that current efforts are insufficient.

“When I brought [the town hall] up to students later, they weren’t even aware that the town hall had happened and hadn’t seen any kind of communications publicizing it,” Cox said. “I’m therefore not really sure what kind of outreach the Title IX Office has in mind, because not publicizing a town hall geared towards students is a pretty big misstep in my opinion.”

Kaldor and Broomfield agreed that the levels of mistrust and low reporting rate show that Occidental has a long way to go in terms of addressing sexual misconduct. Broomfield said that the Title IX Office is actively looking for ways to involve students more in its effort due to their first-hand knowledge of Occidental.

“You’re the ones that are here when we all go home. You’re the ones in the residence halls at night,” Broomfield said. “I really need to hear student voices in developing best practices.”

Kaldor stated that she believed it would take a concerted effort to lower the sexual assault numbers on campus.

“Having done this for three years now, I don’t see any big changes in the sexual assault patterns, whether it’s the risk factors involved, the when, where it happens,” Kaldor said. “So as a human being at Oxy at least for me, the sooner we do something to bring down those numbers the better.”