This week, a campus climate survey will arrive in every student, faculty and staff member’s email inbox.
This survey, in a way, acts as the eyes, ears and voice of University officials like Honey Ussery, Title IX coordinator, and Lindsey Bartlett Mosvick, violence prevention coordinator.
“We’re trying to get two things accomplished: No. 1, see what the perceptions are here on campus, and No. 2, try to inform them that these offices exist,” Ussery said.
According to Melissa Skolnick, who put together the upcoming survey and last year’s version, 11.5 percent of students, faculty and staff– 2, 986 people total– completed the survey last year. The pool of possible survey respondents includes individuals on the Oxford campus and at all UM satellite campuses.
Skolnick said though she sees this response rate as a success, she wants to aim even higher this year. According to Skolnick, surveys from 2012 and 2013 yielded lower response rates, 7.6 percent and 8.8 percent respectively.
Last year’s survey was sent out in August; with fewer people on campus and the freshman class not yet moved into dorms, Skolnick expected less participation.
However, she said she was presented with some interesting and useful information. Freshmen, many of whom had never set foot on campus beyond their orientation visits, were a large group of the survey’s respondents.
“From a researcher’s standpoint, I have a baseline of where people were at – this current group of freshmen – before they stepped foot onto campus, so I’m curious to see now, when this survey goes out, looking at those freshmen,” Skolnick said.
Now, in a way, Skolnick can keep track of the freshman class’s progress, its ebbs and flows as far as general campus climate, instances of sexual misconduct and understanding of the University’s policies.
Around 17 percent of those who completed the survey reported experiencing some form of sexual misconduct as defined by University policy. This number is consistent with the results of the 2013 survey and on the lower end of findings from other universities, according to Skolnick.
With such a small amount of participation, it’s hard to gauge what all students are experiencing, Ussery said. According to the recent group of surveys from the American Association of Universities, one out of every five college women will experience some form of sexual assault or misconduct during her college years. Ussery said at the University, not all of these are reported to her or Bartlett Mosvick in violence prevention. Numbers reported by the Clery Act, which mandates university reporting on a variety of crimes and safety concerns, are low because not all instances are reported to participating offices and not all instances occur on campus. In last year’s campus climate survey, data showed the highest number of sexual misconduct reports came from off-campus housing.
“I think that our response rates haven’t matched national levels,” Bartlett Mosvick said. “We’re trying to make an effort to get more people to take the survey and to understand that it makes a difference.”
Skolnick focused on creating experience-based questions while putting together the survey.
“People don’t like to be put into categories,” Skolnick said. “In order to avoid labels, what I did is this; you will not find the words ‘rape,’ ‘victim,’ or ‘survivor,’ anywhere in the survey.”
All of the terms used in the survey are defined according to university policy, so taking the survey also serves an educational purpose in addition to creating a picture of the university, Skolnick said.
The survey covers more than sexual assault. A very telling question, according to Skolnick, asks students whether the University’s environment is welcoming, exciting or isolating, among other options. Many students answered they felt welcome– 83 percent in 2015. The survey also focuses on issues like stalking and relationship violence, which are also areas of interest for Bartlett Mosvick’s Violence Prevention Office.
“From my perspective, it allows me to know if maybe there are groups of people or issue areas where my office is not doing enough,” Mosvick said. “I can use the numbers and data in the survey to assess where we need additional education or outreach, or if certain communities aren’t accessing my office or reporting to Title IX.”
Skolnick said she wants to increase participation and yield data from a larger sample of people on campus. Graduate students in particular have historically participated least in the survey.
“We’re really wanting to increase participation this year,” Ussery said. “It’s really hard for us to solve problems without knowing how the students, faculty, and staff feel. We want to know what their perceptions are. And if you have been involved in a sexual assault, this is a great opportunity for you to report your experience in a confidential way.”
Confidentiality is vital to the campus climate survey. When the survey is sent out, it is impossible for anyone to track emails or names. According to Skolnick, she receives the individual survey results with ID numbers to keep the identity of any participants completely anonymous.
“The nature of this material is very personal, but again, it’s confidential,” Skolnick said.
Schools investigated by the Office of Civil Rights are recommended to carry out campus climate surveys. Bills like the Campus Accountability and Safety Act recommend institutions be required to send out these surveys. The White House even recommends climate surveys in their resource guide to sexual violence response at universities.
“We’re at a unique time right now where there’s a big push for climate surveys at campuses, and it looks like, legally, we’re heading into the direction that there’s going to be some sort of federal mandate,” Skolnick said. “Perhaps there’s a whole bunch of bills that are sitting there that are going to make them mandatory.”
This year’s climate survey, according to Ussery, could take between five and 15 minutes and is created to educate the participants and those receiving the data. The climate survey will be sent out this week and will be open until April 30.
“We’re actually trying to get ahead of this and find out what our campus climate is now,” Ussery said.
– Zoe McDonald