Georgetown University released its first Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey to the student body Jan. 14 to gather relevant data on the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and to promote a better understanding of the issue among community members. It is the university’s first initiative of 2016 to bring renewed attention to the issue of sexual assault. The survey will remain open to students until Feb. 6, and its results will be published in May 2016.
President John J. DeGioia announced the survey’s release through an email to the student body Jan. 14. The Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action initiated the survey in partnership with the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action and the Office of the Provost.
The survey comes from a template developed by the Association of American Universities in late 2014. It was specifically tailored to Georgetown through the work of the Sexual Assault Working Group and a misconduct climate survey working group in order to gather the most relevant data possible. Twenty-seven universities such as Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania have all utilized the same AAU survey in their efforts to collect data on sexual assault prevalence on their respective campuses.
Georgetown University Student Association Secretary of Student Safety Maddy Moore (SFS ’17), who also serves on the Sexual Assault Working Group, said the greatest strength of using an AAU-based survey is the ability to compare the results with other universities.
“You are able to see and collect data on the communities students are a part of,” Moore said. “Whether that is based on identity or campus affiliation, our hope is that after synthesizing the data, we can come across patterns or particular groups that are impacted by the issue of sexual assault.”
The arrival of this year’s misconduct climate survey follows renewed attention and community demand for action with regard to the issue of sexual violence. In 2014 President Barack Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to spearhead the fight against sexual violence on college campuses.
The U.S. Department of Education also released its own guidelines for schools to address sexual violence in April 2014, inspiring universities to begin developing and utilizing sexual assault climate surveys to better understand the violence’s pervasiveness and inform future policy.
“The university’s survey on sexual assault is a tool that is going to be critical for future progress on this issue,” GUSA President Joe Luther (COL ’16) said. “Too often we are told that there simply aren’t enough statistics to justify policy or structural changes. This survey is going to inform conversations on an administrative level for a long time and it’s crucial that we have accurate statistics to work with.”
Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, who also serves on the Sexual Assault Working Group, noted that in order for Georgetown to find the most effective policy measures, the survey needed to be tailored specifically for the university and gather a wide variety of data.
“The first goal was to access the extent to which sexual assault and sexual misconduct is on our campus,” Kilkenny said. “How prevalent is it? How widespread is it? Is it occurring in particular areas and locations? Is there a disparity between the undergraduate and graduate level? This will give us the opportunity to know.”
Kilkenny also emphasized the importance of seeing how well-informed students are about the prevalence of sexual assault and the resources available to victims.
“This survey will continue to give us an idea of the resources available to students and how they have been tapped in to,” Kilkenny said. “For those students who may have been a survivor of sexual assault, it may be good to know why they didn’t come forward, so there are places in the survey where students can identify such areas.”
While the survey is a major step forward in an effort to gather data on sexual assault on campus, other universities have encountered issues with gathering enough student participation to make informed judgments and craft effective policy. In order to overcome the issue of participation, a marketing group was established to create effective marketing strategies.
The marketing team’s strategy has focused on drawing attention to the survey through various slogans placed on table cards, posters in dorms and a banner in Red Square. A thermometer has also been set-up in Red Square to represent ongoing student participation in the survey. The thermometer includes participation levels attained by schools such as Harvard and Yale in order to incentivize the student body to surpass those numbers.
“We pretty carefully studied other schools and how they went about their marketing strategies, so we took what we liked from them and combined it with what we thought would work best at Georgetown,” misconduct climate survey marketing group member Grace Smith (COL ’18) said. “But the success of the survey depends on the participation of each and every one of us. It’s our voices that will be the most impactful, and this survey is the platform for all of us.”
Current reactions to the survey have been positive, with many students welcoming the chance to be part of an important and influential dialogue. Jackson Cushner (COL ’17) said he appreciated the initiative the survey represents, but hoped the rest of the student body will take it upon themselves to continue the dialogue on an individual level.
“It’s great that Georgetown and other schools are making an effort here, but the solution really exists on an individual level,” Cushner said. “Individuals who respect the dignity of other individuals won’t sexually assault them, period. It’s not about statistics or fear or anything like that, it’s about respect.”
Smith said she appreciates the steps the university administration has taken by implementing the survey and other intiatives such as planning a town hall on sexual violence in the spring and the introduction of new Title IX Coordinator Laura Cutway.
“One of the biggest takeaways is that the administration really does care and is listening and is actively making efforts to improve the resources for students who are impacted by the issue,” Smith said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said the survey is an integral part of a broader plan by the university to combat sexual misconduct on the hilltop.
“Our long-term goal is to do everything we can to eradicate sexual assault, sexual violence on our campus,” Olson said. “This is a long-term effort, but this survey along with the educational efforts we have in place, the resources we have in place, the staff we have in place, this is all aimed in that direction.”
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