Vanderbilt has released the results of its first campus climate surveys about sexual violence. The surveys were distributed to 11,615 Vanderbilt undergraduate, graduate and professional students in spring 2015, in accordance with White House recommendations and a national effort among universities to survey their respective campus climates on the prevalence of sexual assault, the reporting of incidents, and student awareness and use of campus resources.
Two different surveys from two different outside consulting firms were each distributed to half of the student population. The shorter Educational Advisory Board (EAB) survey had a total response rate of 28 percent — four percent higher than the longer EverFi survey. As a result of this higher response rate and the lower percentage of students who failed to complete the survey, the university has relied more heavily on the EAB data. Accordingly, most of the numbers used below also come from the EAB survey.
The university chose to distribute two different surveys in order to evaluate which was more effective in garnering a higher response rate.
“The insights we gain from the survey must and will inform Vanderbilt’s response to this serious problem, which is impacting the safety and well-being of students here and on campuses across the country,” said Provost Susan Wente.
by Allie Gross, Editor in Chief
- Vanderbilt students don’t understand the university’s formal procedures for handling sexual assault.
- The prevalence of sexual assault on Vanderbilt’s campus is in line with peer institutions. Twenty percent of undergraduates surveyed reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact (28 percent of female undergraduates).
- Respondents said they think the university takes sexual assault seriously…
- …But victims are more likely to report to friends than campus resources.
- Almost three-quarters of the student body did not respond to the survey, meaning the findings are “not generalizable” to the student body or other institutions.
Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs Cynthia Cyrus said the results serve as a jumping off point for further discussion and investigation of related issues. Even if the low response rates and possible response biases mean the results aren’t generalizable to the student body, she said we can still learn from them to identify problem areas for continued study, as well as future surveys.
“You have to understand that it’s flawed, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give you patterns you have to be thinking about,” Cyrus said. For example, the survey revealed that 20 percent of student respondents had experienced some sort of power-based personal violence before arriving on campus.
“To be able to target them with support for that group is something we wouldn’t have known to do without the survey,” Cyrus said.
Another example was the figure that nearly 30 percent of victims reported the location of their assault was a fraternity house. Although that might not be accurate as a diagnostic figure, she said can be used to start conversations on the issue with Greek leadership.
by Sarah Friedman, Assistant News Editor
Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said that the results from the university’s first campus climate survey on sexual assault provide invaluable information about sexual violence on Vanderbilt’s campus. However, most students interviewed about the survey didn’t know about it.
Although students interviewed said they hadn’t taken or heard about the survey, when confronted with the results, the statistic that turned the most heads was that 28 percent of females who responded to the survey reported being sexually assaulted — eight percent higher than the “one in five” national average reported in the 2014 Association of American Universities survey.
“That seems like a very high number,” sophomore Erin Savoie said. “That means probably multiple people in my own sorority have experienced sexual assault.”
None of the students interviewed were sure about Vanderbilt’s “formal procedures” used to report sexual assault, even though 90 percent of survey participants reported having received some training in sexual assault prevention. Senior Maritza Navarette said she’d undergone sexual assault prevention training through Green Dot, but still wasn’t sure about “formal procedures.”
“I can’t tell you off the top of my head what you should do if you experience sexual assault and where to go,” Navarette said.
Students weren’t surprised at the low percentages of students who reported their incident to campus officials, or by the quarter of students who told no one about what happened at all.
“That doesn’t seem like a good stat to have,” said junior Tommy Openshaw. “People get ganged up on for coming out with news like that.”
Senior Kait Spear, speaking only for herself and not in her position as chair of the VSG Sexual Assault Prevention committee, noted that more students would take advantage of campus resources such as Project SAFE if they were made into confidential resources.
“If they aren’t utilizing resources that we have, that speaks to the acceptability of our resources,” Spear said. “The university has made it clear that the Project SAFE Center is a private resource and everyone who works there is well-versed in explaining what that means, but more people would utilize it if it were confidential.”
Students were surprised about the 40.7 percent of victims who reported in the survey that they had “no prior relationship” with their perpetrator, because many know that usually victims of sexual assault know their perpetrator.
Spear pointed out that a possible cause of this high statistic is that the “no prior relationship” option served as a catch-all category for relationships other than those listed. Many of these perpetrators, she explained, were really “in-network strangers,” an option used in other surveys on sexual assault to mean a person who isn’t a complete stranger but also isn’t in a close relationship with the victim.
Most students interviewed didn’t have trouble believing the statistic that nearly 30 percent of reported assaults took place in fraternity houses.
“I think [the assaults in fraternities] were mostly because of alcohol abuse,” first-year Chiaki Santiago said. “I feel like there’s a lot of great people at this school and you have a wide variety of people. And overall people have common sense; if you didn’t then you wouldn’t be here. Alcohol really changes you.”
First-year Karan Goyal said he expected the number of assaults in fraternity houses to be higher.
“Fraternities in general have a reputation that that’s where sexual assaults happen,” Goyal said. “It’s extremely crowded and dark and it would be hard for anyone to know.”
Spear noted that this percentage is indicative of the way that fraternity men have control over campus parties due to their lack of Resident Advisers and ability to host parties with alcohol.
“They have sort of a monopoly on the kinds of parties that they hold,” Spear said. “Sororities don’t hold these kinds of parties. So instead of having women in sorority houses in control of the parties they want to go to and throw, they have to go to fraternity houses.”
Spear noted that students should take the survey results with a grain of salt, knowing that the survey had a low response rate, around 28 percent, and there was response bias involved in those who did decide to take it.
“I think some of it is about willingness to discuss the matter,” Spear said. “There are a lot of men who don’t want to engage in the conversation because they feel that they don’t sexually assault anyone and they don’t want to enter into a conversation where they’re going to be accused of sexually assaulting someone. I think also women are much more likely to experience sexual misconduct so they are more likely to have a vested interest in filling out surveys like this.”
Navarette said that the low response rate may be owed to the fact that students receive so many surveys.
“There are certain people who are going to look at the survey and want to take it, since they’ve been more affected by the issue personally,” Navarette said.
Many of the students called attention to the fact that there were high rates of sexual assault despite what they feel is extensive programming by a progressive administration. Students interviewed largely agreed with the survey consensus that the university takes sexual assault seriously, and that the main causes of sexual assault are problems that are beyond the reach of the administration.
“I don’t necessarily know if it’s solely in the hands of administration to be tackling this,” senior Michelle Warren said. “It’s kind of a cultural thing that our student body has to take on and has to be willing to stand up to in order to change. Because obviously the administration is not at a frat party or in the dorms late at night when this would occur.”
Note: Several of the percentages on the graphs above add up to more than 100. That’s because some survey questions allowed respondents to select more than one answer.