On April 13, the University concluded the administration of the three-year “We Speak” survey on sexual misconduct. The survey, run by the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct, was emailed out to undergraduate and graduate students March 28 and aims to gain a greater understanding of knowledge and experiences of sexual misconduct on campus as well as students’ awareness of University policies, procedures, and resources. Results will be released and publicized in the fall.
The survey was previously administered in the spring of 2015 and 2016 as part of a planned three-year program. The 2015 survey was completed by 52 percent of the student body and found that about 20 percent of University students had experienced some form of inappropriate sexual behavior. Inappropriate sexual behavior was defined by the University as nonconsensual sexual touching, nonconsensual sexual penetration (commonly referred to as rape), nonconsensual sexual contact that was attempted but not completed, and suspected sexual contact that had occurred while a person was incapacitated. 34 percent of undergraduate women experienced inappropriate sexual behavior, while 13 percent of students and 27 percent of undergraduate women experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact. The survey revealed that 80 percent of all students were aware of campus resources, with graduate students trailing undergraduate students.
The 2016 survey showed improvements in the campus climate surrounding sexual misbehavior. 15 percent, down from 20 percent, of all students said they had experienced some inappropriate sexual behavior in the previous year. Nine percent of students, down from 13 percent, noted non-consensual sexual contact in the 2015-2016 academic year. Almost 90 percent of undergraduates and over 70 percent of graduate students said they knew where to get help on campus for sexual violence, another improvement from 2015.
Kelly McCabe ’18, president of SHARE (Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education), noted that she was pleased with the survey’s numbers. SHARE did not have a direct role in creating or administering the survey, but there were SHARE peers who were involved in the process on their own.
“Obviously we wish that sexual misconduct weren’t happening on our campus, but we’re glad people feel comfortable reporting and talking about what they’ve experienced," she said. "Luckily for campus as a whole, the attitudes toward sexual misconduct are changing, people are becoming more aware that it is a problem, and people are more aware of the resources that are available. During the last two years of the survey, we saw an increase in people who told a friend, people who sought out help and knew how to seek out help. So that’s really important to us, and we’re hoping to see that next round of the survey too."
This year’s Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct is chaired by Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter and psychology professor Nicole Shelton. It comprises Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan, SHARE director Jacqueline Deitch-Stackhouse, graduate student Krupa Jani, Peyton Lawrenz ’19, engineering professor James Smith, graduate student Lisa Tktalych, Wilson School professor Deborah Yashar, and Nicholas Wu ’19.
The “We Speak” survey has its roots in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’s 2014 decision that found the University in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX is frequently thought of as mandating equal access to women’s sports, but it also requires universities take steps to combat gender-based sexual harassment and violence. The Office for Civil Rights determined the University in violation of Title IX “for failing to promptly and equitably respond to complaints of sexual violence, including sexual assault, and also failing to end the sexually hostile environment for one student.” As part of the settlement, the University was required to increase education and prevention programs, survey students through the “We Speak” initiative and report to the Office for Civil Rights, improve coordination with local law enforcement, and re-examine all sexual misconduct complaints filed from the academic year of 2011-2012 to Sept. 1, 2014.
Minter, who serves as the University’s Title IX coordinator, explained that the University had already taken steps to improve its handling of sexual misconduct before the Office for Civil Rights resolved its case.
“There was an investigation that had been open for a number of years, as the Office for Civil Rights typically moves very slowly in their investigations. In the meantime, while the investigation was open, the office [changed] their guidance for how colleges and universities should implement their policies," she said. "By the time they got around to resolving Princeton, they asked us to make a number of changes based on their current guidelines. We said yes, we had already made a number of changes, and we worked out an arrangement for that.”
Minter noted that the required three-year length of the survey initiative posed special challenges due to the sensitive nature of sexual misconduct.
“Three years is great because it gives us a very rich data set that is unusual, you typically don’t see a survey repeated so often,” Minter said. “But we also know it puts additional stress on those who have been victims and survivors to keep answering the questions over and over again. I’m not sure if it’s a best practice to do this intensive survey every year, but we are very appreciative that the students agreed to do it, or chose to do it, since we had a promise to the department that we would carry out the survey.”
The technical aspects of the survey were largely developed by Vice Provost for Institutional Research Jed Marsh. Marsh noted that the 2016 survey was largely based upon the #iSPEAK survey developed by the Center on Violence Against Women and Children in the School of Social Work at Rutgers University, as well as the survey recommended by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The survey also included questions from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault survey and the American College Health Association – National College Health Assessment II.
“I think we are very happy with the participation,” said Minter. “The first year we had the highest participation, and we’ve done very well. Jed Marsh is very pleased that we got above 50 percent, and I will give a lot of credit to the students who participated in the social media campaign.” Students such as Lawrenz, Jessica Quinter ’18, and Lydia Weintraub ’18 made videos promoting survey participation in conjunction with the “We Speak” initiative and the Office of Communications.
McCabe noted that the survey has increased campus dialogue on sexual misconduct since the first year of the survey.
"People have definitely become more open to talking about it, people have a clearer understanding of at least the statistics at Princeton. For a lot of people it’s easy to start a conversation by starting the one in four, or one in six statistic. That gives people a stronger base in terms of knowledge,” she said.
With the conclusion of the survey results analysis this summer, institutional attention will now turn toward enacting policy changes with consideration of the survey results.
“We will continue to collect information about what is happening,” said Minter. “We may not do it with that same survey instrument, as it can be traumatizing, but there are lots of other ways to collect information. We may do some focus groups, we may do some targeted surveys, collect some already-present health-related data. We will be looking at those in combination with the survey data to see what we can tease out, and perhaps design some more customized questions."
Minter also said that her office will work with the SHARE office to run substantial programming on what healthy relationships look like.
McCabe is hopeful that the results of the survey will prove helpful not only on an institutional level, but also in terms of SHARE’s education and support work.
“Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to use the information to make our programming better, to increase our programming where it needs to happen, change any policies to how they can improve student lives," said McCabe. "Also, given this survey’s additional focus on how much students were aware of prevention and education activities, I think it will really help SHARE’s programming.”