It’s easy to look at the problem of sexual assault on college campuses and simply wring our hands. It’s so big, so multifaceted, so fraught with seemingly unshakable problems of party culture and alcohol abuse.
For the next three weeks, we have the chance to do something small to help focus the University’s efforts to make our campus a place where assault does not happen. This opportunity comes in the form of a survey promising the University data on incidents of misconduct, on barriers to reporting and on resources that help students navigate disturbing sexual experiences.
It takes 20 minutes, on average. Take the Yale Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct. Take it right now, if it’s sitting unopened in your inbox. Take it whether or not misconduct has harmed you or someone you love. Take it whether or not you think this is a problem that compels the University’s attention.
We all stand to benefit from a clearer picture of what’s actually going on. This is what the survey, a collaboration among 27 universities in the American Association of Universities, aims to achieve. But the numbers will only be statistically significant if we make time to take the survey. Let’s set a high goal — 100 percent participation. There are few things done in common by every Yale student, across the college and the graduate and professional schools. Let’s make this one of those things. Take the survey.
We see three principal benefits of highly representative data.
The first is clarity. The conversation about sexual misconduct, whether at Yale or on the floor of the U.S. Senate, suffers from the lack of shared understanding. Dueling perceptions about the scope of the problem frustrate policy changes.
For evidence, one need look no further than the troubling yet fiercely contested statistic that one in five women will face an attempted or completed sexual assault during her time in college. Skeptics point to the meager sample size — 5,446 women at two universities — and cry foul. Perhaps shaky numbers are being used to exaggerate the problem; or perhaps the statistical oversight is a red herring, mobilized only to discredit the problem. The survey can help us find out.
The second is data-driven reform. While the University’s semi-annual reports of sexual misconduct complaints offer insight into a set of incidents, they leave many questions unanswered. How many students experience misconduct and do not come forward? Why do students choose to utilize some University resources over others? How do peer-to-peer networks, including the practice of bystander intervention, figure in efforts to make campus a safer space? Is social stigma pervasive?
Specifically, the survey tracks four forms of misconduct: stalking, intimate partner violence, harassment and assault. It uses descriptive language to capture the nuances of students’ experiences, rather than asking them to label what they’ve undergone.
Data will help guide the University’s qualitative work, defining priorities and enabling comparisons among demographic groups and parts of campus. To draw inferences and reach conclusions, the University needs large numbers.
The third is accountability. The AAU will publish a report on its national findings, and University officials have said they will make core Yale-specific results public as well. In participating, we endorse the weight these numbers will carry and ensure they take the University to task. We urge the University to be as open as possible with the information we provide as students. Trust is built on transparency. We want to help, but we want to see the wheels turning.
A distributional analysis is not going to settle the issue of campus sexual assault. But it’s one thing we can do right now to help — to be a part of clarifying what’s going on in our community.