While the Association of American Universities’ recent campus sexual climate survey was groundbreaking in the amount of data it collected — over 150,000 students participated at 27 universities nationwide, making the survey one of the largest of its kind — some of its results reinforced the findings of a much smaller, Yale-specific survey, conducted in January by the Yale College Council and the Yale Women’s Center.
Both the AAU survey and the Yale-specific survey — which only received 75 responses — found that students who did utilize Yale’s sexual misconduct support services found them helpful and informative. But while the AAU survey results indicated that students at Yale have a better understanding of on-campus resources than other students across the country, the Yale survey’s results suggested that confusion persists among students at the University. Still, the student authors of the Yale-specific survey said the AAU survey statistics generally supported their findings, as well as a subsequent set of recommendations that they submitted to the Yale Title IX Steering Committee in April.
“The larger AAU survey does provide a reassuring counterpoint,” Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said. “While the [YCC and Women’s Center survey] responses showed that some students still have questions about the details, the AAU survey gave students the opportunity to affirm that they do know where to go to get help or to make a report.”
The most obvious similarity between the two reports’ findings was that Yalies who reported sexual misconduct to the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center — a confidential group of mental health professionals at Yale Health — found the reporting experience highly satisfactory, said Elizabeth Villarreal ’16, one of the authors of the Yale-specific report. In the YCC and Women’s Center report, authors wrote that students were positive about the diversity of options available to them, whether they wanted to report an incident or simply seek counseling and support.
The AAU report backed the YCC and Women’s Center report’s qualitative findings, many of which came through free-response questions, with statistics. Of Yale students who indicated in the AAU survey that they had reported an incident of sexual assault by force or incapacitation to the University, 30.3 percent said the University programs were “extremely useful,” and over 90 percent said they were at least somewhat helpful. Nearly half of the group who had reported such an incident also said University programs were “excellent” in helping them understand their options for proceeding.
The SHARE Center was the most frequently utilized University resource, with 68.9 percent of students who identified as victims of nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving force or incapacitation indicating that they had sought help there.
But the surveys diverged on the issue of whether students seek out these resources in the first place, and why some choose not to. The AAU survey revealed that only 27.4 percent of women at Yale who experienced penetration by force reported their experiences to an authority. Isabel Cruz ’17, another author of the YCC and Women’s Center report, said the student-led survey did not focus on reporting rates.
It did, however, highlight barriers to reporting. The YCC and Women’s Center survey found that nearly half of the 75 respondents cited confusion or misinformation regarding University resources as a significant barrier to reporting, while the AAU survey found that the most frequently cited barrier to reporting was that victims did not think their incident was serious enough to report. Confusion or misinformation may not have been cited in the AAU survey simply because it was not one of the multiple-choice options given to students as a potential barrier to reporting. “Did not know where to go or who to tell” was provided as an option, but it was one of the least frequently selected ones.
In light of these findings, Cruz highlighted the authors’ recommendation to better advertise the Title IX Office’s informal complaint process, as well as the broader recommendation to eliminate social stigma around reporting sexual misconduct in the Yale community. An informal complaint process would likely mitigate many students’ fears that their experiences are unimportant, Cruz added.
“Many of our recommendations address the problem that reporting is such a socially embedded thing,” she said. “We need to develop a culture where people find a right way to deal with what happens to them.”
In the wake of both surveys’ results, administrators have already taken preliminary steps to address student confusion about Yale’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. Boyd, along with several other administrators, ran a new segment during freshman and transfer student orientation this fall, during which they laid out key policies and resources available on campus.
In addition, Yale’s Title IX Office is in the process of revising information on its website, including adding explanatory infographics. The first of those is already available online. A new pool of trained advisors will be available to both complainants and respondents this fall as well.
“Ensuring that the campus understands the full range of options is ongoing work, but we’ve taken a few important steps already,” Boyd said.