6 Questions Parents Should Ask Prospective Colleges About Preventing Sexual Assault


It’s that time of year when college tour guides brush up on their backward-walking skills, and admissions staff brace for the onslaught of questions from students and parents seeking answers to important questions about the most important and significant financial investment a parent and student may make in their lifetime.

And there’s no shortage of guidance on questions that parents and students should (or should not) ask during their campus visit to help identify if a school is the right fit for the student (one blog proposes a whopping 118 questions!). Questions about food quality, residence hall quality, hours of the rec centers, parking rules, faculty access, average debt burden on graduation, or internship opportunities can all be important considerations among many when seeking the right school for your student, but none of these topics get to the important questions of “how does a campus support a student’s safety and well-being?” These questions become even more urgent when it comes to sexual assault prevention. After all, decades of research and now dozens of campus climate surveys  (and Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) own research) indicates that between 15-25% of college women will experience sexual assault while on campus, and that those rates are even higher for students who identify as LGBTQ and/or as students of color. And men are also experiencing sexual violence on campus as well.

While no school or college can, or should, guarantee that a student will not experience harm while enrolled, colleges should have concrete, specific plans in place to help promote healthy, respectful, consent-based relationships (sexual or otherwise) for all students. To assess a college’s commitment to sexual assault prevention, parents should ask these questions:

  1. How often does the President speak publicly about sexual assault prevention?
  2. How many staff on campus are devoted to sexual assault prevention? On average, how much does your campus spend per student on sexual assault prevention?

It is important for presidents to not only speak regularly about sexual assault, but to also commit institutional resources to sexual assault prevention, be informed of ongoing campus prevention efforts, and be apprised of institutional progress towards identified goals. Ideally, college and university presidents will, in the words of University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, “feel personally responsible for the safety and well-being of all students” and translate that personal and institutional commitment into stable, ongoing funding and personnel support. Too often, however, schools and colleges are not investing enough in personnel or programming dollars to enact effective prevention programs on campus. The Campus Prevention Network’s recent white paper, Charting the Path Forward: National Data Highlights on Promising Trends and continuing Challenges in Campus Sexual Assault Preventionreveals that campuses with strong institutional commitment typically also have strong prevention programming in place for students.

  1. Has the campus completed a campus climate survey? Where can I read the results?
  2. Does the college have a strategic prevention plan? Do you report on the outcomes? Where can I review the plan and progress?

Climate surveys can help campuses define the problem and set appropriate goals by providing a deeper understanding of students’ attitudes, behaviors, and experiences related to sexual assault—a critical first step of a comprehensive approach to prevention. These insights will encourage campuses to be more intentional in their prevention efforts, ultimately informing the design and delivery of more targeted, impactful, and cost-effective programming. Further, campuses with significant strength in critical processes leverage these data to garner additional resources and broader institutional commitment to ending sexual violence. To learn more about climate surveys, check out Vector’s Climate Survey Guidebook. Additionally, while much is known about effective strategic planning, many campuses are not formally engaging in this critical prevention process. It is important for campuses to invest effort in strategic planning for their comprehensive sexual assault prevention efforts in order to: a) make informed, data-driven decisions regarding prevention efforts and b) set meaningful goals in order to demonstrate progress on this issue. And, they should report out on this progress to students, staff and faculty–and to parents–on a regular basis.

  1. How does the college ensure students are trained on sexual assault prevention AFTER their first year?
  2. How often does your college train faculty on prevention?

Even for the colleges or universities most committed to prevention, far too often, mandatory sexual assault prevention programming ends for students after the first semester of the first year on campus. In fact, I know of only one institution in the country that requires training for students all four years, even though we know that students continue to both commit and experience violence after their first year. Moreover, our research on faculty and staff training indicates that nearly 70% of schools and colleges provide training to faculty two times per year at most. And, most schools do not require ongoing training for their faculty, even though students frequently turn to trusted professors for guidance or help. Ideally, colleges will offer training to faculty at least once or twice a semester, and strongly encourage participation across the academic disciplines.
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Asking tough questions about a college’s institutional investment in prevention, the quality and frequency of its prevention efforts, and its commitment to evaluation and transparency is the best way to gauge whether your son or daughter’s school of choice is truly committed to developing and maintaining a safe, healthy, and respectful community that every students deserves.

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