College and university campuses should be safe places for students to learn and grow, however sexual assault, harassment and dating violence remain prevalent concerns among higher education institutions nationwide. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. The Stalking Prevention Awareness Resource Center notes that between 6% and 39% of college students report they have been stalked since entering college. Research published in the Journal of Forensic Nursing in an article titled Lifetime and Recent Experiences of Violence Among College Women, indicates that more than half of female undergraduate students reported having experienced at least one episode of violence in their lifetime and almost 12% reported experiencing intimate partner violence or sexual violence during the semester preceding the survey, highlighting the increased risk among college women.
Students who experience violence frequently experience significant challenges that can negatively impact all areas of their life. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey identifies that these challenges can include headaches, chronic pain, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In terms of classroom performance, one study found that among rape survivors who stayed on campus, nearly one in three had academic problems and more than one in five considered leaving school.
To support students and reduce these incidents from occurring, many institutions have implemented prevention best practices such as campus-wide policies, initiatives, and partnerships to support safe and healthy campus communities. Federal legislation has also been enacted over the years to drive colleges to address this prevalent issue on campus. For instance, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, sexual violence and more, in educational institutions that receive federal funding. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to provide effective training on sexual assault, intimate partner violence and dating and domestic violence to all incoming and ongoing students as well as all staff, and to report campus crime data, support victims of violence, and publicly outline the policies and procedures they have put into place to improve campus safety.
In May 2022, President Biden signed the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that included important new measures to address campus sexual and gender-based violence. Starting in the 2023-24 school year, VAWA requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to administer a campus climate survey every two years about issues related to dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking. The statute directs the Department of Education to develop the climate survey instrument that will be deployed by institutions of higher education and report the results publicly.
Climate surveys are an important tool to support the broader efforts of institutions to address sexual and relationship violence. The responses shed light on issues of concern and inform efforts to improve safety on campus. Campus climate survey data also provide a more complete picture of what students are experiencing on campus than campus crime statistics because many individuals who experience incidents of sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and dating violence choose not to report it to campus or law enforcement officials.
1) Make plans to ensure a strong survey and that the group surveyed is reflective of your student body as a whole. For some institutions, a best practice would be to draw upon a random sample of students who are invited to participate. For others, it might be easier to administer the survey to all students, referred to as a “census-level survey.” You may wish to consider offering incentives or promotions-such as a chance to win a prize-to help drive participation.
2) Consider the timing of delivering your survey. For example, deploying the survey later in the year will give new and returning students time to fully acclimate to the campus environment which will increase the likelihood of informed survey responses, while avoiding important dates like exam times, and campus breaks will help ensure a robust response.
3) Avoid survey-fatigue by coordinating with other groups on campus that routinely gather data from students to ensure that students are not being over-taxed with requests.
4) Develop a communications plan ahead of time that will share with students why the survey is important, what they can expect, and how the institution will share insights from the survey and use their responses. Students are more likely to complete the survey if they understand the purpose and believe their information will be used for positive purposes.