The problem of sexual assault on college campuses has become a major focus of the national news, particularly highlighting a number of shocking cases from across the country. As bad as some of those incidents were, and they were bad, especially appalling has been the responses from college administrations. Some schools had no one on staff trained to handle such cases, while others overtly discouraged victim reports. In one of the worst cases, not only was a victim not supported, but the accused perpetrator was also protected from invest- igation until after his graduation, due to his importance to their football team.
The media attention brought to this issue led the Obama Administration to form a task force charged with investigating the problem. As part of that effort, a number of schools were identified for special investigation by the Office of Civil Rights. In addition, all schools were directed to assess their campus climates around sexual assault. In particular, they want to make sure colleges are addressing what is now widely referred to as “rape culture” on campus both in preventative and responsive ways.
How prevalent is sexual assault on our campuses, what educational efforts are being done toward its prevention, and how are students able or even encouraged to report incidents? Do they have confidential resources with whom they can talk without having to make a formal report? If willing, are they encouraged to call the police and report the incident as a crime? And regarding the college’s process: Is it quick, humane, and ultimately effective? Is it fair to all parties? These are just a few of the questions that came out of the task force and which have been informing the group’s work with colleges across the U.S.
So, what about Colorado College? We completed a climate survey in April 2015, but before even collecting that data, we suspected we were doing well. In fact, some of us wanted to invite the Office of Civil Rights to come to CC to see a model program, but we weren’t quite that brave. Still, we knew that we had been doing better than most colleges for quite some time.
In particular, we had created a new position and hired a sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) in 2004 to address these concerns and since then, we have seen steady improvement. Over that time, we developed what is now an excellent, cutting-edge policy and process for reporting that applies to all constituencies of the college: students, faculty, and staff. We have comprehensive training programs attached to New Student Orientation, as well as ongoing throughout the year, and we have been providing training for faculty and staff as well. Our focus on “bystander intervention” in the student programming was in place well before it became the standard nationally. And we have long provided confidential resources for pre-reporting conversations (or for those who never want to report) with the SARC and also the chaplains and the Counseling Center staff. We have been improving our connections with the Colorado Springs Police Department and with Memorial Hospital, for students who want, or might want in the future, to report a crime. These last two were of particular concern to the White House task force, as they want campuses to both invite formal reports in an easily accessible and effective way, but also make it possible for students not to report, such that the campus climate is friendly for victims, no matter what their desires.
The data we collected affirmed some of our suspicions – we are doing well in our educational efforts and in our response. On the other hand, we have rates of sexual assault comparable to the average at colleges across the country found in another national survey.
First, our survey was completed by 46 percent of the student body, which is very high. Compare that to a shared survey distributed to students at 27 large universities (including many of the Ivies such as Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, and major state schools such the Universities of Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, and Arizona) through the Association of American Universities (AAU), which garnered only a 19 percent response rate. We did a good job of explaining to CC students why completing the survey was important, and they clearly agreed.
The data itself included both good and bad news. First some good news: More than 88 percent of CC survey respondents could identify a confidential resource by name, title, or office location, and more than 73 percent were familiar with CC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. Those numbers are good, especially since most people don’t worry about such details until after an incident, and the majority of survey respondents (80 percent) reported never having experienced such an incident. Of course, that means that 20 percent have been sexually assaulted while at CC. That’s the bad news.
How does CC compare to other schools? Because we all asked the questions a bit differently, it is hard to make perfect comparisons, but we can use the report from the AAU study as far as possible. For example, if broken down by gender, the AAU study found that 23.1 percent of female survey respondents had experienced “nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation.” At CC, a similar question yielded a positive response from 23.2 percent. The percentage of men reporting the same experience was 5.4 percent in both the AAU and the CC data. Individual schools were somewhat higher (30 percent of all students) or lower (13 percent of all students), but CC appears to be right at the overall average.
On the positive side, another interesting comparison is around the quality of the college response. In the large AAU survey, depending on the school, just more than 75 percent of undergraduate students think that school officials take reports of sexual misconduct seriously, while a full 92 percent of CC students believe that. In another set of questions about student satisfaction with the process after having reported an incident, the AAU data suggest a 63.7 percent satisfaction rate (based on number of incidents), while at CC, the satisfaction rate was 85.3 percent (based on number of students).
The data are rich and complicated, too much so for a short article, but the bottom line is this – campus sexual assault is ubiquitous. Any school that says it has no problem with sexual assault is either lying or kidding themselves. We at CC are not ignoring it and we continue to make good efforts toward eradicating it completely. So, while we celebrate the ways in which we are far ahead of other schools, we also recognize the challenges that remain, and are committed to working with students toward making CC truly special – not only because of our unique Block Plan, but perhaps also as distinctive in that “rape culture” would be stigmatized, where incidents would be exceedingly rare, and where the college’s response would be caring, fast, and fair.
While we work on that, if you have questions, please contact me, Gail Murphy-Geiss, associate professor of sociology and the college’s Title IX coordinator. There is no statute of limitations on complaints, so if you know of an incident and want to report it, it’s not too late. We’re always open to hearing about your experiences toward making CC a better place.