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Campus climate survey shows half of students willing to report unwanted sexual behavior

Hatchet File Photo
Officials said staff in the Title IX office must work to boost student trust based on the most recent survey of students about the climate at GW.

About 50 percent of respondents feel comfortable reporting unwanted sexual behavior to the Title IX office, according to GW’s third unwanted sexual behavior climate survey.

Officials said the results of the survey, in which about 3,000 students participated, indicate that recently implemented measures like mandatory Title IX trainings have increased students’ awareness about how to access resources like mental health and Title IX services. Ninety percent of survey participants said they were aware of or knew how to access mental health services, and 75 percent of respondents said they knew of or how to access Title IX office services, according to the report.

The most common type of incident was unwanted sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks – which 30 percent of respondents have encountered, the report states.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents perceived that unwanted sexual behavior happens often or somewhat often on campus, while 39 percent felt the University is creating an atmosphere “free from sexual harassment/violence, dating/domestic violence, or stalking,” the report states.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to stay as informed and knowledgeable as we can, so that we can constantly be looking toward making our services better,” said Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement.

Increasing use of University resources
Title IX coordinator Rory Muhammad said all current classes have completed mandatory online and in-person sexual assault trainings, which could explain why 75 percent of survey respondents were aware of or knew how to use Title IX office resources.

He added that high-profile sexual assault cases on campus could have affected how students viewed the sexual assault reporting process, potentially leading to a decrease in the number of students who feel comfortable submitting reports to the office.

In 2017, alumna and sexual assault survivor Aniqa Raihan petitioned the University to expel her assailant after he received a lesser penalty than what the student code of conduct recommended.

In 2018, officials overhauled the Title IX office investigation process, mandating that all faculty report harassment to the office and removing the six-person hearing board, opting for a single official to handle sexual misconduct investigations.

“We’re light years away from what the climate was at that time,” he said. “But it’s possible that we could have had some overall effects on how people felt in general about bringing reports forward.”

Muhammad said he worked with student groups like Students Against Sexual Assault and the Student Association to craft and promote the survey, which might increase students’ comfort with seeking out services from the office.

“Continuing to do those type of things with the community will make people feel like ‘I understand it better and I feel more comfortable coming forward because I feel more in control of it,'” he said.

Laguerre-Brown said the survey results reflect the success of newly implemented sexual assault trainings in teaching students and faculty about the services the Title IX office offers. In the first campus climate survey administered in 2014, the report found that the majority of students felt GW needed to do more to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus.

“We were encouraged to see that as compared, even with a different survey, that more people are acknowledging that they are aware of policies, aware of the Title IX office, and they know how to access services,” she said.

Laguerre-Brown said she is unsure why only half of survey respondents expressed discomfort with reporting instances of unwanted sexual behavior since the last campus climate survey. But she said the comprehensive changes to Title IX policies were just beginning when the survey occurred.

She added that because of the Department of Education proposed Title IX changes, officials will need to analyze and review what changes the office makes in relation to the rules.

DOE officials proposed a new set of Title IX guidelines in 2018 that eliminate the single-investigator model, decrease students’ ability to report off-campus assaults and give more rights to the accused during Title IX case hearings.

Format changes
Laguerre-Brown said student leaders pushed for the survey to be open to all students to ensure all interested students had the opportunity to participate. Officials previously only surveyed a random sample.

She said student leaders advocated for more detailed questions than previous versions to glean a better understanding of what constitutes unwanted sexual behavior from a student’s perspective.

Laguerre-Brown said she hopes the next survey, which the office plans to release in 2021, mirrors the format of the recent survey so officials can adequately measure the effectiveness of policy changes made between surveys. She said the Title IX office will work with student groups, like SASA and the SA, again for the next survey.

“We want to be open whenever we do these things, you get feedback that makes you look at something in a different way,” she said. “And I don’t want to close the door to the possibility of making minor changes, but I’d love for us to have a survey that was as close to this one as possible.”

SA President SJ Matthews said opening the survey to all students ensures that any student could share experiences about unwanted sexual behavior. She added that disseminating the survey results will raise student, faculty and staff awareness about how sexual assault and harassment affects students.

“Unwanted sexual behavior is an issue on college campuses across the country and it is important that GW conducted this survey so that they can better understand and meet the needs of the community,” Matthews said in an email.

Changing the narrative
Laguerre-Brown said she, Muhammad and Title IX staff hope to dispel myths about the office, like the notion that staff members force survivors to complete every step of the complaint process or report all assaults to the police.

She said educating students about how the office functions will increase students’ comfort reporting instances of unwanted sexual behavior.

“We’ve got people who are really dedicated to the work that they’re doing and the Title IX office, and so I believe that that’s how you change opinions,” she said. “It’s one case at a time, one person at a time.”

Dani Grace and Parth Kotak contributed reporting.

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