In an era when the #MeToo movement has pushed American society away from passivity on issues like sexual harassment and misconduct, it is more important than ever for university administrations to ensure that campuses, and the students living on them, reflect that change. Because universities offer a rare confluence of party-focused culture and new freedom for young students, many universities are in a unique position when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment.
As a result, surveys which measure students’ ever-changing opinions on this type of harassment are a useful tool in ensuring that a campus does not host sexually regressive behaviors. The UofA’s Title IX Campus Climate Survey is a strong example of countermeasures for such behaviors and provides useful data both to students and faculty alike. The surveys themselves represent UA administration’s willingness to improve the safety of this campus, but their contents also reveal that future approaches to reducing sexual misconduct should focus on more contributing factors.
On April 10, UA News revealed that the UA Title IX Office would be conducting a 2019 Campus Climate Survey in order to update the data collected from a similar survey conducted in 2017.
According to the UA News article, “The 2017 survey indicated that almost 83 percent of students felt safe at the university. However, 48 percent indicated that they did not know how to report sexual assault. This number concerned us and led to increased training initiatives and increased marketing of the Title IX Office and its role on campus.”
This passage indicates that the Title IX Office found the 48% figure concerning enough to take action on, while deeming the 83% figure within acceptable limits. However, by any objective comparison, the fact that only 83% percent of students feel safe at the UofA seems worthy of closer inspection.
Admittedly, not all of the UofA’s benchmark-institution peers conduct campus climate surveys via their respective Title IX offices, and even among those that do, survey questions are not directly analogous to the ones posed by UA Title IX. However, the comparable data available indicates that, when it comes to a general criteria like feeling safe on campus, 83% of students is well below average.
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, conducted a similar campus climate survey in 2015. Though Vanderbilt’s Title IX department administered two disparate surveys to its participants, the survey with the larger data pool indicated that 94% of students felt safe on campus.
The University of Missouri’s most recent Title IX campus climate data from 2015 indicates similar findings. 7.1% of student participants believed they were likely to experience sexual assault while on campus. The reciprocal percentage, 92.9%, acts as an indicator of the percentage of students that felt safe from sexual harassment on campus.
In comparison with the findings from the UofA’s own surveys, this data constitutes an uncomfortable truth: sexual harassment seems an especially prevalent issue on the UA campus. While it is commendable that the UofA updates its Title IX data more frequently than the other two aforementioned institutions and the overall efforts of the Title IX Office probably exceed those of comparable departments, I also worry that training initiatives and awareness about sexual harassment can only go so far.
Ultimately, the UA administration’s future efforts against sexual harassment should be more multifaceted. Prioritizing awareness about sexual harassment and the statistics thereof can be ineffectual because doing so fails to build students’ understandings of the concept from the ground up.
Requiring that all students take classes which demonstrate the importance of sexual egalitarianism, such as the UofA’s various gender studies, sociology and philosophy courses, would be one positive way to circumvent this problem.
Meanwhile, UA administrative bodies could do more to specifically address Greek organizations’ demonstrable roles in the issue of sexual harassment. While it is not abnormal for university administrations to take a hands-off approach to governing these organizations, it definitely seems as though this will need to change in order to help campuses like our own.
Whether the solution is worsening punishment for perpetrators of sexual harassment or developing students’ perceptions thereof as early as possible, a more varied approach seems necessary.