Title IX Campus Climate Survey results show low response rates in 2018

Title IX coordinator Jennifer Broomfield discusses the results of the sexual assault campus climate survey at Occidental College. Friday, April 19, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

The Title IX Office hosted a town hall April 16 in Choi Auditorium to release the results of the Campus Climate Sexual Assault Survey administered to students, faculty, staff and administrators in Fall 2018. During this town hall, Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Broomfield discussed the survey results, next steps for the Title IX office and plans for future surveys.

The survey reported that the percentage of students who have never experienced unwanted sexual contact is increasing, and that sexual assaults were on the rise before dropping in 2018. The survey also said assault rates are highest for LGBTQIAP+ students, ranging between 15-22 percent from 2016 to 2018. Assault report rates among female-identifying students are almost twice that of assault report rates among male-identifying students.

According to Broomfield, student response rates have dropped to 15 percent of the student body, half of what they were in 2015.

“When the survey results were as low as they were — 15 percent of the entire campus — that’s really hard to extrapolate and say, ‘OK, these results are absolutely indicative of the campus climate or of what our students are experiencing,” Broomfield said.

Broomfield said one reason for the drop in participation might be timing. In Spring 2015, when the Title IX office administered the survey for the first time, response rates for students were at 31 percent. That was before the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights required that they administer the survey during the fall semester between Nov. 5 and Dec. 9, which Broomfield said she believes to be a busier time for students.

“We have done a campus climate survey every year for the past four years. The past three have been during the fall, which is not typically when we would do a survey — most schools do them in the spring,” Broomfield said.

Broomfield said survey fatigue from sending out the survey annually is also a possible explanation for the drop in responses. She said if the survey were administered every other year rather than every year, they might get a better response rate.

“I’m hoping to move to do it every other year — which is still more frequent than what most schools do,” Broomfield said. “I really want students to have an opportunity, whether they choose to or not, to respond to the survey at least twice during their time here.”

To protect the anonymity of students, the survey was administered by the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium. Broomfield said she is looking into creating a homegrown survey that is more specific to Occidental.

“We have to always understand that there are always going to be some people who are not able to respond, not interested in responding, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to do them,” Broomfield said. “I think we still do get information that’s important. We just need to recognize that we’re by no means capturing everybody in the process.”

Alan Knoerr is a professor in the computer science and cognitive science departments who teaches statistics. According to Knoerr, one could get a high response rate from a well-designed study that’s framed properly, especially at a place like Occidental where people are more conscious of the issue of sexual assault.

“You’re not going to get that kind of response rate by sending out an email to everybody and saying, ‘Please fill out yet another survey.’ A lot of people will just not respond, and I think that’s probably what happened,” Knoerr said.

Knoerr said one could potentially get close to a 100 percent response of a targeted sample, provided that you have safeguards in terms of privacy, a clear purpose for the survey and incentives. According to Broomfield, the survey by its nature asks triggering questions, which contributes to the challenge of getting accurate data.

“I think sometimes there may be survivors who are just like, ‘I can’t,’’’ Broomfield said. “I think particularly, if they have gone through the Title IX process, and have had to talk about this already, they may be at a point where they’re just tired of having to talk about it and not wanting to click on, ‘When you were assaulted?’ or ‘Where were you assaulted?’ That can be a trigger to the memories.”

Jenny Heetderks is the assistant director of counseling and training coordinator at Emmons Wellness Center and specializes in sexual trauma. According to Heetderks, if a survivor doesn’t yet categorize what happened to them as sexual assault, then it makes sense they may not identify as a survivor on a survey.

“Trauma reactions can vary from person to person — some identify what happened to them immediately as assault, while for others that process can take years,” Heetderks said via email. “This is why it is so helpful to give out the survey more than once in a college student’s career — a survivor may not identify as a survivor as a sophomore, but they may as a senior.”

According to the survey, in Fall 2018, 11 percent of students responded that they had been assaulted, and 4 percent said they suspected they had been assaulted but were not certain. Two percent of students said they experienced attempted but unsuccessful sexual assault, and 6 percent of students said they suspected someone had attempted to sexually assault them but did not succeed in doing so.

The survey comes in the wake of a series of changes to Title IX policy at both the national and the local level. In November 2018, the Department of Education proposed an overhaul of sexual assault policy that, among other things, said schools only have to investigate reported assaults that take place at campus-sanctioned events and activities, according to Inside Higher Ed. The recent Title IX survey reported the percent of assaults occurring in on-campus residence halls to be declining (45 percent in 2016 to 38 percent in 2018), while the percent of assaults at off-campus locations has increased (26 percent in 2016 to 31 percent in 2018).

In December 2018, the California Court of Appeals held that in Title IX cases where credibility is an issue and students are facing severe disciplinary sanctions, the university must provide a live hearing with adversarial cross-examinations before a neutral adjudicator with the power to independently find facts and make credible assessments. Broomfield said she imagines the decision and the subsequent Interim Sexual Misconduct Policy — made effective January 25 — that Occidental was required to implement is giving people pause in deciding whether they want to report to the Title IX office.

“You [the victim] told me when you came in, and I took your initial statement. Then you told the investigator. Now you’re going to a hearing and you’re going to have to tell the story again and be questioned,” Broomfield said.

According to Broomfield, having to tell the story yet another time is probably traumatic for some people. She said while for some survivors it may be an empowering process, for others it might have a chilling effect.

“I am saddened, disheartened, and incredibly angry about the California Court of Appeals decision. I fear the decision will have a silencing effect on survivors, and make them even less likely to file a complaint with Title IX,” Heetderks said via email.

This article was revised April 24, 2019 at 2:25 p.m. to clarify that the Spring 2015 Campus Climate Sexual Assault Survey, which was administered by Occidental’s Title IX office, was not administered by Jennifer Broomfield. Broomfield did not yet work at the college in Spring 2015.